Satan’s excuses precede lawless Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 July

1 John 3.7-12.

Many of the verses from today’s passage tend to be yanked out of context.

  • “Let no one deceive you” 1Jn 3.7 —used to refer to anything which might trick or mislead Christians, from heresy to the latest internet conspiracy theories.
  • “The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” 1Jn 3.8 —treated as though it’s the only reason Jesus came to earth, so certain dark Christians use it to justify their fixation on demonology instead of good news.
  • “Everyone borne of God doesn’t sin” 1Jn 3.9 —used to condemn Christians who do sin, instead of encouraging them (really, all of us) to go back into the light.
  • And of course those folks who wanna interpret the Cain and Abel story to make Cain an irredeemably evil person… instead of recognizing the LORD and Cain had a conversational relationship, Ge 4.9-15 and God obviously wanted to redeem Cain, not destroy him. (Otherwise he’d have destroyed him!)

All right, best I jump into the text before unpacking it.

1 John 3.7-12 KWL
7 Children, let no one deceive you: Doing what’s proper is right, just like Christ is right.
8 Doing sin is of the devil, because the devil sins from the very start.
This is why God’s Son appeared: To undo the devil’s works.
9 Everyone reborn by God doesn’t do sin, for God’s seed remains in them.
They can’t sin, because they’ve been reborn by God.
10 This is how God’s children and the devil’s children are identified:
Everyone who doesn’t act properly, who doesn’t love their fellow Christian, isn’t of God.
11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.
12 Not like Cain, who murdered his brother Abel out of evil.
Why did Cain murder him? Because Cain’s works were evil.
The works of his brother Abel were proper.

John wrote this right after he defined sin as violating the Law. Parts of the Law are still totally valid. (The ritual sacrifice and ritual cleanliness parts are redundant, and the rules for native Israelis and Israel’s descendants don’t apply to nonresidents and gentiles.) Following those valid parts is still what God expects of a saved people: Now that we belong to Jesus, be like Jesus. He didn’t sin; we shouldn’t sin.

So John went on to say his readers shouldn’t let themselves get tricked into thinking otherwise. ’Cause plenty of us have been deceiving ourselves for years. Like the Christians who are anti-Law, who think Jesus nullified God’s Old Testament commands and therefore nothing’s a sin anymore. John cuts right through this rubbish: If you don’t resist sin, if you don’t behave as God’s children ought, you’re not one of his children. “Everyone reborn by God doesn’t do sin.” 1Jn 3.9 He doesn’t, so we shouldn’t.

No, this doesn’t mean Christians never ever sin. Of course we do. Hence grace. The proper idea, reflected in some translations, is N.T. Wright’s “Everyone who is fathered by God does not go on sinning.” 1Jn 3.8 NTE We don’t continue in a lifestyle of sin; we don’t wanna live that way. We want to follow Jesus!

And people who legitimately wanna follow Jesus, crack open their bibles and find out what Jesus taught so we can follow him. What they’ll invariably find is Jesus took the Law, expounded upon it, and closed all the Pharisee loopholes. We’re not to follow the letter of the Law, like any lawyer, politician, or activist judge; we don’t twist it till it suits us. We’re to follow the original intent of the Law, “the spirit of the Law,” the will of the One who gave it. How does Jesus interpret it? ’Cause we do that.

Those who don’t really wanna follow Jesus, but only look like they do: They prefer loopholes. The bigger the better. They like to quote “Christ is the end of the Law,” Ro 10.4 but they don’t mean, as Paul does, that Christ expresses it better than the Law does itself; they mean Christ ended it. Or “He taketh away the first [Law], that he may establish the second [Law],” He 10.9 not just updating the old covenant with the new, but abolishing it altogether, so that breaking the Law is no longer sin, 1 John 3.4—

1 John 3.4 KWL
Everyone who commits sin also commits an act against the Law.

—notwithstanding.

No, this passage isn’t about perfectionism either. John isn’t claiming Christians don’t sin anymore. He already objected to that idea in chapter 1. What he’s stating, is real Christians try not to sin. We no longer consider a lifestyle of sin to be acceptable. “Not perfect, just forgiven” simply isn’t good enough! We have God’s seed in us, the Holy Spirit within us, leading us away from sin and selfishness, and towards Jesus. If we’re following him, we recognize sin is the opposite direction. We don’t make excuses for it any longer!

