Are Christians Really Too Moral?

Yesterday I caught a subliminal glimpse of a statement to the effect that Christians have reduced Christianity to morality and forgotten that it is meant to be Good News. Although I think I understand what the author was getting at, it might be fairer to turn the statement on its head and argue that Christians aren’t moral enough. Let me explain.

People sometimes complain that all one ever hears from Christians is a series of negatives: don’t do this, don’t do that, everything you want to do is wrong. Sometimes the complaint is justified. We all know people whose main joy in life seems to be curbing the joy of others. More often, however, the complaint is wide of the mark because it fails to see that the life of virtue is a necessary part of Christianity. The Good News is meant to change our conduct. The problem is that often it doesn’t change it enough.

Many a newcomer to monastic life has a harmless little fantasy about what it will be like ‘inside’. They see themselves floating down Gothic cloisters in a cloud of incense, going straight from the purgative way to the unitive way and living henceforth in a state of mystical ecstasy. Then they discover that there seems to be an awful lot of washing-up and getting on with difficult and sometimes disagreeable people which no amount of Gothic or incense can make up for. It is now that they must begin to learn what it means to be a monk or nun; that the ‘yes’ to God spoken neat in prayer must take concrete form among the pots and pipkins of everyday life.

There is no opposition between mysticism (if you must use that term) and morality: they are two expressions of the same experience of God. The deeper our knowledge and experience of God, the greater will be our love and desire to live a life pleasing to him in every detail. That inevitably involves morality, distinguishing between good and bad, right and wrong. But it also calls for charity and commonsense. Being a killjoy isn’t being moral, though some believe it is. The true mark of morality is joy; and because Christ’s joy is in us, and we are counted among his friends, we shall indeed be transformed — and that must be good news, mustn’t it?

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13 thoughts on “Are Christians Really Too Moral?”

  1. I think the morality factor is a bit of a double edged sword for Christians. I was sexually abused as a child and all the don’t do this don’t do that made me feel that because of that I was not good enough to be a Christian and so I became a pagan for 20 years. On the otherhand it was because I agree with Christians morals that eventually led me back to God.
    My abuser attended church every week, whereas I dropped out of church about the time the abuse started (8 or 9 years old). Yet the shame I felt because of the abuse made me feel abandoned and dirty in the eyes of God whereas Christianity was what I needed to reclaim my own power back

    • I think, Samantha, you are better placed than most of us to assess the shortcomings of a morality which says one thing and does another. Your courage in overcoming such negativity is an inspiration to us all, but I don’t suppose that the pain is ever fully healed.

      The context of the original remark indicates that the writer was troubled by what he saw as an unduly severe concentration on dos and don’ts to the exclusion of love and truth and the sheer wonder of Jesus our Saviour.

  2. I think that Christian morality has its place, squarely in living a full and abundant life in the Joy and Grace given freely by God.

    I’m sure that God isn’t wanting us to be miserable, his plan seems to be to live in love and harmony with each other, sharing our joys and troubles in community. Along with this goes responsibility to ourselves and to each other, to live virtuous lives for each other as an acknowledgement of God’s Grace and Love for us.

    The issue is that we are fallen, although Baptism restores us to purity – but we often betray our Baptism intentionally due to selfish self interest. But, the mystery of confession and reconciliation allows us to be restored to purity, back in Communion with God and with each other. I think that the joy comes with the restored state as we realise the bountiful mercy and love that has been given us freely.

    Controlling our free will in obedience to God’s call should be a pleasure and joy, not an unnatural burden placed on us. Gratitude to God and others goes a long way to build such community.

    • Happily, I don’t think anyone is arguing that we shouldn’t be moral people, but it is a fact, isn’t it, that Christians en masse can come across to others as disapproving and dour rather than inspired by the Good News and the person of Jesus.

  3. I second what UK Viewer wrote, remembering we are saved through water – that of Baptism and of tears. How we look at these waters is what makes the difference between cursing a downpour and enjoying the refreshment of a much needed shower. I do believe that blanket statements about Christians tend to be subtle attacks and that the person making them has an axe to grind. Everything that is good in life requires effort, why should it be any different with our faith?

    • The person who made the original remark was definitely not attacking anyone. Sometimes it is helpful to be reminded that as Christians we can come across as self-righteous and know-all when a little bit of humility and humanity would be a much more powerful witness to what we believe.

  4. Do we Christians come across as overly moral? As opposed to what? Disapproving? Oftentimes without even opening our mouths our reaction is anticipated by others who live by a different value system and so challenged. Humility? Then accused as being self-effacing, a doormat. Humanity? We are labelled as suckers for donating to the Church, which in some people’s opinions squanders our earnings, we waste perfectly good Saturday evenings/Sunday mornings attending Mass, can’t think for ourselves, have to be preached to. Living a witness to what we believe? Criticized for taking medication to an unpopular neighbour, told they would have let the !!**## suffer. What was I thinking? It was the suffering neighbour who told on me for my good-deed-Jesus-moment, wish he’d kept his mouth shut.

    Are we “know-it-all” – yes, we are confidant that Jesus came, taught and conquered sin and death. We know how the story ends and what awaits us. It’s an on-going battle trying to be and do and live the faith, but I don’t accept blanket statements that “en masse” we sometimes come across as this or that, because it is a far too generalized description, popular with those who would criticize but offer nothing constructive in its place. I’m all for exhortation to trying harder, not offending, experiencing the joy of our faith, but I do get a little sick of the broadcast statements. I would have liked to have read the article in its entirety.

      • I was not criticizing you nor the way you write at all! I was speaking of a different perspective based on the experience of trying to be a good Christian. Perhaps a reaction to the expressed perception by some that as Christians we are either goody-two-shoes or religious tyrants. I’m sorry if I gave the impression I was criticizing you, no, I was nodding my head in agreement with what you’d written, in fact with what everyone had contributed.

  5. If I understand correctly, the key words are ‘can come across as’. It is a matter of perception by others rather than a sweeping generalisation of all Christians. I also understood the underlying idea to be that self-reflection is often more needed and beneficial than the moral judgement of others. Thank you for your wise words. 🙂

  6. I find this whole area very complex.

    An example is which books/films I choose to read/watch.

    If I veer towards killjoy/disapproving I will not use something because of adult/unpleasant content. If I swing towards the view that anything goes because that is modern/popular then I will wade through some pretty awful material.

    I have to decide a more practical and right path. If something seems corrupting and simply coarse then I will avoid it. If something seems to have heart and value then I overlook the odd eyebrow-raising word/scene.

    Trivial and compromise at its worst, perhaps, but life in general is like that. Few things are totally good or bad – being moral is a personal as well as public thing. I know I am going far off course whenever I feel that I have chosen/acted better than someone else…

    A silly example – the new song by David Bowie. Deliberately contraversial, every body tuts and increases the publicity. It will not stop me admiring some of his earlier work, I just wish he was being creative and making music that would uplift/challenge/entertain. Much more joy to be had/seen listening to Mr Hadfield singing an early Bowie song from the space station. We have to choose good but it can still be fun…

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