The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity

To start, a story.

A few years ago a female student wanted to visit with me about some difficulties she was having, mainly with her family life. As is my practice, we walked around campus as we talked.

After talking for some time about her family situation we turned to other areas of her life. When she reached spiritual matters we had the following exchange:

"I need to spend more time working on my relationship with God."

I responded, "Why would you want to do that?"

Startled she says, "What do you mean?"

"Well, why would you want to spend any time at all on working on your relationship with God?"

"Isn't that what I'm supposed to do?"

"Let me answer by asking you a question. Can you think of anyone, right now, to whom you need to apologize? Anyone you've wronged?"

She thinks and answers, "Yes."

"Well, why don't you give them a call today and ask for their forgiveness. That might be a better use of your time than working on your relationship with God."
Obviously, I was being a bit provocative with the student. And I did go on to clarify. But I was trying to push back on a strain of Christianity I see in both my students and the larger Christian culture. Specifically, when the student said "I need to work on my relationship with God" I knew exactly what she meant. It meant praying more, getting up early to study the bible, to start going back to church. Things along those lines. The goal of these activities is to get "closer" to God. To "waste time with Jesus." Of course, please hear me on this point, nothing is wrong with those activities. Personal acts of piety and devotion are vital to a vibrant spiritual life and continued spiritual formation. But all too often "working on my relationship with God" has almost nothing to do with trying to become a more decent human being.

The trouble with contemporary Christianity is that a massive bait and switch is going on. "Christianity" has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed "spiritual" substitute. For example, rather than being a decent human being the following is a list of some commonly acceptable substitutes:
Going to church
Spiritual disciplines (e.g., fasting)
Bible study
Voting Republican
Going on spiritual retreats
Reading religious books
Arguing with evolutionists
Sending your child to a Christian school or providing education at home
Using religious language
Avoiding R-rated movies
Not reading Harry Potter.
The point is that one can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being. Much of this activity can actually distract one from becoming a more decent human being. In fact, some of these activities make you worse, interpersonally speaking. Many churches are jerk factories.

Take, for example, how Christians tip and behave in restaurants. If you have ever worked in the restaurant industry you know the reputation of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Millions of Christians go to lunch after church on Sundays and their behavior is abysmal. The single most damaging phenomenon to the witness of Christianity in America today is the collective behavior of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Never has a more well-dressed, entitled, dismissive, haughty or cheap collection of Christians been seen on the face of the earth.

I exaggerate of course. But I hope you see my point. Rather than pouring our efforts into two hours of worship, bible study and Christian fellowship on Sunday why don't we just take a moment and a few extra bucks to act like a decent human being when we go to lunch afterwards? Just think about it. What if the entire restaurant industry actually began to look forward to working Sunday lunch? If they said amongst themselves, "I love the church crowd. They are kind, patient and very generous. It's my favorite part of the week waiting on Christians." How might such a change affect the way the world sees us? Think about it. Just being a decent human being for one hour each Sunday and the world sees us in a whole new way.

But it's not going to happen. Because behavior at lunch isn't considered to be "working on your relationship with God." Behavior at lunch isn't spiritual. Going to church, well, that is working on your relationship with God. But, as we all know, any jerk can sit in a pew. But you can't be a jerk if you take the time to treat your waitress as if she were your friend, daughter or mother.

My point in all this is that contemporary Christianity has lost its way. Christians don't wake up every morning thinking about how to become a more decent human being. Instead, they wake up trying to "work on their relationship with God" which very often has nothing to do with treating people better. How could such a confusion have occurred? How did we end up going so wrong? I'm sure there are lots of answers, but at the end of the day we need to face up to our collective failure. I'm not saying we need to do anything dramatic. A baby step would do to start. Waking up trying to be a little more kind, more generous, more interruptible, more forgiving, more humble, more civil, more tolerant. Do these things and prayer and worship will come alongside to support us.

I truly want people to spend time working on their relationship with God. I just want them to do it by taking the time to care about the person standing right in front of them.

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640 thoughts on “The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity”

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  1. Great post, Richard!

    I do think that, if done properly, disciplines such as fixed hour prayer, fasting, etc. can help us to focus on being a decent human being. you've observed, they are usually deployed in a way where they don't have that effect.

  2. But see, Jesus said that loving God is the first and greatest commandment, so obviously "loving oru neighbors" is a very distant #2. :)

    Love the "jerk factory" line. Shades of George Costanza and the jerk store.

  3. Thanks, Richard. I'm sure I'll share your post with many people.

    What you've written makes me think right away of how Eugene Peterson renders Romans 12:1 in The Message. Standard translations usually have language there along the lines of the NIV: ..."offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship."

    Peterson instead gives us this: "Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering."

    Thanks again for all your excellent, thoughtful & provocative work.

  4. I have often agreed with many things you've said that are perhaps "off the beaten track" of contemporary Christianity, but I've perhaps never agreed with anything on this blog more. What's more, this bait-and-switch removes our focus from how Jesus actually lived - the very example we are supposed to follow. I've met some Christians who manage to get both parts right (be pious and a good person), but they are relatively rare, in my experience - and I say that as the son of a pastor who has been to a fair number of churches in his life.

    One addition to the point about the church crowd at Sunday lunch: I've heard from more than a few people that they will have Christians leave them a tract instead of a tip. This practice shows the breakdown we're looking at: besides the fact that it presumes that the server is not a Christian, it disregards the fact that, at least for most servers, that tip is part of their working wage, and it is incredibly insulting to think that a tract, of all things, will make up for the fact that you didn't provide what every other person does for a meal. All because the act of giving a tract, possibly the most impersonal form of evangelism, seems like the "Christian" thing to do, based on the bait-and-switch.

    Thank you for writing this, Dr. Beck - it has me very fired up.

  5. Thanks Richard for articulating what some of us have long suspected. We love God best when we love others. Otherwise its all a lot of self-deceiving non-sense - something all too obvious to many outside the church. Not just in America mind you - plenty of that down here too in Sydney Australia. Finding your blog has a been life giving to my "sick soul".
    Keep up the great posts!
    Rob from down under

  6. I have been a member of the Church of Christ for 60+ years, growing up in the middle west, and knowing that something was not right. I've been feeling for a long time that my friends in other faiths had it when I didn't see it much at my own church.

  7. If we're honest, improving our relationship with God would cause our relations with other people we encounter to improve.

    I do know what you're talking about, and I've actually worked in the restaurant business for a few years. But I am proud to say that the church I attend is quite the opposite of the Christian crowd you describe(though not perfect). I sincerely believe that if a church truly pursuits God's direction for them, their love will be apparent to everybody they engage with.

  8. Deliciously provocative! A friend of mine who was paying his way through seminary (!) by working as a valet car-parker at a country club said EXACTLY the same thing about Christian groups who rented the clubhouse. No one wanted to work those nights! Measly tips was de rigeur. By contrast, my friend said all the valets clamored to work events where the alcohol flowed: lots of joy, laughter, and designated drivers ... but the tips were lavish. Does being filled with the Holy Spirit rob Christians of our joy and generosity?!

  9. Amen. Being a christian makes most people worse human beings, and it is no coincidence.

    We have a religion based on a Jewish doomsday preacher from the first century who taught people how to act. God will forgive those who feed the hungry, etc., who forgive others, etc.

    But all of those teachings are explained away through the miracle of hermaneutics which is a fancy way to get people to ignore the stupidity.

    Today, we are saved by believing in a set of propositions that Jesus never in a million years would have subscribed to. We are told to have a "relationship" with this poor guy, who died 2000 years ago and his father, neither of whom will ever talk back. If they did, the person who hears would get sent to an institution.

    But hundreds of millions of people have to pretend to communicate with this silent Godhead creature, which of course nobody can explain because it doesn't make an human sense.

  10. I agree with you, as many have, but I have a thought. It might not mean much, or it might mean a lot. I submit that if we as believers were actually doing our fasting, praying, Bible studying, ect, with the intent on really growing, we'd be more decent towards people. How can it be any other way as we are transformed by the renewing of our minds?

    Yet I have failed here. I tip well (I think), but I fail in many, many other ways. So I'll start adding this to my plan of the day. Thanks.

  11. This is a great article. Really motivational and inspiring. I wish that I could translate this into spanish. Can I do it to put it on my blog and share it with others?? Of course, I would credit you.

    Thanks again for this.

  12. I wholeheartedly agree with the bold assertion that we find God when we work on our relationships with others. The importance of our actions and interactions seems lost in the rhetoric of personal relationships with God. However, I submit that the disciplines of praying and (especially group) Bible study help us to readily recall why we serve others, how to respond to injustice and need, and where we find God (in the poor, the hungry, the prisoners, the lonely...).

    I am seeing in more progressive circles (where I tend to reside) a sidelining of spiritual disciplines almost entirely in theoretical (although not always practiced) favor of missional work. Spiritual disciplines and relationships with others (where we find God) are intertwined. We learn from Jesus, who prayed, taught scriptures, and served the lost and sick.

    Thank you for this thought-provoking, well-written post.

  13. This reminds me so much of a (more humorous) examination of "Relationship with God," written by my good friend Chris Guin.
    Here's a hysterically true footnote to his article:
    *Actually, you can see the popularity of the word "relationship" increase in translations as they become more modern. KJV and ASV use the word zero times, NASV uses it once, NIV uses it 4 times (but only once when speaking about man's relationship to God), and the Message uses it a whopping 24 times.

  14. I may be missing something, but I think you have it backwards. While I do agree that "working" on my relationship with God is a bit misguided, truly finding joy, delight, and peace in God causes me to love my neighbor. Without that foundation, I really don't have any resources to give to anyone.

    I don't think the problem is that people are relating to God too much. I think it's that they THINK they're relating to God when they're really getting their fix from self-righteousness, works, or some other source that turns us into jerks.

  15. I couldn't agree more. There is a deep seeded arrogance fundamental to modern evangelical Christianity that tells us "we" are better than "them" because we're saved and they're not (with the implicit assumption that we can quickly tell "us" and "them" apart). If we truly believe we are somehow better than others in God's eyes, we will start to treat them that way, hence the kind of behavior you describe.

  16. I found your article, unfortunately, true in all too many situations. Having just attended a Leadership Summit that was Christian-based, I have to say it focused on the human relationships and activities outside the church building. I must admit that the Summit and your message created "AHA" moments for me. It is important for me to build my relationship with my Savior just as I would build a relationship with anyone I truly care for, but I must also act "in the world" as Christ would have wanted me to--without that ingredient we all miss His message. And, by the way, although tipping was not the main focus of your article, each time the Summit took a meal break we were encouraged by the leadership to tip well! I for one, have always believed in a fair wage for a job.

  17. Dr. Beck.,

    I appreciate the point you drive at in this article, but I get the sense that your bitterness through experience with many Christians who fit your description has tainted your views. I won't deny that many Christians live with a disconnection between "building a relationship with God" and becoming a more decent person. There has too long been an underlying view that Sunday is irrelevant to Monday, but I think you err in throwing all your weight to the works side of the argument.

    Another commenter referenced the Great Commandment to love God and your neighbor. Christians need to pursue both objectives because they are important individually and feed into each other. I know you do not dismiss "spiritual disciplines" outright, but the tone of this article seems to throw them to the wayside as if they were of minor importance. I do not think that works or the disciplines should be elevated above the other, but both should be pursued and practiced simultaneously.


  18. Hi all,
    Thanks for the comments.

    Just a few clarifications for some.

    First, the tone of the piece is trying to be humorous, polemical and hyperbolic. I'm not trying to make a careful, nuanced argument. I'm shouting to draw attention to a very particular issue.

    Second, that issue isn't about the relationship between the spiritual disciplines and morality. Nor is it about the necessary relationship between loving God or loving one's neighbor. The issue I'm focusing on is how, too often, those issues are dislocated in contemporary Christianity. Of course the two need to be linked. But few, I think, would argue against my assessment that the two Greatest Commandments have been, perversely, pulled apart in far too many cases and churches.

    That dislocation is what I'm screaming at. (And if I sound a wee bit angry abut it, well, I probably am. All joking aside.)

