Struggling with Moral Superiority – Brad Jersak

SELF-REFLECTION: Have you ever been tempted to think yourself morally superior in any way?

I feel morally superior to people who come off as morally superior. This is a big problem. I’m like a third party in the parable of the Publican and the Tax Collector praying in the Temple, and I’m saying, “Thank God I’m not like the Pharisee!” thus becoming one myself.

So ironic and similar to actor Michael Cain’s line from one of the Austin Powers movies: There are two types of people I can’t stand: “Those who are intolerant of other cultures … and the Dutch.”

Just as I’m becoming less intolerant of my Evangelical backstory (less shame at least, thanks in part to 10 years of deliberate spiritual direction) now I’m just switching to annoyance at the mean people I bump into elsewhere on the spectrum.

So I wrote about that struggle briefly in the August 2018 CWR magazine (“Space for All at God’s Table”), viewable here: https://www.ptm.org/18CWRm/August/Space%20for%20All%20at%20Gods%20Table%20August-2018-CWRm.pdf

Moral superiority is tricky for me for two big reasons:

  • 1. I do think that inclusion and grace actually are superior morally to exclusion and condemnation.
  • 2. But I don’t see how to condemn condemnation without all the same perils as our old “hate the sin, love the sinner” rhetoric.  

In the end, I have found a measure of succor from the dark humor of Isaiah’s taunt songs. (e.g. Isaiah 14:3-23). Trying to not be proud is really, really hard but the taunt songs at least give me a sarcastic genre for mocking my egoism. What I mean is that my sense of moral superiority can’t simply be repressed. The first step is to identify and admit it … and then perhaps, like Isaiah, I get some relief and perspective by making fun of it.

Citing Maltese physician, philosopher and writer Edward de Bono, U2’s Bono used to say, “Mock the devil and he will flee from thee.” Neither Bonos were talking about spiritual warfare with some superpower demon–the quote addresses our own complicity with the very sins and systems we seek to challenge.

I guess if “judgment begins with the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17), then my judgment of the household of God must begin with me. Didn’t Someone once say, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Maybe if I admit and attend to my own foibles first, I’ll realize that my sense of moral superiority is so ludicrous as to be comical.

I wonder if cleaning up that part of my act would enable me to be more of a fruitful “improvement analyst” (my son’s job title), rather than an intolerable, self-appointed “sh*t detector.”

See!? I’ve nailed it! So glad to have arrived in every way! 😉

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