“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” (John 8:7)
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7:1-2)
There is a man of my acquaintance – a pious, moralizing, self-righteous man – who manages to ‘push my buttons’ each time I inopportunely encounter him. This man is a staunch church-goer, and he holds his particular brand of Christianity like some glorious shiny mace with which to club others. His profound sense of moral superiority irks me dreadfully. His church and his ‘Christianity’ [sic] are about the worldly things, the do’s and the do not’s, the chosen and the damned, rather than about Jesus the Christ’s message of love and salvation. Worse for me, I am in his opinion one of the ‘don’ts’ and ‘damned’.
I used to sputter and spit immediately following each time we met. Not to his face – I am, for better or worse, too polite for that – but afterwards. I would think, too late, of vicious witty rejoinders to his criticisms of me and others. I would feel belated embarrassment that I failed to speak in defense of the others he would malign. I would, by extension, feel hatred for his church, a church that in many ways serves to fuel his inhumane and un-Christian beliefs. I would call him names in my mind, and took his haughty sense of moral superiority to heart.
Over the years, I have come to refer to him as “Mister McGregor” the nasty antagonist to poor Peter Rabbit (Peter being my Christian name) in Beatrix Potter’s famous children’s story. And, more than anything, this man – Mister McGregor – has come to be my very definition of ‘sanctimonious’.
The problems with sanctimony and the holier-than-thou people who practice it are many. The most difficult is the logical problem in dealing with sanctimony. It is sort of the same problem we confront if we believe in ‘tolerance’ and then are actually faced with intolerance.
In such a situation, it behooves us to be intolerant of intolerance. Sanctimony is sort of like that, for it certainly feels like the only real defence against the morally judgmental attitudes of sanctimonious people is for ourselves to morally judge them.
Further, the problem with our dealings with the sanctimonious is its perversion of what we ourselves hold dear. If Mister McGregor proffered his criticisms as a self-identified Marxist, agnostic, or political party member, I would more easily slough off his destructive words. But no, Mister McGregor is a self-professed larger-than life Christian. And when I spit and sputter, I do see evil in his heart, and I do judge him ill. Mister McGregor has debased the expression of God who I hold dear.
But my better self knows too that words and labels are just that — words and labels. And indeed, if we believe that there exists evil in this world, evil lies as well in the perversion of words and labels. I know too that I simply don’t know. I do not struggle because I realize that it is not for me to believe that I can look inside Mister McGregor’s heart, nor is it for me to judge his soul. Those are for God and God alone. I take much comfort in this, for without my faith in God’s final judgment, my anger would only serve to make me sanctimonious just like Mister McGregor. Without God’s love, I would become precisely what I myself abhor.
And yes, unfortunately, when I see Mister McGregor, I still sputter and spit, but it is short-lived now. My better self prevails. I am now encouraged to overcome because my heart and mind have both been renewed by getting know the Lord Jesus as my personal Saviour. So instead of perfect or sanctimonious, as the world and Mister McGregor might expect, I have taken on a new Christ-like approach. I pray, with love, for Mister McGregor.