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  20. I have found an embarrassingly mundane image to be really helpful in keeping the two commandments connected. It's an L-shaped pipe as the "shape" of human life. Connected to God at the top, the essence of our spiritual life & disciplines is to receive the flow of love & blessings. But there is no flow unless it "turns the corner" in our lives and flows out again to our neighbors in concrete ways like generosity. A blockage at either end shuts down the flow at both.

  21. If it means anything, my vote is for Professor Beck to remove the "Anonymous" post of Monday, August 10, 2009. It is one thing to express a silly, irrelevant, unfounded, heretical opinion; it is something much worse to insert a link where people can purchase a book.

  22. "This perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor!"

    said Judas

    just being counter-provocative...


  23. *standing ovation*

    Well put, and thank you for being so bold as to say such challenging things. There's definitely a tangible inward focus of Christianity (at least, in America), and it's disheartening.

    This really goes to strengthen the quote that if every Christian actually lived like Jesus called them to, there wouldn't be a single Buddhist left on the planet.

    Keep up the good work!

  24. I have tried to be a decent human being. I mustered up every ounce of good will I could find, but I still sinned. I wanted to do what was right, I wanted to be a decent human being who earned the right to be called Christian, who earned the right to be worthy of Heaven. Yet I could not.

    I have realized my goal is not to be a decent human being. It is to be transformed into the likeness of Christ. This can ONLY be done through the power of what Jesus did on the cross and through the resurrection. As I read the Bible, I have found it has the power to transform my thoughts. It is not in vain to spend time reading God's word to become more Christ like. The Bible says we should not stop meeting together. Meeting with other Christians helps encourage us to be more like Christ. We are instructed to meditate on God's word, on His greatness, and to spend time praising Him and talking with Him. I do not think God would object to us spending time thinking about Him, who is the greatest one in the universe. We are to love Him with all our hearts, minds and strength, and then to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus also says "when" we fast we should do certain things, not that we should not fast.

    I have seen many amazing, supernatural things happen, and believe that it is good to focus our thoughts and lives on God, not on trying to "do good" for God without thinking about Him.

    I have known lives to change when they realize the safety of God's love. When a person feels safe, they can expose their problems, what is hurting them. They can be honest and broken before someone who is Love. God is love. He wants us to expose our problems, our ugliness, our fears and failures to Him, so He can love us. When we experience His love, we are healed and transformed, and then can love others better. He has done this to me, and continues to do this. I am so thankful I have such a loving God who I can show my faults to, who then changes me so I can be healed and whole!

    It is wise to advise someone to go to a Jesus' loving church, to spend time reading and meditating on the Word, that has the power to tranform minds, to think of the greatest one in the universe who has the power bring us to have new hearts, and to meet with other Christians.

    I ask my God to show you how loving and wonderful it is to spend time with him!

  25. Anything of deep meaning can lose its meaning if you sight of the original intent. The idea of being close to God represents becoming more like God. It means becoming love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.

    Decent is a fairly lame word to use though. Sure there are many people who use Christianity as an excuse to think they are better than others and that their political views are right. And sure, there are people who end up going to church or reading their Bible for reasons far from wanting to be closer to God. But the goal is not to be decent.

    Jesus was not decent. He made quite a few people hate him. Sure it wasn't because he was a lowsy tipper, but you can get the point. I think that too many people equate Christianity with morality. Christianity is not a morality. Christianity says that a morality will come out of you when you understand your creator, not the creator will come to you when you have become moral.

    I appreciate your challenge to live out the faith rather than just to "do" it privately, however, I think you really missed the whole point of what it means to be a Christian, as many people do.

  26. Dear Richard Beck,

    Thank you for writing this article. Thank you for reminding people that what we say and do to and for others on a daily basis is equally important to taking time for church and other faith-based activities. Are people forgetting the omnipotence of God? Are they banking on "more church will cover up the bad stuff"?

  27. While I understand your point (that Christians "in name only" and "having a form of Godliness but lacking the power thereof" are prevalent in American society), I think you're looking at things backwards.

    Our standard as Christians is not ethical behaviour as the world sees it. It's not "being nice" or "being a decent human being". Our marching orders come directly from scripture: that is our standard. To set the study of scripture as inferior to the practice of righteousness, because "Do[ing] these things[,] and prayer and worship will come alongside to support us" is a misconception.

    It is through prayer and worship that the heart of man continues to change. It is through the study of the word that man knows what is right. It's basic Christian progression, as outlined in 2 Peter:

    2Pe 1:5-8 ESV For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, (6) and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, (7) and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (8) For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Consider the meaning of the words. Faith is your basic belief in God. Virtue is a desire to do what is right. Knowledge here speaks of studying the word of God to know what *is* virtue. This knowledge is then put into play via self-control, and maintained with steadfastness. It is out of these things that Godliness sprouts, which brings philidephia, and then agape.

    Knowledge comes before self control. Knowing what is right comes before doing what is right.

    So don't encourage people to walk according to what is acceptable in "the world". What the world views as kindness, or virtue, or righteousness. Our standard is not this transient culture, but the living word of God.

  28. "Knowledge comes before self control. Knowing what is right comes before doing what is right.

    So don't encourage people to walk according to what is acceptable in "the world"."

    So why is it that most of the Christians embarrassing Jesus in restaurants have been Christians most of their lives? Are they still waiting to know Jesus well enough to start showing compassion and gentleness? I'm curious.

  29. I suppose it could be said that many Christians feel that working on their relationship with God means praying more, getting up early to study the Bible, to start going back to church. If that's the case, there's clearly a disconnect.

    Likewise, if someone's idea of "better educating themselves" is eating healthy, studying, and going to college, they would also be missing the point as well.

    When educating yourself, it's important to practice what you've learned, or else what's the point of learning? If one studies the Bible and goes to church, hopefully one learns new lessons to put into practice... for instance, to love your neighbor... or better yet, to love your enemy... or even more confusing, that the Golden Rule is not from the Bible... and that "God helps those who help themselves" is exactly wrong.

    The point of studying the Bible, going to church, and praying isn't just to know some verses, listen to a speech, and having quiet time. The point is to know the rules of life... those things that should be "common sense"... but that every human fails at nonetheless.

  30. I agree with Melanie and Adam Skinner. You have it backwards. We need to seek God and grow in Him if we ever want to be/do better. You realize that in your post, at the end of the day (nevermind the point you were trying to make), you told someone NOT to seek God first?

    Like Adam Skinner said - how do you plan to do what is right, if you don't even *know* what is right? I'm reminded of the book of Matthew: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

    My prayer for you is to seek guidance in the Bible first. Especially before posting like this (and leading others into the same confusion you have!).

  31. @Pedro,

    I suppose this article could be summarized in an analogy. "Don't learn more about God and His teachings, just do more of what God asks us to do."

    The catch-22 is that you cannot know what God asks us to do unless you learn more about God and His teachings. Studying the Bible, going to church, and prayer are all ways of educating oneself to know what God asks of each of us.

    The article suggests that people are spending so much time trying to learn what God is asking of them that they aren't doing enough of what God is asking of them.

    Perhaps the article would serve better by simply saying, "Learning is great... but learning without doing is pointless."

    So, it's time for many Christians to actually start taking action on what they learn in the Bible, in church, and through prayer.

  32. I find those who value things (ideas, precepts, ego, objects, power, acceptance, etc.) more than they value people very frightening.

    You seem like a Christian I wouldn't cross the street to avoid.

  33. Nice post. In reading through this, my first reaction about the lunch crowd is that I don't know these Christians who you are describing. I've never been out with a group of Christians, whether for lunch after a service or getting together for some other occasion, where our manners were deplorable. We are patient and polite; we're courteous to the wait staff; we aren't loud, over-bearing and obnoxious; we tip well and clean up the area before leaving, even busing our tables if necessary. Most people that I know have worked in the service industry and know how terrible of a job it is, so we try to make their work as pleasant as possible.

    With that point out of the way, upon reflection of what you have written, it occurred to me that perhaps we are once more striving to live acceptable and pleasing lives under the law, only we have replaced the old rules with new ones that have a slightly different interpretive spin on them, something that even Paul warned would bring about failure. I don't have a solution to this new emerging condition of Christianity except what Jesus has previously taught us: be humble, show mercy, treat others as you would like to be treated, serve one another in love. And as Paul said, don't place yourself back under the law.

  34. I found that your advice to the young student was simply another form of works righteousness. Instead of telling her that "working on her relationship with God is totally useless because no amount of work can bring you closer to God" you told the student, "go out and apologize to people, that type of work will make things better." All you've done is substitute one form of work with another seemingly better form.
    Sure, apologizing to people is great! So is praying, and reading her Bible. You happen to think that apologizing to people is better than praying and reading the Bible, but you simply place new rules on her back. This is what the pharisees were doing to their poor subjects.

    What you probably should have said was, "look, your sin is so great that it has separated you from God as far as one can be separated from Him. Scripture tells us that no one does good, no not one. Jesus himself tells us that we are evil and that God's wrath abides upon us. There is nothing that you can do to improve your relationship with God and the fact that you think that there are things that you need to "do" tells me that you have not yet understood and recieved the gospel. Your state is hopeless and there is nothing you can do to become closer to God, but Christ can bring you closer. Turn completely to Christ, He has already done the work to improve your relationship with God. When you realize that there is nothing that you can do, and that Christ has already done it all, THEN you will be ready to recieve the free gift of salvation. As long as you think that you have to earn it, you can never be saved."

  35. Richard, I think this is a great post, and I mostly agree with all you've said.

    I am going to take issue with one word you used to describe restaurant-going Christians: "entitled." Since when does walking into a place of business and purchasing food earn one such a derogatory descriptor? While I agree that Christians should, in this day and culture, pony up a good tip to show love to a neighbor, a person who does not might be stingy, broke, clueless, mistaken, or even rude. But your use of "entitled," in my opinion, aligns your argument with the unfortunate arena of ethnic identity politics (implicitly, I admit), which hurts your ethos.

    With this reader, anyway.

  36. Hello Everyone,
    Thanks for all the clarifying feedback and/or support.

    Again, just a few clarifications.

    As I said above, this is a bit of a rant. It's not a careful argument about the how spiritual disciplines affect spiritual formation, the primacy of loving God, or grace vs. works. So thanks to many of you for your supplement analyses.

    Also, given that it is a rant, the tone might be off-putting. I'll own that. Sorry for any offense. I don't rant often. My general style is to wear you down with long, technical complicated posts in a multi-part series. That's my preferred mode of communication.

    Also, I'm sure my examples have problems. From my list to the tipping. But they are only that. Examples. Add better ones if you'd like.

    Finally, what was this rant about? It's simply the biblical theme of how religion often takes the place of love. One of the grandest themes in the bible. From the Old Testament's call to care for the widow and orphan to the Sermon on the Mount to "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" to the parable of the sheep and the goats to 1 John's "How can you say you love God whom you cannot see if you do not love your neighbor whom you can see?" All nuance aside, I feel I'm on solid ground, biblically speaking, with this post.

    Oh, and one more thing, thanks to all those offering to pray for me. Lord knows we all need that.

  37. It's all about FRUIT.

    Dr. Beck is NOT disregarding the importance of "spending time with God", devotional time,
    church/ministry involvment, etc.
    Please CAREFULLY READ his entire post again. His closing sentence:

    "I truly want people to spend time working on their relationship with God. I just want them to do it by taking the time to care about the person standing right in front of them."

    In a nutshell, he's just proposing that "working on our relationship with God" should play out and demonstrate the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT leading to one of many edifying results - a "sweet aroma". If it fails to do so, the so-called "working on our relationship with God" becomes pointless/fruitless and I AGREE.

    It is true - we in our own human/selfish/sinful efforts cannot
    generate or conjure up, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, etc. Only the Holy Sprit can generate such fruit. So seeking God first and His kingdom should make evident the "work in progress" that we are - the goal to be Christ-like.

