On Liquor Cabinets & Judgement

During a recent stay at my in-laws’ place, they mentioned that they were soon going to play host to the church small group they’re a part of. All well and good, apart from the minor dilemma regarding their liquor cabinet in the living room. It seems that their small group leader is emphatically opposed to any alcohol consumption for Christians, so they were considering removing the liquor from their glass-doored cabinet to avoid a scene.

This scenario perfectly illustrates why people dislike Christians—they’re the people you don’t want to have over—but there are many other things worth noting in a scenario such as this. The obvious question I’m driven to is why do we Christians persist in the belief that we all need to think and act the same? I think the answer is something like “because we excel at missing the point.” It is a question sure to produce frustration in those driven to ask it, so I’d rather put it to rest and explore some more illuminating questions.

For instance, what is it that drives us to boldly proclaim our opinions as though we have them from the mouth of God? I suspect that the very dynamics of faith and doubt play a major role here. Faith is always a conversation between trust and doubt; between assurance and anxiety. The speed with which we can move from one to the other is emblematic of the strengths and weaknesses inherent to the human condition. But the cadences of faith are lost on many Christians, who rigidly hold that doubt is the lack of faith rather than integral to it. And I can think of no better way for such Christians to ignore and sublimate their doubts and fears than to be resolute on matters of little to no consequence. (I have just explained the Religious Right.)

Not only is it very, very sad to need others to think and act like us in order to reassure us that we’re actually in the right (despite our suppressed doubts), it also has nothing to do with discipleship in the way of Jesus. Jesus has no patience for the self-righteous, if for no other reason than it’s all a sham. To be a hypocrite is literally to be a play-actor; a liar on the stage of life who desperately wants to look like they have their shit together, while suppressing their doubts under a stern mask of piety.

But another question that must be asked in the Christians-judging-others game that is too often played is why the hell do we care so much if we’re being judged? If those dishing out judgement are guilty of lying to the world (and themselves) in order to assuage their fears, then those on the receiving end are equally guilty for being afraid of what self-righteous idiots think of them.

Those who are afraid of being judged are guilty of the same problem as those doling out the judgement: they’ve bought into the story that they’re not allowed to have doubts or to show any weakness under any circumstances whatsoever. Maybe Jesus is so harsh with hypocrites because they deceive honest people into thinking that people of faith don’t experience doubt. Whatever story the judged believe, they are too easily offended.

Then there’s the question posed by the ubiquitous “hide the liquor” impulse: why do we do it? Because it’s easier. Because it doesn’t require us to do the hard and messy work of building a community of people who are honest with their differences. It doesn’t require us to challenge those we disagree with. It doesn’t make us stand up to the self-righteous bullying that we’d rather ignore than confront.

Peace is not the lack of conflict. All a lack of conflict reveals is a bunch of liars who prefer the easy way. True peace is found in those who are able to extend grace and forgiveness with one another as they are truly honest with each other. True peace is found in those who reject violence as a way to solve the conflicts that honesty bring about. True peace is messy, painful, beautiful and never quite as fully realized as we like. Which is why true peace will only be pursued by a people who pray.

Oh Lord, help.

10 responses to “On Liquor Cabinets & Judgement”

  1. The paper Paul and the Knowledge that Puffs Up: a Taste for Idolatry by Bruce Ellis Benson may give another dimension to your post.

    Here Bruce talks about us, as Christians in community, curbing our freedoms based on the ‘other’. Maybe I’m missing the point, but sometimes I’m not sure how much our talk about the respect for difference isn’t due to our modern liberal notions of freedom, and not to our rediscovery of Christ-centered grace.
    I agree that the liquor cabinet thing seems silly, and yet I know of many who push the boundaries between morality and personal taste to the point that all is merely personal choice (porn, bad business, drugs, etc…(patriotism?, environment?)) (Except of course the mortal sin of judging?)
    Unfortunately, it is just as possible to be rigid in arguing for difference, as it is for conformity.

    As someone who has lived in both extremes, from the cliché religious fundamentalist to the all out liberal, I’m honestly wondering: how do we form community such that we can agree to the limits of grace/freedom/difference? Hypocrisy and self-righteousness aside—because I don’t have time for that foolishness—how do we avoid merely being quasi-liberals who “persist in the belief that we all need to think and act the same” in relation to tolerating all differences?—for I’ve seen some, for whom anything goes, that need others to think and act like them in order to be reassured that they are okay…

    I’m not exactly sure what you are thinking regarding faith and doubt, but again should we not doubt that our freedoms or differences don’t exceed that of a loving Christ-centered community? I ask only as someone who went (and perhaps still goes) way too far into selfish indulgence, and who is more certain than in doubt that I still hide many idols in various corners of my selfhood…

  2. No kidding. Weird wild stuff. I’ve spent the entire evening discussing my faith with my girlfriend. For some reason or another, chatting on ICQ (way back when?) comes up, and I decide to recite my number. “ONE EIGHT SIX SEVEN SEVEN FOUR FOUR SEVEN”, I say proudly. So I type http://www.icq.com/18677447 into the address bar and read that I used to own “mattwiebe.com”.

    At any rate, I really appreciate your latest blog post. I’ve been a lost believer for many years now, and in the last few days finally given up, and asked Him for strength. Courage, mostly.

    I find it interesting how He seems to show me such wild, unlikely coincidences. Everything you wrote in your latest entry I (pre?)echoed a short time ago… Not verbatim, of course. You did, however, seem to have a very parallel though process.

    Well, goodbye!

  3. Ok that was amusing in the first sentence.
    Matt responds mentioning his girlfriend.
    Excuse me, saith the wife?

  4. @Ryan Sorry for the slow reply, but I’ve really wanted to get back to your excellent comment here and take the time to read Benson’s excellent paper that you linked to. I must say, you’re absolutely right about the danger of respect for “difference” falling prey to modern notions of freedom, particularly the idea that my rights should not be interfered with.

    I really appreciate your bringing 1 Cor 8-10 into the discussion, as it helps us to contextualize freedom as not being unencumbered by anything/anyone. Instead, freedom is about being empowered to be the kind of people who are able to live differently; who are capable considering the good of others and the community above their own. In this context, abstinence from alcohol could be an awesome thing if it is done out of love for another, rather than as a demand for conformity.

    Your questions about how to recognize both freedom and limits in the context of Christian community are very apt. I wish I had answers, but I don’t. I think that the answers must lie in humility, a sensitivity to the work of the Holy Spirit in the community’s midst, and a communal commitment to the missio dei that helps to put matters of church life into perspective. I think we need to be wary of deciding ahead of time the answers, as I think the answers are worked out in the life of the worshiping community.

    As for the aside about faith and doubt that confused you, I didn’t write that part very well, so your confusion is understandable. The point I was trying to make is that doubt is an intergral part of the dyanmics of faith rather than the opposite of faith. When doubt is held to be simply the absence/opposite of faith, we must deal with the real doubts that are experienced in often bizarre ways, including requiring everyone around us to toe the line on a matter that we are probably experiencing doubt over ourselves.

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