You don't have to signal a social conscience by looking like a frump. Lace knickers won't hasten the holocaust, you can ban the bomb in a feather boa just as well as without, and a mild interest in the length of hemlines doesn't necessarily disqualify you from reading Das Kapital and agreeing with every word. --Elizabeth Bibesco

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Light on a Hilltop VS. Hypocrite on the Street Corner

Welcome to Lent, everyone!

Regardless of your religious affiliation, you probably noticed a few people walking around yesterday with ash crosses on their foreheads. Depending on where you are, you might even have noticed priests on street corners handing out ashes.

There's a lot of fuss out there about what to do with the ashes. Do you rub them off afterwords or do you walk around advertising your religion all day? It's actually part of a much more contentious debate in Christianity as a whole, at least in the parts of Christianity I've had a glimpse of. The great debate is: Light on the Hilltop (Matt. 5:14) vs. Hypocrite on the Street Corner (Matt. 6:5). These are both descriptions Jesus has used to describe believers who act out their faith publicly. Since this is something I do on a regular basis with covering my hair, it's something that I'm always wrestling with.

The clincher of the Light on the Hilltop story (it's actually a light in a city on a hill) is this: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (KJV Matt. 5:16). "Your light," I believe, is your faith from God so if you are both letting your light shine and doing what God says you're supposed to be doing, it brings other people to worship God. That's important. You're not supposed to be just showing off.

That's where the whole Hypocrites on the Street Corner thing comes in. Jesus specifically mentions that these people get rewarded for their devotion-- this is where the well-known verse about storing your treasures in Heaven comes in. If you're getting praised just for practicing your faith, well, obviously that's not the goal. I feel like it's pretty easy to tell these people from the ones above (although it's maybe much harder to identify the difference in ourselves). The hypocrites just seem slimy and unctuous and they're more likely to put you off the faith than turn you on to it.

Now, if you're concerned you might be a hypocrite, I suppose you could say that it's better just to keep quiet about your faith to be safe, but I have a problem with that. Here's my problem: Look around at the people who are public about their faith. Often, it's the people blowing things up or driving teenagers to suicide. When we normal people don't go public about our faith, it's these hypocrites who end up being the spokespeople for religion. No wonder people are leaving religion in droves! That's why I try to go public about my faith-- the world needs to know that not all of us our hypocrites. Hopefully, I can help with that.

Anyone else have reasons why the decided to be publicly faithful? Or not?