    BTW, about apologizing to those we have offended and asking for forgiveness vs. "working on our relationship with God" - Matthew 5:23-24 (English Standard Version)
    (23) So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, (24) leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

    Included (I would think) as a subset of the FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT would be anything ranging from respect and common courtesy towards a waiter/waitress, "a laborer whose worthy of his/her wages" to NOT gloating over the dogma that 97% of God's creation will be cast into the lake of fire that burns with brimestone day and night forever and ever.

    I believe that the ETERNAL TORMENT soteriology that dominates today's evangelical Christianity is the root of BAD FRUIT, manifesting in arrogance, self-righteousness, presumption, callousness, oppression, selfishness, strife, schisms, and yes murder via self justified war.
    Man this sounds more like an extract from Galatians 5:19-21.
    This appears to be an attitude (fruit) of hostility and marginalization towards all others we presume are "not saved".

    Many Christians callously buy into God's eternal partiality (Rapture, and ETERNAL TORMENT for billions of God's human creations) not giving a damn enough to pray, study, seek the truth about this huge matter. The apparent result -It is evident that many are too scared, lazy, presumptous, or unforgiving to bother to take the time to genuinely give a damn about the well-being of others, including the waiter/waitress.

    So it begs the question - how fruitful (collectively as His body) have we proven "seeking God first" to be?

    Gary Y.

  38. I get what you're saying, and understand that you're making a point, not building a whole theology of anything.

    It ties very nicely to much of what Jesus had to say to the Pharisees and the crowds as recorded in Matthew 5-7! Indeed, you are just quoting Jesus to your student in your instructions to her, except that you refer to our daily substitutes for the practice then of bringing an offering to the Temple.

    I'm excited to see this "go viral" and be the kind of reality check to each of us that Jesus' words should have been to the Pharisees!

  39. In the (I believe) 6th Century, Dorotheos of Gaza preached a sermon that gives us this image: Imagine a circle and a point in the center. God is the center point. As we move toward God we cannot help but move to all the other points on the circle, our fellow human beings. Therefore, to move toward God is to move toward each other. (The image breaks down, of course, when there are people NOT moving toward God and hence left farther out in the circle. But of course, the point isn't to race to the center before everyone else but to travel together toward it.)

    Good post, for a rant. :)

  40. Jeeeez Richard! I check your blogsite for the latest update and
    find you stirring the pot again. Fifty--count 'em--rousing responses. Chill, brother. I have. Truly. I am now a vegan--engaged in rigorous fasting from meat, dairy, eggs, fish. And I am oh so very mellow. And a much better, more spiritual Christian for it. Always working on my relationship to God. And a decent human being to boot.

    Going vegan in Texas is also a way to avoid tipping. You see, I am eating a lot of beans at every meal (I need my protein, doncha know). I order beans at a restaurant and the server doesn't hang around for a tip or a flutterblast either.

    In addition, my wife and I are now celibate and actually sleeping in separate bedrooms. Consequently, she and I can spend more time in prayer, thus improving our relationship to God. In fact, I heard her the other night making intercessory prayer on my behalf. She prayed for God to forgive me for violating the 1926 Geneva Convention against using gas against helpless civilians.

    And I know that I'm forgiven and walking closer with Jesus because not only when I pray but at other times as well I can feel deep within the Holy Ghost at work sighing and groaning so much more than before I swore off animal products.

    I love my new and better relationship to God so much it makes me want to to quote the Apostle Paul, "I wish that all men could be as I am."


  41. @George Cooper,

    Since I don't know you, I can't tell when (or if) you might be joking. It's cool to be a vegan, to be mellow, to get along with your fellow man, etc, etc... but the common misconception of Jesus is that he was this nice guy who got along with everyone and never stirred the pot.

    On the contrary, he stirred the pot so much that he was crucified for it. He even used sarcasm to make points. While he was a lover, he was also a fighter. You can't give up your passion which means sometimes telling someone when they are wrong, even if it means they might choose not to be your friend anymore (or crucify you for it).

    Also, being celibate with your spouse is exactly opposite of what the Bible teaches, so I'm a bit puzzled by this one.

    So, while your post was amusing, I'm only hoping that this was the only intent of your post. {crossing fingers}

  42. 50+ comments... I am experiencing blogger envy. :)

    I am amazed at some of the opinions and interpretations of your article. Interesting how we all read the same bible yet come to such different life outlooks.

    I think this article nails it and I have passed it around quite a bit.

  43. If the author actually understood the Bible, he would also understand that being a "decent human being" is included in being a good Christian. If you're spending time with God, you are also improving yourself as a human. This truth renders this article moot

  44. Reading your article reminded me of my Sunday School teacher who blathered on and on about her perfect Christian children, who I had just seen smoking pot in the church bathroom. I took the incident as a direct comminique from God that I should rely on Him and not so much on my official "teachers." Not only do I wholeheartedly agree with what you've said about the importance of "walking the talk" - but you've provided the impetus I needed to move forward with a charitable project. Thanks.

  45. @Julie,

    I see this concept in a lot of things, even outside of religion. i.e., a child might grow up thinking their parents are saints, only to learn otherwise later... etc, etc...

    I think another thing that happens is we twist people's words or meanings around. i.e., your Sunday School teacher may have talked about how wonderful her Christian children are, boasting about their greatness... not realizing that this may be taken as meaning "perfect". People fall into this same trap when they read about Jesus defending the prostitute, then they think that Jesus was OK with the fact that she was a prostitute.

    The reality of it is, the Sunday School teacher may have just decided to talk about the good in people rather than the bad. To build people up, understanding that everyone is a sinner and that those sins are between the individual and God, and that we shouldn't be the ones throwing stones.

    In any case, though, you are right... God calls us to follow His way, not Man's way. It is OK for us to fellowship together, to learn from each other, to study the Bible together, etc... but not as a REPLACEMENT of God, but only as assistance.

  46. I forgot to add that I believe a significant theme of the Bible is that the type of relationship God wants to have with us is that of a father to a son. Therefore, God would want all of his "children" to act as brothers and sisters.

  47. I enjoyed your post.

    As someone who has lived in an intentional community of faith, done spiritual disciplines, etc (against the backdrop of an evangelical childhood, Young Life, not cussing, drinking or having sex as the primary acts of discipleship), I see an elbow-grease deism at work in the practice of getting closer to God in "quiet time" or "devos". The belief that you get closer to God by getting up while it is still dark, opening your curtains so that the sun will stream in on your Bible as you seek spiritual ecstasy betrays the fact that God has done far more for "getting you close to God" when Jesus hung on a cross, the earth went dark and the curtain in the temple ripped in half...that is to say nothing of the life or the resurrection. Getting you right with God is what Jesus has done for you. Live as though that has happened.

  48. Ouch!!! This can't be said too often. This is likely a simplistic illustration, but it helps me to remember that the cross -- the symbol of the greatest love the world has ever experienced and experiences each day -- has two parts. The vertical connects me to God and moves me toward God; the horizontal reaches out to family, neighbor, the world. Lacking either the cross is not the cross.

  49. Thank you for reminding us exactly that. I can go to church as often as I want, but if I'm a jerk... God deserves better representatives.

  50. Interesting and provocative article.

    All in all I agree. I believe a lot of the Christianity espoused today is a form of Christian by proxy. That is "I am a Christian because I ... (use one from the list in the blog) and because of that the rest of my behavior is excused/doesn't count." Or to counter some of the positions posted afterwards just because you spend time with God and move closer to God in doing so does not absolve you of your day to day actions towards others. If you move closer to God by doing something from the list, you also move further away from God when you tip inappropriately; do not show care, respect, and compassion towards others; etc. And in my mind at least, the two opposite actions are not a wash as the latter actions directly impact people in real ways while much of the "moving closer" items do not require direct action on your own part toward others.

    That said, I will say, though, that I understand the counterpoint as I am probably guilty of the opposite feeling, i.e., "All in all I am a good person who tries his best to treat everyone with respect, compassion, empathy, and love and because of that I really don't need to go to church to express that/behave in this way." While I still somewhat agree with that perspective, a different perspective would be that I rob the church and my community with my lack of participation. I suppose I try to make up for any shortcoming there by being more involved in other ways but there is also something about community and devotion and the regular practice of participation that is important and needed as well.

    Hmmm, I'll need to dwell on that one a little bit.

    Any thoughts there?

  51. I think this blog basically states in secular terms what is the central heresy of American Christianity. Yeah "decent person" isn't a phrase I would use for the ideal model of Christian behavior. And I wouldn't counsel people not to read their Bible, pray, etc. But the point is well-taken.

    American Christians have by and large become exactly what Jesus came to Earth to stop us from being. We read in God's Word that we are justified by faith instead of works so we turn Paul's theology on its head by making it into a self-justifying work to SAY THAT we are justified by faith instead of works. We have become hopelessly Pelagian, meaning that we rely on our works for salvation (even though ONE of our works is ironically to SAY THAT works cannot bring us salvation).

    The reason that love for neighbor doesn't proceed from our works of piety is that we aren't doing them out of devotion to God but as a means of proving our fidelity to Him. Whether we admit it or not, we don't "feel saved" by getting baptized, praying Jesus into our hearts, accepting Him as personal Lord and savior, etc. so we cope with our anxiety by developing a rigorous regimen of "getting right with God" that rivals the corruptions of Pharisaism Jesus railed against. We're told that if we really believe it happened, then it did happen, so we repress our anxiety by acting as if it happened. So we end up being internally insecure and unable to truly love others since everything is an act we're putting on to "prove" that we really did get saved.

    I think this phenomenon has been produced by a number of factors. One was the clash between pro-slavery and anti-slavery Christians that ultimately evolved into the debate between fundamentalism and the social gospel of the 20th century. This caused "liberal" Christians to view theological orthodoxy as overly cumbersome and "conservative" Christians to be suspicious of do-gooding as a substitute for "Biblical" Christianity. So liberals become ungrounded and flaky in their spiritual walk and conservatives make the thing which should have empowered them to love into the replacement for a life of love and service to others.

    Another problem is the camp-meeting model of salvation where salvation happens in a single moment in a stadium (if you just "believe" that it happened) rather than as a process of discovering our justification and sanctification through "getting to know God" in both works of mercy (loving/helping others) AND works of piety (Bible-reading/prayer/etc).

    The casting of salvation as an instantaneous event is probably the most unfortunate legacy of the Great Awakenings. This problem did not exist for the first 1500 years of Christianity because you were born into the faith. It can be helpful to peg your faith in God to a Damascus Road experience but it's the subsequent reflection on this conversion experience and consequent opening of your heart to the Holy Spirit that keeps you in the faith, not a work that you performed in the event itself.

    Confessing Jesus as Lord should happen as a continual reminder of who has redeemed us and who we belong to, not as a single profession of faith in the front of the church that wins God's salvation. AND The best way to learn that you belong to God is to let Him love other people through you.

    I'll cut myself off here though it's incomplete. Bottom line is that our goal SHOULD BE to know and love God better; we do that through loving our neighbor BUT ALSO through diving into the Word and spending time in silent fellowship with Him NOT to prove we're saved (as most American Christians do) but because of the love He has shown for us 2000 years ago AND today.

    So I don't think the Two Great Commandments are either/or but I recognize that your post is more about calling out the misguided overemphasis on one than advocating a lopsided switch to the other.

  52. While I would agree with most of what you have to say, I would add that treating people well is what we are to do as Christians. The greatest commandment is to "Love the Lord your God with all you mind, heart, and soul." The second commandment is to "Love your neighbor as yourself." I think that is the "why" that your post is missing. We need to treat people well because that is what are commanded to do. It is our actions that will draw others to Christ. As James said - Faith without works is dead.

  53. hi!

    *waves nicely*

    never heard of you before, but I will certainly be poking my head around in the future...

    thanks for the nice article.

    my first thought was "OMG I used to waitress Sunday afternoons and I made no mental connection to those nicely dressed people with their ill-behaved, bratty children who *always* left the table a mess, and *hardly ever* left a decent tip." church people! it's all clear to me now! this was a while ago, though...

