By Anna Ilona Mussmann
When the sins of a Christian become public, the world shows no mercy. It is not just that the world condemns the sinful actions--as indeed it should--but that it leaps gleefully to its feet, delighting in the chance to activate the stocks and pillory and turn the sinner into an example. Revealing the crimes and misdeeds of men and women who appeared righteous seems to leave an especially toothsome flavor in the mouths of those who reject Christian morality. It is as if this activity fulfills some deep-seated need in those who do it.
Indeed, the world seems rather fascinated by the whole concept of the sinful Christian. We see this not only in the news media but also in movies and television shows that routinely depict theologically orthodox Christians as individuals who hate humanity and therefore are hypocrites.
What makes Christian sin so delightful to the world? Some of the reasons are obvious. We live in an age in which outrage is a popular pastime. Even the most secular of individuals are attacked and shamed for saying the wrong thing online. In addition, headlines and T.V. shows that fit with popular narratives (the corrupt cop, the prostitute with a heart of gold, the noble warrior, the fearless superhero, the hypocritical white Christian male) provide easy watching and easy reading. Moreover, campaigns against prominent Christians are useful ways to sway public opinion and to rob historic Christian morality of any moral authority (“Look, these people are nasty, so don’t listen to them”).
It doesn’t help that popular understanding of theology has become so dim that many people define a Christian as someone who “is a good person.” Such an understanding leads easily to the belief that Christians are people who think they are better people than everyone else. Who doesn’t like to see the snob humiliated? Besides, it surely helps non-believers to soothe any sense of guilt they might feel over their own sins if they can convince themselves that no one else is any better.
However, I do not think that all of these points get to the root of the rush for stocks and pillory. Why is our postmodern, tolerant age so obsessed with chasing, catching, and punishing sin? Why the outrage, the head-wagging, the heart-burning, and the endless sneering on Twitter? Why the mob action?
I think that beneath it all is a search for Jesus. The obsession with sin is also an obsession with righteousness. Rather like the so-called atheist who hates God, the world chases after anyone who claims to know goodness, truth, and beauty in order to tear down that person and prove that such things do not exist. This hunt is made all the easier by the fact that no sinful human is capable of living up to the faith that he or she preaches. Thus, the world is forever chasing (and yet never quite killing) the shadow of the thing it disbelieves.
Like Shakespeare, we might say that, “The lady doth protest too much.” The world would not care about sin if it did not, in the deep recesses of its millions of individual hearts, long for goodness. The world would not scream so much about hate if it did not, somehow, yearn for a love that is true and truly eternal. The world would not hate Christians for failing to be Jesus if it were not searching for Jesus.
Judging by the current drift of social values, it seems highly probable that our culture will continue to grow more hostile to Christians and Christianity. When we face this hostility in our own lives, perhaps the best response is to say, “Yes.” Yes, you are right--sin is real. And so is Jesus.
Anna writes as often as she can. After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin she taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania with their small son (and are awaiting the arrival of baby #2, due in July). Anna's personal blog is Don't Forget the Avocados and her work can also be found in The Federalist.
Image: "Three Witches" by Johann Heinrich Füssli, 1783