And if we do make excuses for it… well we’re not God’s children. Really we’re Satan’s.

Children of the devil.

I translated John a bit literally: Ἀπ̓ ἀρχῆς ὁ διάβολος ἁμαρτάνει/ap arhís o diávolos amartánei, “from [the] start, the devil sins.” John used present tense, not past; not aorist. The devil sins now.

Yeah, this isn’t how this verse has been traditionally interpreted. Most translators tend to put it in past tense:

  • KJV “…for the devil sinneth from the beginning.”
  • CSB, NKJV “…for the devil has sinned from the beginning.”
  • ESV, ISV, NIV, NRSV “…because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.”
  • GNT “…because the Devil has sinned from the very beginning.”
  • NLT “…who has been sinning since the beginning.”

This is one of those instances where Christian theology has bent our interpretation of the bible, rather than reading the text itself and beginning from there. John clearly wrote in present tense, but translators keep throwing it into past tense because they keep fixating on the story of the Fall: At the beginning of history, either before Adam was created or shortly after, Satan must’ve revolted against God and got thrown to earth, Rv 12.7-9 because here he is in paradise, in the form of a serpent, tempting Eve. Ge 3.1-5

So when your average translator reads ap arhís/“from [the] start,” their brains immediately leap to that start, and adjust the verb tense accordingly. And incorrectly. They get us to miss an important truth about how temptation works.

Don’t get the wrong idea: When we humans sin, that’s on us. We make the decision to do wrong. Blaming the devil doesn’t cut it. Eve tried it, Ge 3.13 and it didn’t work then either. We have free will; we never have to sin. God always provides his kids a sin-free option.

But when we sin, we usually adopt an excuse. Whatever loophole justifies us, excuses us, blames someone else, makes us feel we’re an exception to the rule, makes us feel like the good guy in the story. “Jesus did away with the Law,” or “I simply didn’t see any other option; I had to choose the lesser evil,” or “I’m not trying to achieve salvation by works,” or “I’m not a legalist,” or whatever. None of these excuses are new; they’ve been around forever. They predate John.

Guess where every last one of ’em originated? Duh; Satan.

Satan doesn’t have to actually be there, at the moment of temptation, nudging us to do evil. (Nor any other devil. Satan’s not omnipresent, remember? If you’re tempted by a devil, it’s not necessarily the devil—who’s probably tempting somebody more important.) But Satan set up all the common human arguments for why we’re not all that bad. Those arguments do its job for it. Once we humans embed the excuses in our heads, we can pretty much sin on autopilot. Satan sins first; we sin thereafter.

The bulk of the devil’s followers aren’t Satanists. They’re dupes, suckers, marks, the easily confused, the heavily prejudiced, the inattentive, the apathetic, the shallow thinkers, the gullible, the irrationally angry. They’re not using a lot of brainpower. They don’t need to. And they think their knee-jerk reactions, their gut instincts, are the right responses. Some of ’em even claim God put these reactions in ’em.

The devil ropes these suckers into believing there’s some sort of Christian foundation for the evil they do in Jesus’s name. Next, the sucker sins. Both bear responsibility for the sin. But here, John forewarns the Christian: Don’t let anyone deceive you. Proper Christians follow Jesus and his Law. False Christians, the devil’s unwitting followers, don’t.

Loving one another, as opposed to murdering one another.

When people read the Cain and Abel story, where the first murder took place between the first brothers, Ge 4.1-16 they constantly skip over the fact Cain heard God. And talked with him. And heard God’s answers. Cain heard God better than many Christians nowadays hear God. And no, this isn’t because these were prehistoric bible times, when just anybody could hear God: This is because Cain and God were much closer than, sad to say, many Christians and our God. Yeah, Cain murdered his brother. That was evil. Even so. Moses and David were murderers; Paul got people killed. Nobody’s irredeemable. Not even Cain.

John pointed to the story of the first murder, ’cause the writers of the scriptures regularly liked to point out hate leads to murder. Mk 7.21, Ro 1.29, Jm 2.11, 4.2 In our day murder is illegal, and prosecuted by the state… unless cops do it, but that’s a tangent let’s not go down today. In John’s day murder was also illegal, but there were no prosecutors: If you wanted a murderer dealt with, the victim’s family had to have influence with the government. Otherwise they’d get away with it—and a lot of murderers did. Some of those murderers were even right there in the church.