    I think, for a rant, it cuts to the heart of a dilemma, or at least a concern, in American culture today: "the rest of us" are genuinely wary of a certain kind of Christianity which is, as you described, "a jerk factory." too much in contemplative navel-gazing will lead to generally socially unacceptable behavior.

    that said, *everyone* should tip more, especially if service is good. too many members of my family and myself have worked their way through college, or grad school, to *ever* tip poorly, even if service is bad.

    anyway. thanks for the commentary. I agree that there's a disconnect. I think that being a decent human being is an admirable goal...

  54. what exactly does being a decent human being mean?
    I'm a little concerned about,"Waking up trying to be a little more kind, more generous, more interruptible, more forgiving, more humble, more civil, more tolerant. Do these things and prayer and worship will come alongside to support us." Is that the order it should happen in?
    Also a little concerning to me is, "Obviously, I was being a bit provocative with the student." and "I exaggerate of course. But I hope you see my point." Seeing that you are a psychologist I hope you are aware of the emotional persuasion of extreme statements and examples then coming in with your point. Bait and switch?
    These are just some of my thoughts not any hard and fast opinions. All in all I think you are on to something about churches being "jerk factories" and that is where you should be addressing the issues, in the churches. Honestly I think there is too much "rogue Christianity" going on and the deterioration of the church will be a lot more detrimental than we might think. I was talking to someone about marriage issues. Seems that the heterosexual community wants so bad to just live together and fight being married and on the other hand you have the homosexual community fight hard to get into the institution of marriage. People on the inside are wanting to get in and people on the outside are wanting to get in.
    Young Christians and the contemporary Christian movement is wanting to break out of the "church" and I think at some point we will see the damaging effects of the rejection of this long time institution.
    Again just my immediate thoughts. Please let me know if I'm full of it.

  55. Wish you'd explained you were ranting up front. Still, I can't tell exactly what you're ranting against--Christians, Republicans, church-goers, people you don't like, churches you don't like? And why is being "decent" (that's nice, right?) a contemporary issue?

    So what I got is an over-generalized, shallow, holier-than-thou rant. It isn't useful, kind, or decent.

    As for being a jerk, perhaps you could take personal responsibility for that, instead of blaming a church. (And don't blame your mama, either.)

  56. Richard, posters,

    First of all, I wasn't joking about being a practicing vegan. Four weeks now, losing weight, feeling much better, breaking wind more often, and looking a lot less like Norm from "Cheers."

    Secondly, my take on what Richard is saying is this: that what Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace" expresses itself in variety of "spiritual" dialects. The powers and principalities are seductive and will co-opt religious language to hold us in their thrall. Words and phrases like community of believers, spiritual disciplines, personal relationship with Jesus or God quickly, thoughtlessly become magical self-help slogans for avoidance of the Living God and God's creation and children. Such thinking comes perilously close to what St. Paul has written: "These indeed have the appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence." (Colossians 2:23) Such ought to cause ranting among decent folks. Living in but not of the world requires us to remember that we are all in this together. And that we are all subject to the seductive lure of slogans. God have mercy.


  57. George,
    You know, as I posted I figured that you had gone vegan. Apologies. Mainly I was helping all the newcomers here get your general tone. Which I, for one, always look forward to.

    And speaking of going vegan. I've always been attracted to it for theological reasons. I have absolutely no interest in being "healthy." The trouble is, I have a wife and two growing boys. I don't want my choice to affect the family dinner. Once, a year or two ago, I declared to my wife that I was going to eat vegitarian as an experiment to map out the changes it would demand upon how I ate out and how she might cook. The whole enterprise lasted three days until I tried to eat vegitarian at our local Outback steakhouse. (Why would someone trying to eat vegetarian go to Outback? We had a gift card.) At Outback a big hole in my plan emerged. I don't really like vegtables. I like meat, cheese and sugar. So at Outback the only thing I could find to eat that I'd like was the Blooming Onion and potato skins (minus the bacon). So that's what I had for dinner. A deep-fired onion and potato skins with cheese. My wife thought I was insane. And so, I think, did the waitress (who I treated warmly and I tipped well.) Well, I felt a bit queasy after that. And so ended my experiement. I think I'll try again when the boys are out of the house.

  58. George,
    You know, as I posted I figured that you had gone vegan. Apologies. Mainly I was helping all the newcomers here get your general tone. Which I, for one, always look forward to.

    And speaking of going vegan. I've always been attracted to it for theological reasons. I have absolutely no interest in being "healthy." The trouble is, I have a wife and two growing boys. I don't want my choice to affect the family dinner. Once, a year or two ago, I declared to my wife that I was going to eat vegitarian as an experiment to map out the changes it would demand upon how I ate out and how she might cook. The whole enterprise lasted three days until I tried to eat vegitarian at our local Outback steakhouse. (Why would someone trying to eat vegetarian go to Outback? We had a gift card.) At Outback a big hole in my plan emerged. I don't really like vegtables. I like meat, cheese and sugar. So at Outback the only thing I could find to eat that I'd like was the Blooming Onion and potato skins (minus the bacon). So that's what I had for dinner. A deep-fired onion and potato skins with cheese. My wife thought I was insane. And so, I think, did the waitress (who I treated warmly and I tipped well.) Well, I felt a bit queasy after that. And so ended my experiement. I think I'll try again when the boys are out of the house.

  59. As to some of the harsher comments above:

    You know, I understand what's going on. I'm sure the post came across as mean-spirited and I, myself, might be being hypocritical in its posting (i.e., not being a decent human being). It's a flawed piece of communication.

    But so would have been a post that allowed us, as Christians, to get off too easy. So I think a post like this can make a point that would not otherwise get made. And seriously, I am upset that Christians don't take kindness more seriously. Not random acts of kindness. But consistent, urgent, intentional, universal, effortful and self-sacrificing kindness. That is what I mean by being "a decent human being."

    And I'll even defend the "jerk factories" comment. Many of the people holding up swastikas at health care reform meetings are being spiritually formed in Christian faith communities. I'm more than willing to admit that a legitimate debate is needed on the economics of health care. But when Christians start equating health care reform (or the President) with the gas chambers, well, the churches that produced those "Christians" might be call "jerk factories." No decent human being compares expanded health coverage for the uninsured with Auschwitz.

  60. @Richard,

    For what it's worth, the only issue I saw with your post is the generalization of labeling nearly all Christians. I know you threw in the disclaimers here and there, but outside of those disclaimers it sounded simply like you were pointing the finger at all Christians.

    For instance, if I said, "Men are evil because they are always unfaithful to their spouses." some men (those who are faithful) would take offense. If, however, I said "It's upsetting that most often adultery is committed by the man in a relationship." fewer people will take offense, because it acknowledges that not ALL men are this way and it also acknowledges that women can be unfaithful, too.

    So, aside from a syntactical trap, your post had truth that a lot of people need to hear. My concern is that many of the people who truly needed to hear the message probably didn't "get it"... and those who are posting replies are likely the decent Christians who feel they have gotten caught up in your wide net.

  61. I can see your point... I have been to churches where the members have such haughty, rude attitudes- the worst of whom go to every service offered- yet never LIVE as Christians. I think what is missing is the connection between all these activities aimed at understanding and worshipping God (be it bible study, church meetings and worship services) and applying those teachings to everyday life. Being the same person in your car, office and restaurant booths as you are in the pew. I guess some think they put in the time at church; that is all they have to do. I hope that is the point you were trying to make because I see the behaviors you are describing too, and it is embarrassing. But if someone is truly "getting closer to God" they should be compelled to be, as you say, a “decent person”. To become more like Jesus. Thanks for the article; hopefully you will have opened some eyes.

  62. Hi Richard. Wow, I really hear what you're saying. As a pastor's wife I've seen what you're talking about first hand.I just have a couple of comments though. I don't believe spending time in worship, prayer, and in church is "wasting time with Jesus." Even if you are a jerk, after awhile I believe the Holy Spirit, if you let Him, will start plucking at your heart chords. I hated worship when I first started going to church. Hated it so much I would show up as late as possible so that I could hear as little as possible. One day the pastor preached a message about the healing power of worship. So I decided to attempt to come early. Admittedly it was painful at first. I thought the songs were corny and annoying. After awhile though I couldn't help but unfold my crossed arms and really say those lyrics to Jesus. I started experiencing emotional and spiritual breakthroughs. Soon the worship combined with the sermons gave me a whole new understanding of God's love. I had given God the same characteristics my earthly father had. To me God was someone who barely tolerated me even when I was at my best, and was just waiting for me to fail so that he could bring down the axe. Through church and worship I realized that God is love. That there is nothing I could do to earn more and nothing I could do to have it taken away. It is perfect. His Spirit is inside of us. As for being a kind person, well the only person I've really been unkind to throughout the years has been myself. If Christians truly believe the bible that says, "God is love," then by being loving to those around us, we are expressing God's nature.
    As for the Sunday brunch people. I was a waitress in New York City for 5 years and let me tell you I worked plenty of Sunday brunches and yes everyone in the restaurant agreed they were hellish. Only thing is I know none of those people were coming from church. Brunchers are hellish, period.

  63. Any Bible believing church (generally Evangelical) preaches on the Golden rule. Jesus' sermon on the mount also addresses these issues you discuss.

    You, Sir, are focusing on being provocative, to the exclusion of being a Christian; the focus is, has been, and will be Jesus. Not us. If we focus on Him, our conduct, over time, will express that (James 2).

    This is approaching social gospel, or putting people before God. Clearly you are fundamentally mistaken, and frankly, I am not only unimpressed with the shallow depth of your thinking, but your attempt to gain attention from a bunch of young persons is very Timothy Leary / Charles Manson like. I am sure God will deal with you appropriately.

  64. Thank you for a great rant. I know I have a lot of room for improvement in being a decent human being. And I feel inspired by this to work a little harder on that (make it consistent and intentional). I tip well but it's because I used to wait tables in a cheap burger joint. I wonder if it would make a difference (in me) if I tipped well because of Jesus?

  65. I just want everyone to know that, yes, I've seen the Charles Manson comment and, as a psychologist, find it all wonderfully fascinating.

    Religious folk (and I count myself a member of that zoo) are something to behold.

  66. Richard, you wrote, "No decent human being compares expanded health coverage for the uninsured with Auschwitz."

    That's not what has been happening, and I'm pretty sure you know that.

    What has been happening is the creeping nationalization of industries, which was an essential element in the EMERGENCE of fascist socialism as a POLITICAL movement...irrespective of any later evils that emerged within fascism/socialism, such as extermination and genocide. Pointing that out is fair game; this disastrous president is continually trying to distance himself from the "socialist" tag, and his sycophants in the Congress and the media are all too happy to assist him by the kind of irresponsible demagoguery the quotation above suggests.

    (Incidentally, the same thing could be said about Professor Ward Churchill and his comment about the "little Eichmanns" in the WTC. As reprehensible a b*stard as Churchill may be, qb refused to go along with the popular notion that he was calling thousands of innocent people "Nazis." If one takes the time to read what Churchill was saying, his piont was obvious and well short of the popular understanding of the word "Nazi." He simply meant, essentially, mindless cogs in a violent machine. That is a serious (and wrongheaded in my view) criticism in itself, and the imagery is plenty loaded, but he deserves the benefit of a more nuanced understanding of his point.)

    There has been no equivalence set forth among mainstream members of the chattering classes between "expanded health coverage for the uninsured" and Auschwitz. Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid would like you to believe that there has been, and if you believe that, you are being led by the nose.

    Either you are deliberately misconstruing and/or projecting and/or hallucinating, or you are doing so accidentally. Either way, it's not reality.


  67. qb,
    With all due respect, I've never seen you offer a single objective, nuanced, non-ideological sentiment about either Bush or Obama. I'm not taking driving lessons from someone who can't see straight.

  68. @qb,

    You might as well say that 100% of all people who get divorced had previously gotten married, then suggest that anyone who is getting married is clearly getting divorced eventually.

    Just because one domino fell on another domino that was an essential element in the emergence of a system from which eventually other evils emerged within it doesn't always mean that those same dominoes always have to fall in that same manner.

    Now, it you are against the U.S. Postal Service and Medicare, then we're on completely different wavelengths. However, if you are OK with these services but are against an OPTION (not a monopoly but an OPTION) created by the Government to COMPETE in the open market, then it just sounds like you suffer from a lack of focus or just an obsessive paranoia of Armageddon.

