Contra Mozilla

Thursday, January 16, 2014

TMM: Failure of the Pharisees

"Holiness is not just a collection of virtues. Indeed, such a conception of holiness causes great harm; it stifles our hearts, and after a while it fashions us into Pharisees. Holiness means 'walking in the presence of God and being perfect'; holiness means living in constant encounter with Jesus Christ."
Pope Francis, Open Mind, Faithful Heart
The Pharisees are today among the most frequently thought-over (and fought-over) groups in the Gospels. In an age which latches onto the statement "Judge not, lest you be judged" and then misapplies it (by applying it only to conservative Christians), there is no surprise that the liberals of all stripes would judge conservatives of all stripes to be the new Pharisees.

And, on this reading of how the Pharisees failed, it might be argued that the faithful Christian is nearer to the Pharisee than the liberal one is. It is almost universally considered a "bad thing" to be a sort of Pharisee, though in understanding how and where the Pharisee fails, we see that there are some worse things.

The Pharisee, after all, did get holiness half-right, even if they got the lesser half. The failed in the more important task of "walking in the presence of God," though they did at least try "being perfect." They missed that only God is perfect, and that only by turning to God can we even remotely approach being "perfect." There are, of course, virtuous pagans and virtuous atheists, just as there were virtuous pharisees.

On the other hand, the great majority don't strive for perfection, don't strive to be virtuous. It has become hip to claim that atheism offers us ethics and that pagans can live moral lives, a claim which is often made in the same breath as the statement that many Christians don't. Indeed. But we get an epicurean paganism and a hedonistic atheism (or "agnosticism" or "skepticism") more often than a virtuous one.

The failure of the Pharisee was not that he tried to be moral or that he had a complex morality; it was that he did this without necessarily trying to do it for God. He focused only on himself and how good he was--thereby indulging pride--while ignoring God and thus looking down on others. There is something worse than this, which is to utterly ignore others. Pride may be the worst of the seven deadly sins, but apathy does not belong only to sloth. To ignore--and, at times, actively block out--God is the worst thing we can do; to do the same to others is the next worst. But one compounds this by ignoring God, ignoring neighbor, and then ignoring one's own conscience and God's Laws (through which God does speak).

Ignoring God and man might be done passively, for the still small voice is hard to hear, and we must be vigilant against the pride and sloth which allows us to do this. This is where the Pharisees fail. But ignoring the moral law which God gave us, and indeed ignoring that somewhat louder voice of our own consciences: this is more active by far. It is a deadlier pride or a deeper sloth, because we must often work at it. Though we should not be satisfied to be like the Pharisees--trying to be moral, trying to be virtuous, but at the expense of being actually holy--there were worse men than these.

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