Murder’s a heinous crime, and for that reason murderers go out of their way to justify themselves. Nowadays it’s self-defense, or the victim “got what’s coming to them,” or otherwise karmically deserved it. The murderer was simply restoring balance to the universe. Life for a life, Dt 19.21 or something they consider just as valuable as life… like their honor, or their personal code of ethics, which assigns the death penalty to all sorts of offenses.

Because of how often murder took place in the first century, the bible’s various statements against murder aren’t just hypothetical worst-case scenarios. They aren’t just subtle reminders of how hate and murder are connected. Mt 5.21-22 The two are connected. People back then murdered their enemies. In some countries people still murder their enemies. Warlords and dictators do. Even criminals in our country do. And think they’re right to… and need to be reminded they’re not. Especially when they consider themselves Christian, as (believe it or not) some ganglords do.

Sheltered American Christians tend to reinterpret the anti-murder sentiments in the bible, to reflect their world where murder seldom happens. Hence “don’t murder them in your heart”—don’t hate anyone so much, it’s like they’re dead to you. Yeah, that’s one way to look at it too. We shouldn’t hate anyone that much. But John wrote to a culture where murder isn’t a metaphor, murder isn’t hypothetical. People murdered Christians for being Christian. And in a heat of passion, anybody might murder someone else, exactly like Cain had. We all have it in us to do something just as extreme, just as regrettable. Don’t delude yourself.

’Cause it’s the self-deluded who usually wind up becoming—to their great surprise and horror—murderers. If you know you have a temper, no matter how successful you’ve been thus far at keeping it under control, take steps to make sure it never escapes you. Those who tell themselves, “No; I never would; people are naturally good” never take such steps… and sometimes become the folks who “snap,” of whom everybody later says, “I never knew she had it in her.”

We should love one another, and reject hate in all its forms. Hate’s typically the product of sin. Cain’s works were evil because he refused to recognize the danger in him, even though God warned him his sin “has stretched out for you.” Ge 4.7 He was in denial, and the consequences of his denial were terrible. It could happen to us too. Sin stretches out for all of us.

Mammonists versus God.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 July

Luke 16.8-15.

the Shrewd Butler Story, Jesus commended the butler for using his boss’s money to generate goodwill instead of profits, and his moral was for his followers to do likewise.

Mammonists stumble all over this story. To them the point of money isn’t to use it as a resource, but to accumulate it and gain power by it. To their minds the butler was completely untrustworthy. He was already accused of squandering it, Lk 16.1 and then he turned round and deliberately squandered it by changing his boss’s debtors’ receipts. Lk 16.5-7 He made it look like he collected more money than he actually had; like his boss was owed less than he truly was; and he did it to benefit himself instead of enriching his boss—which was his job, wasn’t it? He embezzled from his boss. He stole. He’s a thief. There’s a command against theft in the bible somewhere; it’s one of the bigger ones!

So Mammonists really don’t know what to do with Jesus commending this butler… except to conclude, “I guess Jesus appreciates shrewdness over goodness.”

No he doesn’t. As I pointed out when I dealt with the story, the butler had full authority over his boss’s estate, and could legitimately do whatever he wished with it. Including forgive debts. He stole nothing. He embezzled nothing. It might be improper, ’cause you certainly can’t afford to do such things all the time. But it wasn’t sin.

…Well, unless losing money is a sin. And to Mammonists, that’s an egregious sin. Isn’t wise at all. Indicates you’re not worthy of having money in the first place, and deserve to lose it all. (There’s a lot of karma-based thinking in Mammonism, ’cause it helps Mammonists justify the iffy things they do to gain and hoard wealth.)

Jesus isn’t Mammonist, and neither are the butler and his boss in the story. They rightly recognize money as a resource, not a raison d’être. It’s a means to an end; it’s not the end itself. By contrast Mammonists figure it is the goal, and the Christians among ’em figure the whole point of turning to Jesus is so we can gain stuff. Mansions in New Jerusalem. Golden crowns full of jewels. Treasures in heaven, which they constantly imagine as material possessions they get to keep forever. And, if they’re into the prosperity gospel, they can even tap into some of that wealth now.

