Radical Niceness vs. Christianity


Jael the wife of Heber

The postal survey is over, and now it’s time to mop up the mess. It’s time to clean out all the outdated leftovers that nobody really needs any more, stuff like campaign materials, posters, oh, and that old thing called religious freedom.

We’ve witnessed the fastest turnaround ever, a screeching 180 from the politicians’ message during the campaign that “Of course religious freedom will be protected under any proposed legislation”, to “We can’t enshrine discrimination in our new legislation in the name of freedom”. Decode, and you’ll understand that no dissent will be tolerated.

You know what this means. Move over, Alt-Right, whoever you are. Move over, white nationalists, because the Christians are going to give you some serious competition for the title of Society’s Most Hated. Culture has officially moved on, but although it is the current year, they have not moved with it. Some dared to vote No, and attempted to convince others to do likewise. They refused to burn their pinch of incense to Gay Caesar and the new gods of the secular age, cost what it may. And make no mistake, it will cost. Do you think the enforcers of the new tolerance will allow any exception in the current enlightened age?

There are different thoughts about how Christians should respond to the polar opposite clash of values that is now set to take place. One response that I’ve already seen from progressives within the church is to be really super nice about it all, and take on board the values of the surrounding culture – a kind of intellectual Stockholm Syndrome. Let me tell you three stories.

In America, SSM has already been instituted, courtesy of the unelected Supreme Court judges who discovered, in a truly Orwellian move, that it had always been constitutional, but nobody had realised. (Sources also confirm that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.) A long-running issue is that of bakers, who, while not refusing custom to gay people, nevertheless refuse to produce a cake celebrating a gay union, arguing that doing so would violate their conscience. A few months before the ruling, one Jessica Kantrowitz offered the insight via her blog that if Christians faced coercion to violate their consciences by baking a gay wedding cake, they should not respond with opposition, but by happily baking not one, but two gay wedding cakes. She cited as authority Jesus’ words “if someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” #BakeForThemTwo

Here is the second story. An abortionist in the US named her liberal church background as the reason she went into the abortion business, in which she now owns seven facilities. She claimed that the Jesus she was taught about would not have judged women harshly, but would have supportively held their hands in the clinic, as the procedure was carried out.

Moby dick photo
Photo by Nesster

My third story comes from Herman Melville’s one-volume encyclopaedia on whaling, commonly known as Moby Dick. The protagonist, who famously requested to be called Ishmael, checks into an inn near the start of the story, and is surprised to find that the room he was given was already occupied – by a tattooed cannibal turned harpooner, who carries around a mummified human head, and who, before he goes to bed, goes through the ritual of taking out his god, a little idol of carved wood, offering it a piece of hot biscuit and praying to it. Ishmael is at first disturbed by his strange bedfellow, but after a few misunderstandings, the pair of them coexist peacefully, and the next night, when he sees Queequeg the harpooner taking out his little idol, Ishmael thinks through his position:

“I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth–pagans and all included–can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship?–to do the will of God–THAT is worship. And what is the will of God?–to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me–THAT is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. So I kindled the shavings; helped prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences and all the world.”

There is a common thread between all three of these stories. Every one of these people, the blogger, the abortionist, and Ishmael, were really super nice about the differences of values between Christianity and the world around them. Some of them even solved the problem by discovering that actually, it had never existed in the first place … similar to the Supreme Court judges, when you think about it. Wouldn’t it be nice to be on the other side of an argument from people like this? They’d suddenly discover that not only did they agree with you, but they’d then go and convince all their friends to do the same, all the while believing that this constituted enlightenment. They take niceness to a whole new level. They are radically nice.

Hold that thought for a moment.

Some parts of Jesus’ teachings are well-known and well-loved, even among non-Christians. Exhibit A has got to be “Judge not”. Others, less popular, are “love your enemies”, “turn the other cheek”, and, of course, “go the extra mile”.

Then there are the non-feel-good parts of the gospels, known only to those who read them. These are the parts about Jesus flipping tables in the Temple, pronouncing seven woes upon religious hypocrites, and, of course, the bits about hell. Jesus talked about hell. Like, a lot.

