Monday, August 2, 2010

Morality Clubs and the Kingdom of God

As you may recall, awhile back I talked about the Kingdom of God; specifically, I talked about a few of the more commonly held views of what the Kingdom of God is. Since then I've talked about how the Kingdom of God relates to politics, religion, and society. Today I'm going to continue the series by talking about how the Kingdom of God relates to morality.

The view that the Kingdom of God is essentially an ethical system is very common. Many people believe that the Kingdom of God is just a moral code that people are obligated to follow. People who hold this view usually try to ensure that people obey the moral principles which they equate with the Kingdom of God.

In principle this is a nice idea, but in practice it often leads to the creation of "morality clubs"; groups whose sole purpose is to make sure that everyone (or at least, everyone in the group) follows the correct moral code. These groups are usually manipulative. They use shame and guilt to control people's behavior. They also lead people to become very judgmental towards each other and even towards themselves.

If you're familiar with the gospels, you will probably recognize that this is not how Jesus treated people. Jesus was kind and affectionate to even the worst of the worst. Strangely, he was the most critical of people who were working hard to be paragons of virtue. Jesus did not look favorably on the morality clubs that existed in his day.

Obviously, Jesus did present a set of morals in his teachings, but at the center of his teachings were several teachings on mercy and forgiveness. God's mercy and forgiveness, which Paul described as grace, lies at the heart of Jesus' ethical teachings. If we understand Jesus' teaching on this matter, we will see that it is the perfect antidote to morality clubs, both in our time and in Jesus' time.

According to this teaching, being completely wicked is not the worst thing a person can do. The most evil thing that we can do is be good and consider ourselves superior to the people who aren't as good as we are. According to Jesus, this judgmental attitude is always worse than the evil deeds done by the people we judge.

If we follow this teaching, if we put forgiveness first, then we lose the right to control or manipulate others. We cannot use guilt or shame to get people to behave the way they should. Instead, we are asked to freely extend forgiveness to everyone and trust God to do what is right.

If we follow this teaching, it will free us from these kinds of manipulative morality clubs. It will also free us from the deep injustices of our society. Of course, if we follow this teaching, we will also come to understand that no one follows it perfectly, and we don't have any way to force them to comply.

That lack of control is a problem for many people. That's why so many people prefer their morality club to the true kingdom of God. Such groups are safer and easier to control. But they aren't truly God's kingdom, and they never will be.

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