As a non-Mammonist, the plutocrat in the story recognized money—even “filthy lucre,” as I translated τῷ ἀδίκῳ μαμωνᾷ/to adíko mamoná (KJV “the unrighteous mammon”) —is here today, gone tomorrow. Friends can be just as transitory, but when friendship is done right, it doesn’t have to be. And the goodwill his butler generated with his debtors, was gonna come in handy in future—and not just for the butler. It was a wise move, and a wise boss would keep such a guy around.

Luke 16.8-9 KWL
8 “The butler’s master praised the impropriety, for the butler acted shrewdly,
for the children of this age are more shrewd than the children of light of the same generation.
9 I tell you, make yourselves friends out of improper mammon,
so when it runs out, they might take you into their great houses.”

“Their great houses” is how I rendered τὰς αἰωνίους σκηνάς./tas eoníus skinás, “the eternal tents” (KJV “everlasting habitations”). Y’get many Christians who insist it’s about God accepting us into heaven—despite a plural they letting you into plural tents—or the idea that once we get to New Jerusalem, we’re greeted by all the needy people we’ve helped. But properly it’s a euphemism for old money, for great families who’ve been indirectly running the country forever, and they’re the very best friends to have whenever we run afoul of temporal political leaders. That is what the butler was thinking of when he came up with his scheme: He wanted to be taken in by some other plutocrat. Lk 16.4 And it’d be just as shrewd of us Christians to have a few plutocrats in our corner.

Can we handle money? Or really anything important?

Of course Jesus had more to say on the subject of money, and continued:

Luke 16.10-13 KWL
10 “Trustworthy in little things means trustworthy in big things.
Improper in little things means improper in big things.
11 So when you’re not trustworthy with filthy lucre, who will trust you with truth?
12 If you’re not trustworthy with another’s things, who will give you your own things?
13 No slave is able to be a slave to two masters: Either they’ll hate one and love the other,
or look up to one and down on the other: Can’t be a slave to God and Mammon.”

Pharisee logicians taught the principle of light and heavy (Hebrew קַל וחומר/qal v’khomér), which westerners call the argumentum a fortiori, “argument from the stronger [point].” Jesus’s statement “Trustworthy in little things means trustworthy in big things” is a great example of it: If it’s true in a small instance, in a simple case, it’s just as true (and way more consequential) in a big instance, in a complicated situation. If the butler can’t be trusted with money, he can’t be trusted anywhere. If we can’t be trusted with money, we can’t be trusted anywhere.

Mammonists regularly misinterpret this to say we oughta have our financial houses in order. And by “in order,” they mean profitable. We oughta reduce our unnecessary expenses, ’cause they’re bleeding us dry. We oughta eliminate debt, ’cause the interest payments are largely keeping us in debt. Cut up those credit cards! Buy, not rent. Buy used instead of new. Buy generics instead of name-brand items. Use coupons. Squeeze those pennies till Lincoln farts.

Um… was what the butler did profitable? No.

“But in the long run it is,” Mammonists sometimes claim: The goodwill generated by forgiving a few debts, means people are more likely to do business with the boss in future. They’ll think, “He knocked off a few jars of oil from my debt, so I kinda owe him one,” or that maybe he’ll give them another surprise discount in the future. More business, more profits. Shrewd.

And again, not what the butler did. He wasn’t thinking of his boss’s reputation, but his own. He wanted people to think well of him—and if they thought well of his boss instead of him, and didn’t even think of him at all, his scheme would’ve failed. He was offering the debt reduction, not his boss. Spin it all you like into it being good business, good public relations. But you’d be missing the point.

Likewise if you take the other extreme and conclude the butler wasn’t trustworthy. He’d only be untrustworthy if he lied to his boss. He didn’t. His boss would know about the scheme, ’cause it’d be kinda obvious: His debtors had marked up the receipts. Lk 16.5-7 There was no such thing as correction fluid back then: The old amount would be crossed out on the papyrus, and the new one written down. (Or, if they wastefully used parchment for bookkeeping, the old amount was scratched off—but still visible.) Didn’t take a genius to figure out what had happened—and the boss immediately recognized what was up, and found it clever.

Lastly Jesus’s comment about not being a slave to both God and Mammon. I’ve commented more than once how Americans are kinda determined to prove Jesus wrong. We’ve done a lousy job of it so far. We’ve mostly just reimagined Jesus till the version of him we follow approves of all our greed and materialism. But at that point we’re not following Jesus anymore; just our own desires, mainly our desire for wealth.

Mammonist Pharisees.