  69. Richard, Bob,

    Boys, boys, leave poor qb alone. He cannot help himself. He is simply eating too many habañeros. Their vapors bend his thinking and agitate his vocabulary.


    (Trying to get this thing to a round 100.)

  70. 'she thinks and answers "yes" '
    this sentence can be interpreted as the "working on relationship with God".
    the primary internal process of reconciliation.
    it is only after this that the secondary process of verbal apology can be processed if required.

  71. "your attempt to gain attention from a bunch of young persons is very Timothy Leary / Charles Manson like. I am sure God will deal with you appropriately."

    Haha, classic. I'm just trying to see what was so offensive in this post? Bad tippers seem awfully sensitive.

    Great post, Dr. Beck.

  72. "God will deal with you appropriately".

    Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-...No, really..I just...Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha- Ahem... I just..Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha- Heh! I'll try to post later...Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-

  73. George MacDonald wrote a similar rant in the 1800s. I appreciate him, too (as did C.S. Lewis).

    "Had you given yourselves to the understanding of his word that you might do it, and not to the quarrying from it of material wherewith to buttress your systems, in many a heart by this time would the name of the Lord be loved where now it remains unknown. ... In your churches you would be receiving truest nourishment, yea strength to live – thinking far less of serving God on the Sunday, and far more of serving your neighbor in the week. The sociable vile, the masterful rich, the deceitful trader, the ambitious poor, whom you have attracted to your communities with the offer of a salvation other than deliverance from sin, would not be lording it over them and dragging them down; they would be the cleaner and the stronger for their absence; while the publicans and sinners would have been drawn instead, and turned into true men and women ..."

  74. To Patricia,
    Thanks for a very timely grand slam.

    To George:
    Thanks for your refreshing and genuine humor, helping to maintain sanity.

    I think this is 93.

    Gary Y.

  75. @Patricia

    More Christians would do well to read MacDonald--his fiction and his non-fiction. Reading his children's stories aloud would be beneficial to children and adults alike. (He was, by the way, an inspiration to C. S. Lewis).




    (Warning: tongue removed from cheek) Don't health insurance companies have "death panels"? Don't they "ration" healthcare?


  76. George,

    Life insurance companies do weigh human life nad ration health care, but there is a large difference between a private company doing such a thing and a government embarking on such an endeavor.

    When a private company engages in these acts, people are free to choose among a multitude of different companies to find the one they would fare best under. How you vote can have no bearing on the quality of care you will receive.

    If the government, with its infinite spending powers, subsidizes a public option in a way as to undermine private insurance companies, people will be stuck with the government's valuation of their lives and will have no other place to turn to. Although this president may be benign, what is to stop the next administration from tying your quality of health care to your vote, your freedom of speech, your religion, or any other freedom you value? (Hint: nothing).

  77. @Anonymous,

    That is true what you say, but it sounds like you don't have much faith in a free market. I'm surprised by this, because it sounds to me that you'd prefer a free market.

    Could the government strong-arm themselves into being the best health insurance option ever, thus everyone switches to it and it becomes the biggest "choice"? Sure. Could a future administration pull a switcheroo and start tying quality of health care to your vote, your religion, etc? Absolutely. Will people start switching away when that happens. Most certainly.

    You see, the only reason this is even a discussion is because everyone's opinion is taken into account before big decisions are made... so, likewise, I can guarantee you that all of those who are AGAINST a government health option will NOT sign up for the government health option. Now, if they happen to work for a company that likes the option, then it looks like they will probably have to opt-out... change jobs... or get insurance elsewhere, probably at a higher cost.

    For instance, since you are concerned about the government and the evils it stands for, you likely choose to ship through UPS or Fedex and not the U.S. Postal service. When you are of age, I'm sure you are going to opt-out of medicare coverage, because we all know that the government ties healthcare of the elderly to their religion, their vote, etc...

    Again, I hear you... you don't like the option... if given the option, you'd choose something else. That's the beauty of it. It's a choice. As long as a corporate alternative exists, those who hate the government will flock to it. So, you're set. Everyone wins. You could just as easily argue that corporations can join forces, can merge, can work secret deals, and can milk the people dry of money by making their own pockets fuller and heavier. But we all know this would never happen, because corporations consist of human beings all working for a cause. The government, on the other hand, consists instead of human beings all working for a cause. With such a vast difference, it's clear that not only should we distrust the people of the government, but we should put all of our eggs into the corporate basket. They are here to save us. To sell us cigarettes, to convince us that the airbrushing of pictures of supermodels is what we should all strive for, to feed us greasy food at a cost that we can afford, then save us by selling us patented medication to keep us alive longer so we can buy more stuff to be happy.

    Look, here's the thing. Is the government evil? Sure... it's made up of people. Are corporations evil? Sure... they're made up of people. People can't be trusted, especially when they group together. They're like mobs with pitchforks and torches. So, given this, it makes no sense to trust one group of people over another. The only way to be protected is to avoid people altogether (you could camp out in a tent in the middle of Montana somewhere)... OR, you can put your trust in as many groups equally. Trust corporations more than government? That's great... but don't tie the government's hands... because, then, the corporations will turn on you. Trust the government more than corporations? That's great... but don't give the government all of the power... because, then, they could turn on you. So, instead, whenever an option arises that allows a choice between government options or corporate options, it's a win-win.

  78. @Patricia

    Which book? Sounds a bit like The Curate's Awakening, but not sure.


    Wonderful, awful provocation. Thanks.

  79. @Craig

    Unspoken Sermons (Epea Aptera), I believe from Vol. III. Very much worth the time to read in entirety. Lewis' Anthology of it doesn't do it justice. But certainly you can see where Lewis's theology critically formed. Lewis says in Anthology's preface, "My own debt to this book (Unspoken Sermons) is almost as great as one man can owe to another....I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him (MacDonald) as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him."


  80. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;


    Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

  81. @Patricia

    Thanks. I'm working through them now. I'm only on Part I, sermon 3, but I alternate reading 1 book and 1 sermon. Reading GMD's sermons is requiring a bit more of my brain than my usual fare. If you're a facebook user, then check out: I've had the privilege to admin the fan page, and am always looking for good discourse.

  82. @ Craig
    Thank you for the invite. I'm still pretty new at facebook, and haven't navigated about it much, but I found your page and clicked to become a fan.


  83. Nice post and a great reminder... Found this post after a friend shared it on their Google Reader, and am now a new "follower" of your blog. Looking forward to future posts.

    In my mind, the essence of Christianity is to become perfect even as He was perfect. The Savior wasn't perfect at sitting in the synagogue. He was perfect administeting to people's needs in the streets, on the hillsides, and ultimately, in Gethsemane and on the Cross. Thank you for the reminder.

  84. Excellant work!

    As a part-time server I see the ins and outs of "Christian behavior" at the restaurant. It has entered into the local consciousness to equate Mennonites and the Dutch as penny pinchers. Jehovah's Witnesses receive a more enthusiastic welcome in our restaurant than the church crowd.

    On the flip side, and behind the severely broken commandment to generosity given Christians, lies a group of those "poor-in-spirit" Sunday crowd tightwads who demonstrate readily to the world that they do indeed have cancer, yet they have found a compassionate doctor.

    Thomas Oden reiterated that sin is not necessary, but it is inevitable. If the much-dreaded Sunday crowd that stormed my restaurant had it all together like the Jehovah's Witnesses, Christ would be of no value to them whatsoever. In the end all of us, from the generous to the pious to the impious, are wicked knaves who "stumble in many ways" as St. James writes. Let Christ take charge of our lack of generosity and we will find new things to condemn the poor-spirits for.

  85. Loved your point! I have purchased and read books on organizing, and set up intricate files, systems and schedules, while never getting to the organizing! It's just easier to read about organizing than to do it. I think that can happen with Christianity too. It's so mch easier to read about Jesus helping the marginalized istead of doing something for them. Reminds me of the guy in New Orleans after Katrina with the sign that said, "Hey! You in the helicopter! You're the one who needs to help us!" We can't keep flying over!
    Hope people don't go to the extreme of not seeking God, the bucket needs to be filled even as it is emptied.

  86. I once worked as a waiter-my problem with the "church crowd" wasn't their behavior ordering things, it was the way they paid, especially church staff. Everyone paid for his/her own and rarely told me about this until I went to deliver the bill.
    In addition, you could always tell the Baptists and Pentecostalists (Black and White)because they were much more likely to be obese and have obese children.

  87. Your statement begs the central question: If I should work on being a better person, why should I bother with reading the Bible, going to church, avoiding certain movies or books, or voting for some parties?
    Why run twice as fast to get to the same place?

  88. Unfortunately many of those that are "spending time with God" are in reality just fulfilling some selfish need to be part of the group. A lot of those who are labelled "Christian" are actually club members that feel they are entitled to what they get in life because "God" blesses them for the work that they do. Sorry God blesses so that we might be a blessing to others - if you are not blessing others you are following some other god! True spiritual practice will bring a compassion and love for even the most unlovable as we begin to commune with God who has called us into communion. Truly finding God will cause us to die to ourselves and live for him and neighbor.
    I feel compassion both for you in your search for a "Christian" who lives as you would like to see a Christian live and for those who are lost in what they think a "Christian" should be.

  89. You have said so much of what I have been thinking for so long. I am disillusioned with Christianity right now, but am slowly redefining my beliefs, This gives me hope.

  90. I moved to the USA from Canada in the mid 90s and was shocked to discover what passes down here for Christianity. Running a church is basically an entrepreneurial affair aimed at money-making in the USA. Any used car salesman can start a church and many do, it seems.

    What I find particulary offensive is that most of the sermons are about money and becoming wealthy. This was true of all the churches I tried. Apparently this "wealth theology" is even more wide spread in the denominations that cater to a poor demographic such as the pentacostals.

    Another unpleasantness of the American variety is the emphasis on a fast-food style conversion and salvation. Just take 5 minutes out of your busy schedule to be born again! No one ever mentions a life time of good works.

    But it shouldn't be surprising that in the home of fast food, salvation is also fast and easy.

    Writer James Kuntsler sums up of Christianity in America, the evangelical variety at least, as "the Wal-mart of spirituality." I can't help but agree him.

  91. I just read this now as it was Tweeted by Today's Politics. This is amazing and true and should be read by all Christians. I don't think I have ever seen such and honest and accurate critique.

  92. Frankly, it sounds like Richard hit a nerve and a lot of people are reacting defensively: "How can you possibly tell me to stop reading the Bible? How can you say that's wasting time?"

    Well, that's not what he said. The point was that if you hide in Bible study instead of actually living your faither, if you read what Jesus told you to do instead of doing what Jesus told you to do, you are indeed wasting time. It's like an unfaithful spouse who goes and reads a book on How To Be A Good Husband, then rushes right out to his mistress.

    From the outside, I don't think many Christians understand what terrible ambassadors they are for their faith. You want to spread the Gospel? You don't do it by being a jerk, or pretending that God allows you to be rude and selfish because that's "how you behave in the world" so it doesn't matter.

    And also from the outside, it really appears that some Christians do not want others to accept their faith. Submit to it, yes; but not actually join it. (After all, how can you be smarter and holier than all those unbelievers if there aren't unbelievers?)

  93. i wanted to touch myself, but became engrossed in your article, thanks for saving me from a sin

  94. It makes sense to work on your relationship with god like that. It's about appearances. You can't tell if a person is a good religious bunny if she's "just" nice, but anyone can tell you're a good christian if you're throwing bibles at people.

  95. Once, a year or two ago, I declared to my wife that I was going to eat vegitarian as an experiment to map out the changes it would demand upon how I ate out and how she might cook.

    Uh, how about learning to cook yourself? Or is that "unmanly" and "unchristian" or something?

  96. Considering that fundie gawdbags are behind some of the worst policies in American history (anti-choice, anti-birth control, anti-GLBT rights, eroding the separation of church and state, defunding the public schools, demonizing of atheists, "spreading democracy," etc., etc.), I'd say bad tipping is the least of your problems.

