My religious life began as a Righteous Prig.
When a person becomes a religious fanatic, there are many options open to them. The most common religious fanatic and the most popular (to non-religious-fanatics) is the Baptized Secular—the one whom God changes their life, only to basically do what they were already doing, only they talk about God (a little) more. The Converted Secular is similar—God takes them out of who they were, only to have them go to a different kind of life than what they lived before. This is kind of like a mid-life crisis, except God is much more involved. The other kinds are less comfortable for others. There is the Born Again Fanatic, who knows that they have experienced something amazing and life changing from God, but they cannot articulate it in language that anyone can really understand. There is the Converted Sinner who has changed from one form of anti-social lifestyle to a barely-more-tolerable-religious lifestyle. The Converted Sinner would be just fine, if they didn’t talk about their experience all the time to everyone they met. There is also the Entombed Church Member, who is so involved in church life and society that they don’t really know anyone outside of that context. And, of course, there is the most hated religious fanatic—the Copy Machine. This person has a specific experience and insists that everyone they meet have exactly that same experience. The Pentecostal church began this way.1 Frankly, so did a lot of denominations. But today we get to pick on the Pentecostals.
I, however, was none of these. I belonged to the second most hated order of religious fanatic—the holier-than-thou, looking down the nose, would-that-everyone-were-as-good-as-I, Righteous Prig. This is a pretty common type of religious fanatic, and I believe that it is a genetic defect, caused perhaps by a bent chromosome or a group of mitochondria that perhaps partied too much. As with most genetic maladies, it requires a specific environment to be triggered, and it seems that for many God’s grace on them triggers the Righteous Prig malady. The most amazing part of this malady is to assume that everyone should be at the moral place the Righteous Prig is at. “Yes, it took me 40 years to be able to accept this ethical sainthood from God— but you should have learned it before I!” It is well and good that God is more patient with us than Righteous Prigs are or else the earth would be filled with lightning scars, and long since depopulated. In other words, it’s a good thing I’m not God.
My form of Prigishness was quieter than others’, and so I judged others in silence (mostly). This allowed me to keep what few friends I had. But it made it difficult to make new ones. I attended church regularly after my conversion—forcing my parents to drive me every Sunday—but I never attended the youth group. I wasn’t interested in hanging with those my own age, for they weren’t “serious” enough. By this I meant that they didn’t realize that the Christian life wasn’t a bunch of fun and games (you know—joyful activities, because joy is obviously not a Christian virtue). I attended the adult services, and adult Bible studies filled with Scripture memorization and difficult theological concepts such as dispensationalism.2
Story continues in An Early Victory Against the Bourgeois! Part 2...
- I love the Pentecostal church, and have learned much from them. But I don’t understand why the traditional Pentecostals must force tongues down everyone’s throat—so to speak. The book of Acts is great, but some analysis of I Corinthians 12-14 (perhaps one not dissimilar to Gordon Fee’s) is certainly in order. Gordon Fee, the premier Pentecostal biblical scholar, actually has an excellent commentary on I Corinthians, but the exegetical analysis is rarely listened to in comparison with popular theology.
- Dispensationalism is, like most theologies (such as Marxism) a good idea taken too far. The basic idea is that God works in different ways at different times and that one can draw a line at particular point in time and say, “Everything is different after this.” Biblically, this can only be said about the cross, and even there, many of the implications of dispensationalism don’t hold. Dispensationalism is often associated with a form of fundamentalism, and historically it was, but it doesn’t have to be.