No surprise, the Pharisees in Jesus’s audience balked at this lesson. Same as Christians do nowadays—the difference being that Christians pretend to follow Jesus anyway. Pharisees figured they could take or leave him, and in this case they figured they could even mock him.

Luke 16.14-15 KWL
14 Hearing these things, the silver-loving Pharisees mocked Jesus.
15 Jesus told them, “You justify yourselves before people—and God knows your hearts.
Those who are exalted before people, are disgusting before God.”

Sounds kinda rude of Jesus, but knowing his character, we know the reason he said this was not to slam his hecklers. It was to warn ’em of reality: Their wealth is not the indication of God’s approval they believed it to be. Some people are wealthy because God enriches ’em. The rest are wealthy because they stole it, inherited it, are idiots who were given wealth by other idiots (but then again I did just mention inheritance), or they got it through dumb luck. Institutional biases keep certain groups poor, and of course the wealthy have rigged things so they can keep their wealth. There’s a lot of unfairness in the system, and people have been tricked into thinking nothing but hard work can overcome it.

But like Jesus said, God knows our hearts. Exalting ourselves in order to justify our wealth, or to justify materialism, or to claim our riches make us better and worthier and greater: God finds it disgusting. Not just because Mammonism is idolatry; because it blinds us to all the sins we commit so we can hold onto our stuff, and put it ahead of God’s kingdom.

The “prosperity gospel”: Mammonism disguised as Christianity.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 July
PROSPERITY GOSPEL prɑs'spɛr.ə.di 'gɑs.spəl noun. The good news that God doesn’t just want to save his people, but bless us materially.

That’s not an ironic definition, folks. That’s legitimately how the prosperity gospel is defined by those who proclaim it. God doesn’t just want us to come live in heaven’s kingdom with him. As we’re headed thataway, he wants us to be materially successful and comfortable.

For totally legitimate reasons, they claim. Remember when Moses was advising the Hebrews to follow the Law in Deuteronomy, and how he said part of the blessings they’d receive for doing so would be material? Oh you don’t remember that bit? Fine; I’ll quote it.

Deuteronomy 28.1-13 KWL
1 “If you happen to listen to your LORD God’s voice,
so as to observe and do every command I instruct you about today,
your LORD God will give you power over every country on earth:
2 All these blessings will come to you and overwhelm you, for you listened to your LORD God’s voice.
3 You’ll be blessed in city, field, 4 the fruit of your belly, the fruit of the ground,
and the fruit of your animals—what your cattle births, or your flocks produce.
5 You’ll be blessed in breadbasket, in yeast; 6 when you enter, when you leave.
7 The LORD will have your enemies which rise against you be struck down in front of you.
They’ll come at you from one direction, and run away from you in seven.
8 The LORD will teach you about blessing in your storehouses, in everything you undertake.
He’ll bless you in the land your LORD God gives you.
9 The LORD will raise you to himself: A holy people, as he swore you’d become.
So observe your LORD God’s commands. Walk in his ways.
10 All the earth’s peoples will see you call upon the LORD’s name, and fear you.
11 The LORD will give you a good surplus, fruit of your belly, beasts, and your ground,
in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors.
12 The LORD will open his good, heavenly treasury for you:
He’ll give rain to your land in its season. He’ll hand over every deed.
Many nations will owe you, and you’ll never borrow.
13 The LORD makes you the head, not the tail. You’ll go upward, not downward.
So listen to your LORD God’s commands. Observe and do what I’m instructing you today.
Don’t dismiss any words I command you today. Don’t go right or left, to follow or serve other gods.

This passage was addressed to the ancient Hebrews, and applies to whether they as a nation followed the Law in the land he gave ’em. Does it apply to present-day gentiles, not as nations but individuals, who live in all sorts of other lands, Christian or not?

Well, the prosperity-gospel folks certainly believe so. This, they figure, is why God’s made the predominantly-Christian United States so profoundly rich. (Ignoring the fact we’re actually up to our eyeballs in debt, and only look rich. We borrowed our riches.) So if they individually follow God’s commands, refuse to turn right or left away from them, and serve no other gods but the LORD, they’re counting on God blessing them with growth and surplus.

Well… okay, they don’t always figure they gotta follow God’s commands necessarily. But if they follow God’s general principles, and believe really hard, they expect God’ll make ’em prosperous just the same.