  97. That was a terrible suggestion for any person to give, and there is no doubt you are trying to undermind the authority of scripture. The bible says to study [the bible] to show yourselves approved unto God. Naturally we are supposed to do good unto others as well, but not at the expense of growing in our Christian walk. Discouraging Christians from reading their bible and praying is something you will have to answer for my friend.

  98. When I worked as a waiter I used to work Sunday brunch in an upscale place in a nice part of town. Every waiter/waitress despised the church crowd. In general they were rude, demanding and poor tippers (especially when the tip was some religious propaganda which really pissed of the christain wait staff). I have long since moved on from waiting tables and now I feel the need to make up for the poor tipping of the Sunday lunch crowd. BTW, I have become an atheist and I try and do something helpful for someone else every single day.

  99. Be careful there, Richard, you are starting to sound like an atheist! You know, they say you should be a decent human being because that's just the right thing to do, not because someone scared you into it with threats of eternal hell. Just sayin'...

  100. this is what happens when a religion is hijacked by the very people it preached against in order to assimilate its followers.

    christianity's been going downhill since the romans converted and gnostics were banned as heretics.

  101. be careful... Heh... God is going to get you... heh.... Christians are so funny when they warn and threaten others.... for their own good, of course...

  102. As a restaurant server, thank you so much, Dr. Beck, for pointing out the insufferable behavior of the Sunday lunch Church crowd. Yes, it's true...all restaurant employees absolutely DREAD the church crowd. They are rude, obnoxious, and DON'T TIP! I would be much more willing to give Christianity a chance if I saw the followers actually practice what they preach outside of church. Just food for thought...

  103. @Anonymous,

    Uh, how about learning to cook yourself? Or is that "unmanly" and "unchristian" or something?

    Why the random and pointless attack at a stranger? Is this why you posted anonymously?

    He didn't say that he forces his wife to cook... or that it's her job because the Bible says so. No more than she forces him to take out the trash... or that it's his job because the Bible says so.

    When two people live together (even if they're just roommates) there are tasks that need to get done, no matter who does them. Someone needs to cook, or else dining will involve eating out. Someone needs to clean. They can split duties or assign duties. Perhaps in this particular case, his wife is "the chef" and he is "the lifter".

    Sometimes roles match typical stereotypes. Sometimes those roles don't match typical stereotypes. It makes no sense to find every instance where a role happens to fit a stereotype and campaign against it, automatically attacking the people involved. To what end? Then you only change the stereotype to something else, leaving you in a position to once again attack people. You can attack people all day every day with this philosophy. What's the point of randomly attacking people for the rest of your life? What does it solve in your life?

  104. I'm reposting this (with credit and link) in a blog I keep.. for my family to see. I hope the author doesn't mind...

  105. Thankfully someone else sees things the same way i is the entire reason why i never go to church..because i can never relate to those type of people who go. They simply are closed minded and rude to those around makes me sad and sick to watch.

  106. Bob, while your point is well taken, I believe the commenter was reacting negatively to the sentiment of "I have unilaterally decided to make some changes in my life which put 99% of the burden of making those changes on you." How or why the couple initially split the labor isn't really the point.

    I recall reading an article by an Orthodox Jewish rabbi who works with young people, many of whom are becoming more observant in their faith. He said that he often gets teenagers who want to follow kashrut (the laws of kosher eating), or follow them more stringently, and he would have to counsel them that they would have to bear the responsibility for this observance; it wasn't OK to just go home one day and say "Mom, we have to kasher the entire kitchen and we can't mix meat and milk anymore." That completely removed the whole teenage-rebellion power play part of the equation. It also made it clear to them exactly how significant a burden observance was, and that they needed to assume that burden; it wasn't OK to assign part of it to somebody else.

  107. mythago,

    I hear you. I guess I just didn't read that negativity in his post. I suppose I didn't read between the lines. I specifically noted, "I don't want my choice to affect the family dinner." which made the individual sound at least somewhat empathetic.

    For instance, my dad became a vegetarian not out of choice, but out of medical need. He had a liver problem and too much meat would kill him. As a result, my step-mom became vegetarian as well. Not out of medical need, but because this made things less complicated.

    Part of a healthy family dynamic is a family that sits down and shares meals together. Having one individual be a vegan, one a vegetarian, another a meat-eater, etc... just complicates the family meal process.

    Even if he chose to make his own vegan meals, then there could be an issue of space and timing. Maybe his wife would be in the kitchen making meals for herself and the kids and he has to wait his turn for kitchen-time. Then, while his wife and kids are eating, he's in the kitchen preparing his special meal. Or, perhaps he decides to cook for the whole family, making his own vegan meal and making a regular meal including meat for the rest of the family. Maybe his cooking isn't that great quality and the family suffers.

    Sure, anyone can cook... but some people just can't cook as well as others. Some people enjoy cooking. Rather than exploring the possibility that he's a bad cook that his wife doesn't "allow" in the kitchen... or the possibility that his wife enjoys cooking or would rather cook... the reaction was to instantly feel that he put the burden on his wife to meet his picky needs. I think that is an unfair judgment to make without knowing all of the finer details.

  108. Unfortunately, I don't believe compassion is something that can be learnt by association, which is what most of these contemporary christians think happens. Either it is in you by nature or through constant reinforcement. You are so right, though. They will come to church and pay lip service to all the virtues the priest/pastor will praise as christian. However, as soon as they leave, all is forgotten. Or maybe it's because they have the belief that, even when they draw their last breath, so long as they accept jesus christ as lord and savior, they will be ok.

  109. The real problem, the basic problem, is that people deceive themselves. They lie to themselves about the nature of the world and their own nature so as to support their desires, their ego's needs. This explains all you need to know about rightwing republicans and religious extremists. This is the one sin that truly matters. When we die we all are weighed against the feather of truth (yeah, an old egyptian metaphor), and further, we are forced to acknowledge what is actually true. That is God's actual self: the truth. Try to live truthfully. Try hard to see how you are deceiving yourself. That is the real tao, the path, to salvation.

  110. I can't help but think it's a little funny that several people have posted that they'll use this blog entry in sermons and Bible studies...

    Hopefully they'll also remember the message and put forth some effort to be kind and helpful when dealing with people on a daily basis - not just remember it as yet another pithy talking point for Sundays.

  111. Some of the meanest, most immoral people I know are the Christians who make a big deal of how freaking holy they are.

    Any businessperson who makes a point of his Christianity is automatically crossed off my list of people to do business with. I've found they are the most likely to lie and cheat me.

    Of course, this is all part of the fundamentalist/Evangelical mindset. If you are not one of them (the "saved") then you are hellbound; an evil sinner; contemptible to their way of thinking. I'm sure you or someone else will argue with this but I've seen it enough to believe it is in fact part of the belief system.

  112. Although not reading all comments, I have read enough to see that many assumed that all church members are
    Christians. That is hardly the case. Unfortunately, there are those outside of the church, i.e., non church members who view all church members as Christians. It is the responsibility of all Christians to set an example for those who are not. Christians who are frugal in offering a generous gratuity fo a meal server is an example of a bad witness for Christ.

    Then there is the one who called our Lord a Jewish doomsday preacher. And then his comment "relationship with this poor guy who died 2000 years ago and his father, neither of whom will ever talk back. If they did, the person who hears would be sent to an insane institution." was hopefully not accepted by your readers.

    He will not believe what is going to happen one day when our Lord and His Father does speak. I will not quote scripture to prove this point to him.
    He would apparently discard it. But then, it's possibily the fault of some Christians that has made him bitter.

  113. I am an atheist (former believer) and I loved this post. BTW, we note that private philanthropy drops as the government takes more taxes. Maybe that is why Christians tip less on Sundays after God asks them to drop money in the basket. Smile !
    Seriously, excellent post. Keep up the good work.

  114. Both this rant and that of MacDonald seem to address what we read in 1 John.

    "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love, does not know God, for God is love." 4.7-8

  115. I think the truth is that people of all religious stripes, or no stripe at all, are probably equally guilty of less-than-ideal behaviour at any given time. Working on one's relationship with God _is_ designed to affect our entire lives, and thus our behaviour toward others. In fact, as weird as it may sound, I'm not a Christian because I want to be nice to other people, or because I believe it makes me a "better person" in the terms of this world; if that were my belief, I'd truly have no reason to believe that any atheist can be a decent man or woman. My faith is self-contained, as are its reasons. With any luck, that faith will also make me kinder and more compassionate, if I'm reading Scripture as I should.

  116. No exaggeration whatsoever - my husband happens to be a waiter and has been saying the same thing about Sunday diners in all the many years he's been doing this work. Get them up against the wall, figuratively, and they WILL admit that the tip money went into the offering plate. That, and the notion that the waiter deserves "punishment," since s/he "should have been in church" instead of working on Sunday. Bleah.

  117. I think it's important for Christians (and NON-Christians) not to make generalizations.

    If you happen to be a waiter and you notice that Christians on Sunday morning tip poorly, ask yourself:

    1) "Could it just be Christians in this town?"

    2) "Could it just be Christians that visit restaurants after church?"

    3) "Could it just be Christians that visit this particular restaurant?"

    4) "Could there be other Christians in this restaurant that are tipping well, but who are not dressed in an obvious way that would denote they just came from church?"

    5) "Am I guesstimating that most Christians are this way, or did I perform an unbiased study using the scientific method?"

    I am a Christian. After church, I go home. I do not go to a restaurant after church. I also wear normal street clothes to church, so you would not recognize me as a Christian visually, unless you assumed that the only people who would be awake at 8am on Sunday would be Christians.

    When I DO visit restaurants, I typically tip decently. I wouldn't say "well" because I presume there may be others who tip better than I. I usually tip about 20% every time. If I have a poor experience, I will tip 15%. Only in extreme circumstances (of poor service) might I tip as low as 10%, but my general rule of thumb is to consider a minimum 15% tip as standard fare with 20% being the common tip.

    When I tithe, I use cash. When I pay at a restaurant, I use credit card. When I tip, I add it to the credit card. So, my tithing does not interfere with my tip.

    I admit that I do not know how much other Christians tip, so I could very well be in the minority as far as tipping Christians go. However, I do not assume anything about people unless an unbiased well structured scientific survey is performed and the statistics are analyzed properly.

    All of the talk here is hearsay and is based primarily on presumptions. I don't doubt that the experiences were real, I just doubt that the results reflect the reality of the situation.

  118. Dear Mr. Beck,
    I thoroughly enjoyed your message and found it to be both incisive and convicting. You have great insight in your criticism, in fact I'd say you were truly right in what is wrong, but generally wrong about what is right.

    The gospel, in its essence, is most emphatically a message of grace. I think you are aware of this judging by your criticism. Your right "working on your relationship" is a form of legalism therefore wrong, then again so is waking up every morning trying to become a more decent human being. Trying to become better is still works, even if done in "baby steps" We do not need to become better, we need to become new.

    We can not genuinely love others unless the love of God is within our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5) Love of God and others are the greatest commandments. How can we love God if we do not know Him? How do we know Him? Through a relationship of prayer, worship, reading His word, faith. The things you denounce as a waste of time.

    I fully agree with your diagnosis, but respectfully demur your prescription. I'd have to suggest the problem at the heart of the matter is our human heart. Prayer and worship and everything else on your list are not the problem, its the things of our old nature that our hearts still clutch. We, myself included, must cleanse the inside of the cup first, and then worry about cleaning the outside.
    -Brother in Christ,

  119. I understand what you mean. You are talking about actual acts and behavior that may reflect what we have learned from the Bible. Examples that reflect our faith and what we believe. Many people worry about their relationship with God as if they were accumulating points like the mileage program through which they will get a ticket that will take them to God's presence. We need to accept that we have to learn way to treat each other well and that will make it easier for us to know what to do to develop a relationship with God.

  120. First time reader. Love what you've said here. I have spent many years sorting out how to show God my love for him. And it is only recently, now that I am in my mid-forties, that it occurred to me: when I love people, I am loving God.

    Just like when people care for my kids, they are caring for a part of me.

    Thanks for this thoughtful and insightful post. I'll be back!

