Sunday, October 25, 2009

Integrity - The Unsung Virtue

The 19th century author and preacher, George MacDonald, had an immense concern regarding the stances he took against predestination and eternal torture. He hoped that, in the end, everyone would turn their self-will over to eternal goodness through the grace of Christ. He saw a great danger lurking though. Many people, probably most if we're honest, will take free reign to live any way they want if they think they're going to go to Heaven in the end no matter what. That is a very real danger which goes with a belief in predestination.

I find a very similar situation in people who are non-fundamentalists like myself. Since they see several troubling, or just plain wrong, elements in biblical passages, they will take it upon themselves to believe or disbelieve any part of the bible they choose to fit their own selfish desires. I read an article recently by someone which supported homosexual activity in the church, and in doing so, he took some comments Jesus made in Mathew 19 about eunuchs and somehow twisted that to mean homosexuals (which it simply does not). He had an agenda. Instead of wanting to overcome his physiological desires, he determined to justify them any way he could. That's the type of very real danger that can come about when someone chooses to be a non-fundamentalist. But, people who say they believe in every word of their bible as being divinely inspired and/or perfect can be every bit as self justifying and self seeking.

Do you know what the hardest character trait is to find on the face of the Earth? Common sense tells me it's probably integrity. I believe I could go to just about any church in the world and repeat that statement, and nearly every head in the place would nod in agreement with it, and yet I know that almost none of those heads have got it! I've heard it said that human beings are the only creatures that lie. I'll go further though and say that, not only does nearly every human lie, but the vast majority lie to themselves at least as often as they lie to someone else.

Did you ever hear someone say, "You keep saying that long enough and you'll believe it!"? That's, unfortunately, very true. You can bet good money that there are science researchers working for big tobacco companies that are paid specifically to propagate lies about the physical effects of smoking being harmless who at some point began to believe they're own propaganda for no good reason. You cannot practice good science without integrity. What a scientist is supposed to do is to gather facts and then create a hypothesis. He then goes on to gather more facts to see whether or not his hypothesis is true or at least tenable. And a very good scientist will admit when the facts don't support any conclusion. What a bad scientist does though, is to base a conclusion on a hypothesis to begin with and then try to find facts which will support it while ignoring the ones that do not. There are plenty of bad scientists. Why? Because they're still human and struggle with integrity just like the rest of us. Theologians are often caught out as well, many of whom take a similar fallacious approach to their work. For instance, a preacher who went by the name of Reverend Ike back in the 60s decided he wanted to get rich from preaching, and so, he went about finding as many bible verses as he could that he thought would support his notion that preachers should be rich, and he even found some verses that made it sound like God would make his followers just as wealthy. Soon he was driving a Rolls Royce. But he ignored every single biblical passage that went against his get-rich-quick agenda.

I've seen other church pastors on numerous occasions preach sermons saying that Christians since the time of Jesus Christ are not subject to the laws of Moses, but before you can say Jack Robinson they'll turn around and preach a sermon on the Old Testament law of tithing and how it's mandatory for you and I today.

People have always been great at trying to conjure up self justification. There was a man who came to Jesus wanting to know what he had to do to have eternal life, and Jesus told him he would have to love his neighbor as much as he loved himself. The man wanted to find a loophole though, and so he thought for a minute and said, " who is my neighbor?"

Integrity isn't often listed as a virtue. Maybe that's because it's so difficult to find that people have nearly forgotten about it. Fundamentalism isn't necessarily a thing God will weigh on a scale of righteousness on judgment day (although I suspect he won't be terribly happy with people that engage in worshipping the bible). He isn't looking for fundamentalists or non-fundamentalists. What he is looking for though is people with integrity.

Now there are other aspects to integrity, but what I'm primarily interested in at the moment are people who lack honestly to the point of fooling even themselves while rationalizing all sorts of inappropriate behavior. Doing to others as you'd have them do to you, and loving your neighbor as you love yourself are the two commands on which all the others rest. They're the two things you need to do to make all other good deeds doable. It strikes me, however, that there's only one thing you need to concentrate on not doing, and that one thing is lying because before long you'll be lying to yourself, and then all things become self justifiable, and the more you do it, the further your God-given conscience sails off into the horizon until one day it's completely out of sight. A lack of integrity and self deception always go hand in hand. I felt I needed to say this because I know that birds of a feather do indeed flock together, and that several of the people who will read what I write are also non-fundamentalist Christians. I've always told people who find incongruities in the bible not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. There are certainly some very troubling passages in any bible. Whether they're incorrect or not, it's foolish to decide to throw the whole thing out when you find just a few things that may not properly hit their mark. If we threw out every history book or science book that we found a mistake in, there would be none left in the world because we'll find something wrong in all of them eventually. But I want to go a step further with the bible because I think it's earned it: please make sure to respect it by taking everything in it as seriously as you possibly can and not tossing parts aside simply because your lack of integrity has caused you to rationalize behavior that your deepest God given conscience actually told you was wrong in the first place. Believe me, if you ignore the conscience God gave you long enough, it will soon be replaced by one of your own making, and it will be infinitely inferior. A man without integrity might as well be a man without a conscience.

When my elderly neighbor lady finally went to a retirement home not long ago, I helped her son move a few of her bulkier items. We stopped for ice cream at a place called The White Cottage on the way home, and he began to discuss his job with me. Like a lot of accountants, he has several people of dubious natures for clients. A big part of his job, of course, is helping them get past certain tax laws, and he left me with the distinct impression that some of what he does isn't exactly "on the up and up" as they used to say. A minute later he smiled at me and said, "I sleep like a baby though because I've got no conscience". He thought he was being funny, but I was thinking what a great opening line that would make in a story: "In the big town of Belleville (which means Beautiful City, but it's a misnomer of criminal proportions) lived a man named Clifford. He slept like a baby because he had no conscience...and the Devil's peace was upon him."


jesseakers said...

Keep expressing yourself, its an encouragement to hear from somebody who experiences many of the same things as I do. I lean more to the right on the fundamentalist scale, precisely for the reasons you describe- I see the fruit of going to the left- However too far to the right and you also encounter a lack of integrity. I am believing more and more that if they have not received the natural revelation (written on their hearts) they will only distort the special revelation beyond understanding (as Calvinism def. does, even from a literalist perspective).

A great 2 part sermon by Greg Boyd on - The Pathology of the Religious-

Def. a must see- he describe the problem perfectly.

Alice N Chains- Nutshell---- and Mad Season- River of Deceit seems to be capturing the mood for me while reading this- if you dig that sort of music check it out and see what you think.

C W Seper said...

Thanks Jesse; I'll try to look at that clip tomorrow.