Well… okay not all God’s general principles. Plenty of them have no problem with being as dishonest, covetous, and promiscuous as any pagan. They’re kinda focused on a few principles. Namely it’s these three:

  • ACT LIKE GOOD CHRISTIANS. In public, anyway. God wants to make his people rich so that pagans’ll get jealous and wanna become Christian. But it doesn’t work when his people don’t act Christian. So behave yourselves! Quit sinning. Get rid of the negative attitudes, and let everything which comes from your mouth be encouraging and confident.
  • GIVE, AND IT’LL BE GIVEN YOU. Loosely based on Jesus’s teaching about generosity Lk 6.38 but only applied to giving to one’s church. If you give sacrificially large amounts to your church, God’ll reward you tenfold. Or more, depending on the preacher. But giving to the needy isn’t so necessary. God doesn’t wanna give them wealth unless they practice these principles, so no going around him, okay?
  • NEVER EVER DOUBT. Unless you wanna lose your blessing, don’t ever, ever question prosperity beliefs. Not in your mind, not in public, not ever. You gotta believe, and keep believing, that God’s gonna enrich you. Even when he doesn’t. Even when he hasn’t for years or decades.

Stick to these three principles, and watch the riches come pouring in. Guaranteed.

After all, look at the preacher. He follows these principles, and as a result, his church is flush with cash, he has a seven-figure income, he has a Bentley and a Gulfstream and a really nice house, he wears expensive suits and gold jewelry—he’s been blessed! Follow his example, and you’ll be blessed too.

If this sounds like a giant scam to you, that’s because of course it’s a scam.

Stuck in the scam.

And it’s a very-well crafted scam too. It’s had about three centuries of development and fine-tuning, as Americans tried to figure out how to reconcile our riches, or our mad pursuit of riches, with Christ’s teachings.

Since a lot of Pentecostals have adopted it, a number of people think we came up with it. Nah; for a while it used to be called the health-and-wealth gospel, and that predates the Pentecostal movement by a century. But Pentecostals have been pioneers in multimedia, which is why a lot of Christian TV and radio shows are Pentecostal—and of course, all the health-and-wealth preachers who happen to have TV and radio shows, also happen to be Pentecostal.

Like most scams, it works great for the person on top. The pastors who preach prosperity are frequently gonna be prosperous once everybody starts giving to their ministries—and, they hope, giving a lot to their ministries. Way more than the traditional 10 percent; sometimes as much as 60 percent. I’m serious.

It’s intentionally designed to discourage questions and criticism. If you’re legitimately wondering how these “promises” of wealth work, considering their proof texts don’t apply to present circumstances at all, you’re gonna be condemned and rebuked by both the leaders of these churches, and by the people who are striving for prosperity, for your “negativity” and doubt. Even though it’s exactly the right kind of doubt. You’ll be told your doubts cancel out your blessings; you’ll never be prosperous so long that you question the system. And some of ’em are a little worried your negativity might affect them—that if God decides to smite you, he might accidentally hit them too. So quit doing that!

It’s unintentionally designed to encourage undisciplined financial behavior. People imagine their windfall from God is gonna arrive any day now, so they don’t plan ahead. There’s nothing in the savings account. The credit cards are maxed out. They’re already buying all the accoutrements of wealth. They got that ridiculous mortgage and that ridiculous second mortgage. America’s in debt to its eyeballs; their debt level would be up to the eyeballs of someone standing on their shoulders.

Undisciplined financial behavior also extends to their churches. They give loads of money, but pay no attention to how the church, its board, and its leadership handles the money. The pastor’s salary is wholly inappropriate for any person who runs a nonprofit. The pastor’s wholly unnecessary entourage is also well-paid… but most of the projects they’re working on were invented so they could have something to do, and justify their salaries. The church gives far too little to charity, benevolence, and missions. Large sums of money are regularly wasted on frills and perquisites.

The system is also designed to encourage hypocrisy. ’Cause you gotta look good! But you don’t necessarily gotta be good.

If you’re wondering how people can fall for this scam, you gotta remember things look very different from their point of view. Every Christian in their circle has likewise fallen for this scam. So its theology and practice appear to be, as far as they can tell, “normal.” Since they don’t know how to look at the scriptures in context, as far as they can tell the proof texts are totally solid: Isn’t this what every true Christian is supposed to believe? So those folks who claim prosperity teaching is bunk: They’re the ones who’ve been scammed. They’re doomed to live without victory, without prosperity, without success, because of their negative, pessimistic mindset. Of course they don’t believe in a gospel of wealth; at this rate they’re never gonna see wealth.