  121. One for the Alaskan Texan, because I don't know him and he is anonymous to me!

    Great Post. I would love to see more like this.

    Oh yeah here's a name for you: Renee

  122. I read this post as both a Christian and through my lens as a Christian minister and leader. I think you are spot. Instead of trying to be the person God has created and redeemed us to be, we try all these other noble "spiritual" activities believing somehow that this is what God desires from us. Any ways, I was so impressed with the post that I linked to it on a blog post of my own. I wish this post could be published in every church builletin. Thank you for so candidly and graciously speaking the truth.

    Grace and peace,

    K. Rex Butts

  123. Dr. Beck: I really enjoyed reading that essay. I had many a walks around campus talking with friends during my ACU days and it involved me talking about how my journey through life was me simply "trying to be the best person I could be and leave the world somehow better than I found it"; howver, I was still frowned upon though since I wasn't a Christian. It was like you had to be a Christian in order to be a good person...

  124. You have summarized exactly what I believe has gone wrong with many Christians. Many seem to have forgotten to be polite, loving, and generous and more often take it into their hands to be spiritual crusaders, cruel to anyone who isn't a Christian or doesn't observe God the same way as they do(prayer, church, etc). It is because of that common behavior now that I have come to believe that nonChristians often follow the Christian ideals better and have disassociated myself with the label of "Christian". I hope more people, not just Christians, but others, will read this and embrace the concept of being a good person.

  125. Richard loved reading your post as always. The comments....they are like mini blog posts of their own, everything from healthcare, spiritual disciplines, and whether or not Jana is forced to cook your dinner at night. Classic!

  126. I agree. I feel that often times we do live in a tunnel vision, God-only, kind of mindset. But if we live with our eyes only on God we are not seeing the people that we are bumping into and stepping on along the way.

    I feel that so much of our relationship with God is our relationship with his creation. Though sometimes we want to just ignore one and focus soley on the other, it can't be so. That's like dating an artist without ever wanting to see his paintings and praise him for them. It's like dating a musician without wanting to listen to his music.

    You can never have a real love for creator without also loving his creation.

  127. The rabbis say that every human being is a :self-potrait of G-d, since he made us in his own image. It then follows that to showing love to ur neighbor is loving G-d - and "working on our relationship with him".

  128. This is exactly why I left Christianity.

    Thanks for putting my feelings into words.

    Unfortunately, it won't help in bringing me back.

  129. As long as there is a disconnect between learning about God and being obedient to him, it will always be easier and more popular to "work on my relationship with God."

    Interesting... that relationship between knowledge and obedience. Just thinking out loud here a bit:

    Knowledge for Obedience
    Knowledge with Obedience
    Knowledge before Obedience
    Knowledge against Obedience
    Knowledge without Obedience

  130. I appreciated the essay above very much. As for the remarks about the so-called health-care reform issue, none of the bills so far are even remotely directed toward providing health care coverage for the uninsured. Instead, under every proposal the costs for health care and taxes are increased for everyone. In short, the entire effort is about an immoral group of thugs and cheats stealing from American citizens after lying to us all; something I'm sure Jesus would NEVER approve of.

  131. This kind of thinking is really popular among those that accept simple answers to complex problems. I can imagine you being very popular among high school and college students. Reductionistic thinking never really proposes a solution. It merely swings the pendulum in the other direction.

    Much of this article may be true. Christians should tip better. Christians should love their neighbor better. Christians should be better human beings. But being a better human being is not the goal of the Christian faith. It is a by-product. Worshiping God with other followers of Jesus is one of the reasons we go to church. I never go to church to "be a better person." Reading the Scripture is something I do to understand God, faith, the world, and myself. I never read my bible to "be a better person." Praying is the means to communicate with God. I pray to give thanks for who he is. I pray in order to speak my heart to God and hear his will for me. I never pray to "be a better person."

    It is interesting to note that so many people agree with your suggestion. Anyone interested in "being a better person" would agree with what you have written. You have a number of Atheists that think you are right on the mark. That is interesting. Although "being a better person" should be a natural result of a life committed to following Jesus, it is certainly more than that.

    My suggestion... the next time someone says that they are going to "work on their relationship with God" remind them what that would really mean. Tell them to worship honestly. Repent of their self-righteousness deeply. Care for the needs of the poor and oppressed consistently. Going to church is not the answer, but being the Church in lost and crazy world is part of the answer.

  132. Pet Peeve: I think Bob touched on this. I've heard about this tipping reputation for years. Show me the data. That's why we have experimental psychology and don't trust anecdotal evidence. Bob offered a few alternative explanations, but there could also be a self-fulfilling prophecy at work. Maybe servers expect a bad tip, offer poor service, and get what they deserve. And why does paying more make me a more decent human being? When you check out at walmart do you offer to pay more to demonstrate your decency? Their cashiers are poorly paid as well, do you offer them a tip?

  133. The concept of tipping has always fascinated me. It has also given me a sense of personal confusion at times. Here is what I mean.

    For restaurants, I will generally tip about 20%. Regardless of the service quality. I know this makes no sense, but I would rather not use my wallet to judge the performance of others. I am only leaving the tip because I know the employers are under-paying the employees knowing they will make it up in tips. I leave my tip to counter-balance another customer who might tip much less or not at all.

    At establishments where I am handed the food over the counter (and not waited upon at a table), I never tip. Even if they have a tip-jar. I always use my credit card for payment and it frustrates me to see the tip jar sitting there and an extra line to add a tip on the receipt, because I don't think every little service should start replacing some wages and some benefits with tips. While my decision not to tip at all might only hurt the employee and doesn't change the minds of the establishment, my decision not to tip in those instances is still out of principle nonetheless.

    For hotels, I always leave a $10 tip each day for the cleaners. That's some thankless back-breaking work. I don't wait until the last day to leave a tip out of fear that one of the previous cleaners will not be the same one on that last day.

    For pizza delivery, I usually just add $3 or $4. For a $15 haircut I usually leave a $4 or $5 tip.

    I tend to follow these rules no matter the level of service. If someone really is terrible at the service level, I might drop the restaurant tip to 15%... or the delivery tip to $2.

    Now, on one hand, this might make me look like a "good tipper". On the other hand, consider this. When employers see that their employees are getting a decent amount of money in tips... they will be more inclined to lower their regular wage and take away other costly benefits. In other words, when the customers start giving less to the establishment and more to the individual employee, the employer is going to figure out how to get themselves back into that loop.

    Furthermore, if a position tips really well, there will be a greater demand by prospective employees. This makes getting and keeping such a job harder to accomplish and lowers the sense of security.

    In other words, it all balances out. If I leave 15% and someone else leaves 5%... statistically, this is all going to balance out to some sort of standard average percentage which will remain relatively static. All other aspects of employment will generally adjust to this percentage, and the employees won't be any better off or worse off.

    So, in a sense... those who leave small tips aren't any more or less important than those who leave big tips. We are all playing our collective part to generate the expected outcome, balancing everything out.

    How people PERCEIVE tipping is where the problem comes in. In the same way that I don't think employees should be judged by customer's wallets, I also don't think customers should be judged by their own wallets as well.

  134. Just did a little digging and found this. Conlin, Lynn, & O'Donoghue (2003). The norm of restaurant tipping. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization. This is the only study I could find that looked at day of the week. Unfortunatly, they only included weekday vs weekend as a variable. First, they found that size of the tip is predicted by server friendliness and speed of service. So it's easy to imagine that the Sunday rush results in longer service times (and probably less friendliness), which result in lower tips. More interesting, however, is that they found the service-time "penalty" was lower on weekends (which would include Sunday). In other words, on weekends, when places are more crowded, people probably expect to wait longer and, therefore, do not connect their tips to their service time as much as they do during the week. On a more positive (for Christians) note, one could interpret this to mean that Christians eating on Sunday experience longer waits, but choose not to punish servers as much as those pagans who eat out on weekdays. Of course, it would be nice if we could nail it down to Sundays and take care of all of the other confounds mentioned above, but I'm still not convinced that Christians stiff servers to the extent indicated by servers. Anecdotally, I don't eat out on Sundays (I like the Chick-fil-A model of doing business). The last time I did eat out (right before Christmas), I left a $60 tip on a $40 check. We also gave $1000 to a favorite Shoney's waitress/friend for Christmas.

  135. Elvis,
    I think getting hard data is the right way to go with this. Unfortunately, when I looked at Conlin et al. I noted that the data collection occurred between 6 and 10 pm at night as customers were leaving the restaurant. So their data doesn't help us resolve the Sunday lunch question.

  136. Richard, this article has given me hope. I basically gave up the American version of Christianity ten years ago. To me, it's a false religion practiced in this country, because of the "bait and switch" that I have experienced. American Christianity has lost its credibility and has become irrelevant to most people. Sadly, American Christianity is more like a political party than a way home to meet the Savior.

  137. On August 16th, Monday,2010 I was taking my son to school. It's a christian school :P . This is his second year at this place and while there has had nothing but problems from kids especailly one in particular. They swear worse than sailors and say very explicit sexual remarks. I address the principal (aka assistant pastor) last year about this and to no avail, this problem is not going away with his help. Well as I was driving to my sons school, i got the words"bait and switch". Lord what do you mean? These boys need a bait and swich. ok I thought. Immediately I sensed God meant "Love" it was abait and switch back to the true meaning of being a disciple of Christ. These boys play on the worship teams, are in Youth groups, and are acting like christians on the outside but on the inside they are dieing. They see this in their parents and friends in church. I found your site because I wanted to see what God was saying about the bait and switch. This is sooo true. I KNOW the christian school isn't the whole answer, it's my husbands and my resposibility. Just wanted our son to have a smaller school crowd and "likeminded people. Well, not much likeminded ness going on there but with this newest revelation from the Lord, I know what I'm called to do. LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Thanks for your confirmation on the subject. BTW: When we hit the local chinese restaurant on Sunday's, we have had some great talks with our waitersses and waiters. They seem genuinely glad to see us, we tip the "appropriate" amount, (kinda like an "offering" not a tithe, now thats a deep subject!), but we also pray for their business to be blessed, their fams in China, and other needs as they are presented to us. We spend time with them when it's possible for them. We aren't there to convert them, thats Gods job, but We seem to be in better spirits after leaving there too. How much more God time do you need than that!?

  138. Such an amazing article! Thank you!

    Behavior at lunch after church IS spiritual, and if I were a preacher, my very next sermon would be on tipping and treating waiters like they, too, are made in God's image.

    It blows my mind how snotty and self-centered so many Christians can be; snobby, petty, angry, self-righteous. It's hard, being human, I know, but it's sad that we can't be better than that.

  139. "On a more positive (for Christians) note, one could interpret this to mean that Christians eating on Sunday experience longer waits, but choose not to punish servers as much as those pagans who eat out on weekdays."

    I am a waiter, and have been for twenty-some-odd years. I am a Christian and never work on Sundays. I have, however, waited on many church groups on other evenings of the week. It is not just Sundays. It is not the level of business. It is not my attitude (I am generally accounted by customers and "the nice one.") I rather detest church groups, and even obviously Christian families and friend groups. I tell you the truth from much experience. They tend to be pushy, rude, and cheap.

    The situation is far less worse in the very small town in which I now live and work, but it is noticeable even here. When I lived in a larger city, and from the servers I have spoken to from other mid-size to large cities, it is absolutely obvious indeed. No matter the day, church groups are obnoxious and cheap.

    It humiliates me. I am known to my coworkers as a Christian (and minister -- very small church, so I have to work to support myself). Numerous times I have found myself grousing, "I am going to become a Buddhist. I don't want to be associated with these people."

  140. This article brings to attention some immediate problems with contemporary Christians today, but I think we have to realize that there are multiple problems that can be quite deep.

    The problems that you state seem to be consistent with most Christians in general here in America, and not just "contemporary" Christians. Especially conservative fundamentalists in the South.

