Among non-Christian and nominal Christians alike, there exists a misconception regarding Christians that is as pervasive as it is erroneous. In fact, it is downright invidious.
Christians, according to this falsehood, are morally unassailable—if, that is, their faith is genuine. To the extent, then, that self-avowed Christians reveal themselves to be susceptible to the same flaws as all other human beings, they are so many “hypocrites” and “frauds.”
This line of thought is beyond a misconception. It is nothing short of a lie. And like any other lie, it is a function of rank ignorance.
It is precisely because of the Christian’s painful, even agonizing, awareness of his many vices that he is a Christian. It is for the sake of the ill that Christ the Physician came to Earth. Each and every Christian church the world over is a hospital, an emergency ward, where those who are sick can seek nourishment any and every day of the year.
As my own beloved pastor has often put it, the Christian Church is a church of sinners. It is most emphatically not a church of saints.
Of course, none of this means that Christ doesn’t summon His disciples to Godliness. The Christian has no option but to render his life a standing repudiation of evil in all of its guises. And he knows, although he not infrequently forgets, that the one instance of evil from which he can never escape, the one he sees every time he retreats from the world into himself, is the most difficult for him to counter.
But at least the Christian knows as much. His secular counterpart who spares no occasion to participate in one demonstration or other, the activist who never tires of trying to drag the world, kicking and screaming, as it were, into the Promised Land of his own imaginings, is utterly blind to his own conceit: he actually believes that so great is his virtue that he can “fundamentally transform” the planet.
The activist sees evil. Yet it is always—and only—the evil of others upon whom he sets his sights. This, though, is what we should expect, given that by his own lights, the activist is a bottomless fount of virtue: he is free from all vice.
The Christian, in stark contrast, knows just how ridden with sin he is. The doctrine of Original Sin to which he subscribes isn’t just a doctrine: it is a concrete reality with which he has to live day in and day out. Utterances and deeds of which non-Christians, and possibly even nominal Christians, will think nothing, the Christian recognizes for the instances of evil that they are.
Take, for example, the desire for popularity, for fame, that lurks within most of us—and especially within those of us who aspire to be commentators.
Recently, I met up with some new friends in New York City. They asked me what I expected to gain from working within this profession—the writing profession. The question hit home. Of course, not unlike any other aspiring commentator, it is fame that I seek. Yet I also know that the desire for fame for fame’s sake, or for the sake of gratifying the ego of the fame seeker, is forbidden by my Christian faith.
As they say, fame is fleeting. The person who anchors his happiness in fame is like the captain of a ship who tries to dock his vessel in quicksand. People may be interested in you today, but being the fickle creatures that they are, they will lose interest in you tomorrow. Granted, the fame of one person may last longer or shorter than that of another, but in any and every case, fame is finite. As such, it is corruptible.
Fame is corruptible in the sense that it will not last. But it is also a source of corruption. The person who craves fame is in danger of corrupting his own character, for he is constantly tempted to do anything to achieve or maintain it. And when fame depends upon satisfying the prejudices of people who are cognitively and/or morally challenged to begin with, there are no lengths to which the lover of fame will not be tempted to go. That ours is the Age of Reality Television and Social Media should alone suffice to dispel all doubts regarding the truth of this observation.
While the pursuit of fame is a morally hazardous affair, one may object, the fame seeker need not necessarily compromise either his intellect or his virtue to secure his prize. This is, of course, correct. Yet to this objection there are three quick replies in the coming.
First, that the seeker of fame may emerge from his engagement unscathed is indeed a possibility. But this is the point: it is only a possibility. It is far more probable that in winning the contest to which he set himself, he will lose goods—like integrity—of far greater value.
Second, there is a reason for why the ancients numbered wisdom among the cardinal human excellences. The wise man recognizes that while every choice is a gamble of a sort, there are certain courses of action to which the man of wisdom won’t look twice (or even once). Any choice that stands a better chance than not of reducing him from a good man to a bad man is one that he will labor mightily to avoid making.
Finally, whether pursuing fame will corrupt his character or not is ultimately beside the point for the person of Christian faith. Insofar he pursues fame for his own sake, he acts as immorally—as impiously—as he would be guilty of acting had he pursued any other thing for his own sake.
For that matter, if the Christian pursues anything for the sake of anything other than God, he acts impiously.
This, then, is the point to which it all boils down: it is permissible for the Christian—it is permissible for me—to pursue as wide a hearing as possible—i.e. “fame”—for my ideas as long as it is for the sake of glorifying God. The commentator’s enterprise is certainly not a questionable one; in fact, ideally, the commentator contributes greatly to the health of his society. But if it is for the sake of exaggerating his own sense of self-importance that he does his thing, then, from the Christian’s standpoint, he stands condemned.
Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.