But none of that makes it into the popular view of him. As far as I can make out, the popular view of Jesus is that he was a really nice guy who came to tell us all to be nice to each other. “Nice” tacitly excluding the making of the moral statements, outside of the morals popularly accepted in society, that is, because “judge not”, guys.

Jesus wasn’t nice. He was loving. People who knew they needed God’s help found huge depths of love and compassion, while at the same time, hypocrites, especially religious hypocrites who cared more for religious observance than the love of God and one’s neighbour, found some unwelcome home truths.

Sometimes love is tough love, hard to give and hard to take, but it’s what is best at the time. Jesus loved enormously, but he never held back out of a fear that his words might offend.

Niceness, on the other hand, is nondescript. Niceness is passive. Niceness is “let’s all just get along with each other and not talk about stuff that makes us upset”. And niceness, in the face of strong, loud, forceful positions, (say hello to the cultural Marxists running the asylum), is compromise. It’s compromise when you should be standing firm, because you lack the necessary backbone to disagree.

It’s not easy to stand up and disagree. The weight of social disapproval can be heavy. All of us like the feeling of being accepted and included. But niceness is not the same as love. Christians will have to learn how to be unpopular if they want to maintain their beliefs, because their beliefs are rapidly becoming at best socially unacceptable, and at worst, legally intolerable.

Gay wedding cake photo
Photo by basykes

#BakeForThemTwo? I’m not going to argue whether the cake should or should not be baked. But I recognise that those bakers who have stood up have done so out of convictions. Why agree to their consciences being violated, simply because our own consciences, in that situation, might not be? Does freedom of conscience apply only to the extent to which others’ consciences align with our own? And so, I would ask the blogger, Jessica Kantrowitz, “If one is being coerced into burning a pinch of incense to Caesar, is the Christian solution really to burn two pinches?”

To the abortionist, I would say “Yes, Jesus offers radical forgiveness, and yes, he was incredibly caring to those who sought him out. But do you really think that Jesus, who said ‘let the little children come to me’, would have had nothing to say about the callous murder of the unborn?”

And as for Ishmael … Ishmael bowed down to worship an idol, in order to love his neighbour as himself. How shocking! How radical! Doesn’t it make you feel the divine in the ordinary? Doesn’t it make you feel humble before God?

Well no, actually, it doesn’t. It makes me remember the actual commands of God, “you shall have no other gods before me.” That is the first of the Ten Commandments, and the second continues the theme: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image […] you shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” God couldn’t be jealous of a little wooden idol? Think again, Ishmael. “I will not give my glory to another, nor my praise to graven images.” Herman Melville, you are talking through your hat.

Christians have upheld their faith, even to the death, since 30 AD called itself the current year. They have always been at odds with the world around them. Now, it’s fair enough for the world to call us out when we fail to live up to our own standards, even though our own standards are impossibly high. (“Be holy, as I am holy” – God.) But not when they have a mistaken idea of what they are. Nice-ianity is just inanity repackaged. We are not here to practice radical niceness. We are not here to compete with each other in a race to the bottom, to see who can compromise the most on our values – in the name of those very same values! That would be pure post-modernism, by which I mean a mess of relative philosophy, of which you’re not supposed to notice the contradictions, because facts and logic are outdated and there’s no longer any absolute truth. It’s inane stuff, but still incredibly powerful. It can dissolve even the ground you’re standing on. Is any of this even real?

Let them ask those questions, because down that path lies nothing good. As Jesus said to those who followed him, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

Not radical niceness, but saltiness. Don’t betray your values in the name of values. It’ll make you doubly useless.

Some things shouldn’t be given away, no matter how intense the social pressure to conform. Again in Jesus’ words, “Do not throw your pearls before swine. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” Do you really think the Christian church will get respect by giving up everything that makes it different from culture – i.e, Christianity?

There’s radical niceness, and then there’s radical love. There’s radical niceness, and then there’s the love of God and one’s neighbour. Unfortunately, as we have lost the Culture Wars, it is too late to inform our culture of the difference. All we can do is to buckle up for the rough ride. We may not be able to avoid it, but we don’t have to take it lying down, and we don’t have to play by their rules.

Don’t practice radical niceness. Speak the truth in love, and be prepared for the consequences.

It’s your XYZ.