    A church operating in one mind and spirit, as Paul spoke of, is an extremely rare and beautiful thing. But we have to realize, so much damage has been done to the church we now see represented before us today. Many spiritual diseases have plagued this church, and many more are to come. There are problems with people adding to scripture, and there are problems with people taking away from scripture. Both are of the flesh. People are trying to do things in their own power that only come by faith in Jesus, and by grace. Many are making clothes of fig leaves to cover up their worldly nakedness, but have not trusted God to clothe them.

    One of the greatest problems with today's church is a lack of the genuine fear of God that produces the true fruits of the spirit (love, kindness, meekness, patience, faith are examples of some them). This points us back to the foundation of all goodness and righteousness for saints, which is faith, and is greatly under attack. There is a great lack of people who are truly willing to be led by God faithfully. They want to do it all in their own power.

    The problem is much deeper than it appears, and it is not as simple as telling someone to see how they can be a good person when they wake up. In fact, that can be feeding the same problem. There are plenty of Christians to go around who have stopped chewing, smoking, drinking, and cussing, but those things are not enough in and of themselves. Although that's admirable on a social level, it's more complicated than that. What is needed is an earnest and full relationship with God (not simply religion, as you say). But not simply recognizing that God is good, loving, and merciful, but a relationship that leads to true obedience that comes through chastening and not-so-good times. God is preparing His faithful and Holy remnant for eternity.

  141. Most people agree that "becoming a more decent human being" is a worthwhile goal. However many of us human beings find it difficult. Selfishness comes natural; it seems encoded in our DNA. Frustrated with our feeble efforts at becoming "more decent human beings", we turn to a higher power for help. We read the Bible, pray, and attend church. And then Beck tells us to cut out all that Christianity stuff and "just do it" ourselves.

    I understand the breed of Christian you're talking about, and maybe some people need to spend less time "working on their relationship with God" and more on loving people. I get it. But following your line of thinking would seem to make Christianity and the Bible superfluous, since we should all just try our darndest to be decent human beings.

  142. You got it it right thanks....

    When in doubt go back to the origina, today's church is a very bad copy of the original church and it's plans and purpose.

  143. You did not leave Christianity, you left a cheap imitation. I hope you never go back there. You should really try seeking Christ, instead of Christianity.

  144. Mr. Beck, this is a valid point but only within a narrow strain of American Christianity that barely accepts some of the creeds. When that student talked about relating to God she really was wanting something that isn't a relationship. Thankfully there is another way.

    When the life of a Christian is focused around the Eucharist, the relationship with Christ true and real, and making us humane is part of what Christ gives in the forgiveness of sins. One can't encounter Christ in the flesh repeatedly without having one's flesh and fleshly relationships transformed.

    Sadly, this theology and its practice is unacceptable to most of the students you meet concerned about their "walk with God."

    Finally, I think the lunch crowd embarrasses you because everybody has to eat so the cross-section of society is wide. It feels great to meet a thoughtful Christian young man in a bookstore and think about what a "testimony" he provides by being seen with a Bible and Arnold together, or to encounter a penitent activist in an African country. But, everybody has to eat including people more boorish than the literary crowd and less gifted than the social worker missionary. Christ saves unlikeable people too.

  145. I get the idea of self-fulfilling prophecy, but you might not know how the waiting/serving industry works. Sure walmart cashiers get paid badly, well, the worst they can get is minimum wage - let's low ball that and say its $7 an hour now. In KS, and most states, waiters get a base of $2.13 an hour as their "wage" from the employer. In four years of waiting tables, I can count on one hand the number of times I had a check that was larger than $40 after a two week period of work. All that 2.13 did was try to pay my taxes. If I didn't get good tips, I made next to nothing, regardless of what background or religion the tipper had.

    I can understand not tipping certain types of employees, but when it comes to waiters and delivery drivers (even worse than waiters, because they're using their own cars, paying their own gas, and even if they get minimum wage plus tips gas isn't cheap!) tips are the only way they get paid...and when the people they serve are rude, demanding, don't understand when the kitchen messes up their food that it's not the server's fault, or they just don't "believe in" tipping, or whatever their problem is, that's when it's just sad how servers get treated.

    Anecdotal evidence may not be the best evidence there is, but the saying goes, walk a mile in someone else's shoes and then you can criticize. I think everyone should work a year as a waiter, just to know what it's like, and have the feeling of depending on the whims of people who rarely understand how the system works being responsible for making your ends meet. But not everyone has that time, so why not just help other people understand how to tip better? I mean it's the same problem people have with understanding and loving all types of people. Many people don't understand what politicians have to go through to work, and so they say all politicians are liars and cheats, and be done with it. It's easier to say, I have this "people group" figured out and this is how I'll treat them, and then move on. It's much harder to take the time to get to know them, understand them better, and love them.

    Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with everything you are, and the second is to love people as yourself. It's like a never ending cycle, we should love God by loving people, and when we love people, we are loving God.

    Just some food for thought.

  146. I have seen this also.  In my life I came to see that I had an entirely wrong view of what a realationship with God is. I learned that if I really draw near to God, seek Him humbly believing in who he said he is, if I am quiet and wait on Him, he draws near to me.  I begin to become like Him, then I begin to have that witness.  I begin to show the fruit of the spirit as seen in Galatians 5.  When I try to aproach him through doing the things on the list above as if they will please Him through my effort it makes me worse.  It is usually a dodge so I can get arround dealing with something that he is changing in me and I don't want changed. The list done in that way actually makes me into something Like the characteristics of the fruit of the flesh in in Galatians 5.  A relationship with God is not something that comes out of a list of dos and don'ts it comes of really seeking Him as he has shown us, really seeking relationship.

  147. Great article!!! My thoughts exactly. It is sad, but most Christians rarely act very "christian". I am sure Jesus would not recognize them as followers of his path of love, forgiveness, tolerance, generosity and acceptance.

  148. Thanks, Richard Beck. This Sunday is All Saints Sunday 2011, at least as celebrated in the United Methodist Church, in which I am a pastor. I will certainly borrow a bit of your blog for my sermon.... a saint is someone who treats the server well at lunch after worship, including giving a generous tip. +++Pastor John, S.E. Michigan

  149. To work on one's relationship with God has nothing to do with the "activities" of praying, studying Scripture, or going to church. But it does have everything to do with opening your heart to God while we pray, study Scriptures, and going to church. If we open our hearts as we attempt to grow spiritually others will see and experience what a real Christian is. Too many people have simply a "head knowledge" of God and His Word. Relatively few have a "heart knowledge". It's easy to tell the difference just by how we treat each other. Jesus said that His disciples would be known by all men "if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35).

  150. So, those would be, anti-death of babies, anti-death of babies, anti-sin, eroding something that doesn't exist, defunding the failing, unconstitutional school system, standing against atheists who demonize them, and spreading "freedom", (which I agree is not a Christian job).

  151. A few other areas where a Christian can miss the point:
    Calling music worship- it's really praise and thankfullness 
    "Going for converts instead of making disciples.
    being religious, rather than spiritual.

  152. Birth control isn't anti-death of babies, it's prevention of babies that can't or won't be cared for.  Most people think of early term abortions the same way, but your characterization of abortion as "death of babies" is more understandable.  Separation of Church and State is a fundamental and original tenet of the US Government, documented in the First Amendment to the Constitution, the Treaty of Tripoli, and many other early documents.  The phrase was basically coined by one of the Founding Fathers (can't remember if it was Jefferson or Madison) as "a wall of separation between church and state".  Religious Liberty can only be guaranteed if the separation exists.  If we were a Christian nation originally, we would not have Baptists or Methodists or the modern Evangelical movements, as the Puritans (or one of the other sects in existence in the 1780s) would have codified their view as law.  

  153. Being that church was the only place I was ever bullied as a child and well into my teenage years this post makes me smile. The harassment I had to go threw at the hands of The Youth Minsters daughter and son were to much for me and put me off church all together to this day I cannot set foot in a church without having a panic attack. I truly hope that more people will read this take home the message and try to improve themselves.

  154. FYI, Separation of Church and State is nowhere in the Constitution.  It's in a letter that Jefferson wrote.    The Puritans were careful not to codify their views into law, because the whole reason they left England was to avoid the state's religion, the Church of England.  They founded the country for religious freedom.  And some (not all) forms of birth control (think 'day after" pills) do kill the developing fetus.  I'm sure there are some more errors in your comment, but I'm tired and need to get back to work.  Next time, you might want to get the facts straight before you get on your soapbox.  As it is, your comment just sounds like empty opinion and no facts.

  155. aaaaaaaaaa MEN!!! 
    The GREATEST COMMANDMENT is to love God, and your neighbor.

    as an ex-waitress, I have been saying this for years.  My pastor has addressed the Sunday morning restaurant reputation from the pulpit.

    Well said, Richard.

  156. It's in the Bill of Rights which while can be viewed as a document in it's own right however just as with other legal documents is a sub-category of the US Constitution that amends the power of the governing bodies.

  157. This reminds me of a friend of mine, who was rushing to get to church on Sunday morning, when he encountered an elderly woman. they visited for a bit about the Lord. he then excused himself to hurry off to church, while she went to the inner city to help the homeless. I beleieve she
    did alot more for her relationship with God than did my friend.

  158. The morning after pill doesn't kill anything. It prevents a zygote from ever implanting in the first place. 

  159. The biology isn't really all that important.  Fundamentalists hate all forms of birth control because it allows people to enjoy sexual activity without any negative consequences. They would much rather bring unwanted children into the world, because childbirth is the appropriate "punishment" for the woman's sinful indiscretions.

  160. Mark, it is actually in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the United States. I quote: "Amendment I
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
    It is grossly inappropriate for candidatese or Government to promote ANY religious views.

  161. Excellent post. 

    A few weeks ago I was doing a community clean up in my neighborhood. I rode to the sign-in area with a neighbor, who was also the block captain. His SUV had a giant "Jesus Saves, Obama Spends" sticker on the window. When I got in the car, I had to move the enormous bible off the seat to make room. Clearly they were "gawd fearin' Christians".

    Halfway through the clean up I approached a leaf-covered yard that others seemed to be skipping. I started to rake and the block captain ran up to me, pulled me aside and started speaking in a hushed voice.

    "We're not doing that yard," he said.


    "Because when my wife went looking for volunteers, he said he didn't want to participate in 'this crap'."


    "So he isn't getting his yard raked by us."

    I took a look down the street, at all the nicely raked lawns, and then at my neighbors truck, with the obnoxious window decal.

    "You know what," I said, "I'll rake the yard, and if he wants to yell at someone for doing it, he can yell at me. His house is still part of the neighborhood."

    My neighbor, with his huge bible, bumper sticker and absurd blow-up nativity scene shook his head and left me to rake the yard alone. 

    If you're going to publicly display your faith, display it through your actions. 

  162. Why should people who aren't subject to God's instruction worry about how they act? Grace covers everything so they are assured a place in heaven despite any "bad" behavior on their part.

  163. Thanks for this. This story made my day. I might move it onto the main page if you don't mind.

  164. I agree with everything the author said, especially about the abominable behavior of "Christians" who go out to lunch on Sunday afternoon and treat their waitresses poorly. 

    In particular, I cannot imagine the purpose of leaving a woman who works for $2.25 an hour base salary and depends on her tips to make a decent wage a fake $10 bill that urges her to join the local fundamentalist church.  The louts who do this not only are being cruel, they are forgetting that Jesus directly commanded his followers to succor the poor, visit the imprisoned, and cloth the naked.  Stiffing waitresses in the name of fulfilling the Great Commission was not part of the plan.

  165. What a wonderful example of right-wing brainwashing.  Jesus must be weeping at your cruelty and hatred for your fellow human beings.

  166. Go for it. 

    It served as a potent reminder for me to let my actions speak more than my decorations. It also reminded me of this t-shirt, which I've pointed my Christian friends to on multiple occasions: Sums up his message nicely, I think. 

  167. Just found this blog entry. After two years, it still hits home. We forget that a relationship with God is supposed to change us and how we deal with people. Correction, I forget that. It's so easy to withdraw into a monastic practice of faith without physically withdrawing from the world.

  168. If the bible had been translated directly from Aramaic, then it might be worth a damn.  As it is, Greek to Latin to English, it's amazing that Christianity is not more screwed up than it is

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