Yeah, it’s pretty cultlike. So much so, certain Christians claim the prosperity gospel is heresy. But technically they’re not heretics. Prosperity churches (unless they’re oneness churches; some of ’em are) don’t really teach anything contrary to the creeds.

Well, unless you count the fact they’re worshiping Mammon instead of Jesus.

Well they are.

Mammonism is of course the worship of wealth. We call wealth “Mammon” because it’s a convenient way of making it crystal clear we’re talking about idolatry. In the United States, where we’re taught every American has the potential of gaining great wealth, Mammon’s a popular god: Americans devote our lives to getting rich, by hook or by crook; by compromising every other thing we claim to believe in, because everything else takes a back seat to wealth acquisition: Friends, morals, family, even our own freedom. Even, ironically, our own wealth.

And if people identify themselves as Christian, that’s often gonna take a back seat to wealth acquisition too. We’re gonna join a stingy church, which doesn’t give, and doesn’t expect us to give either. Or we’re gonna join a prosperity church, which demands we give, but promises God’ll pay us back in bucketloads. As a reward for our trust and faithfulness (and our silence when we discover it has problems), we’re told God will give us full, unrestricted access to Mammon. All the Mammon we can eat, and rub all over our bodies.

In this way God gets turned into a means to an end. The end, the true object of worship, would therefore be Mammon. We’re supposed to follow God because we want God; we wanna be with him in his kingdom forever. Not because we want mansions, streets of gold, riches, health, and comfort. Not because we expect that stuff in the next age, nor because we’re told we can have that stuff in this age. If you’re following God because you want peace, you’re unintentionally worshiping peace; if you want heaven, you’re worshiping heaven; if it’s ultimately about wealth, you’ve embraced Mammon.

Whoops.

Prosperity-gospel folks are entirely sure this isn’t true: They don’t worship wealth; they worship God! Who’s promised them wealth. And if he never comes through for them with the wealth, they’ll be disappointed, but they’re still gonna worship God. But here’s the thing: They’re entirely sure he will come through for them with the wealth. Maybe, in their heart of hearts, they realize he won’t pony up the dough in this age. But after they’re resurrected, after they’re shown their new home in New Jerusalem, they’re expecting the nicest of mansions. It’ll come eventually. It’s just they figure it’ll come much sooner than that.

So to their minds, wealth and God are a package deal: You get God, you get prosperity. You get the LORD, you get Mammon. Six of one, a half-dozen of the other. Jesus said we can’t serve both God and Mammon, Mt 6.24, Lk 16.13 but prosperity gospel folks figure why serve it when God’ll just give it to us, free? And thus we sorta can serve both God and Mammon. In your face, Jesus!

Okay, that “in your face, Jesus” bit is a lot more blatant than prosperity-gospel folks are willing to be. Instead they’ll just quietly undermine the gospel of Christ Jesus by adopting various views which run contrary to his teachings, but which suit the prosperity gospel just fine.

Disrespecting the needy.

Animals fight for survival and supremacy. The animals which win get to pass down their genes, and the animals which lose, don’t. Charles Darwin figured this was how evolution works: The better genes and traits survive, and improve the species. Capitalists figure the marketplace and workforce works the same way, and call this social Darwinism.

Here’s the thing: In nature, the better genes and traits don’t always survive. Ec 9.11 Quite frequently dumb luck, not survival of the fittest, is how things work. And in the marketplace and workforce, people likewise beat the competition through dumb luck. Or by cheating; there’s nepotism, bribery, blackmail, lowballing the competition, insider trading, rules violation, various unfair advantages, various disadvantages like institutional racism, sexism, ageism, and prejudices against the disabled or the previously incarcerated.

The prosperity gospel claims the only reason you’re needy is because you don’t believe hard enough. The only reason you’re poor, sick, disadvantaged, or in any way not successful nor prosperous, is all your fault. Jesus claimed the good news is for the poor, Lk 4.18 and the prosperity gospel would agree—but with a very different spin on Jesus’s meaning. The good news is for the poor only when you believe really hard. Otherwise it’s really not.

So when people actually are needy, or become needy—a hurricane floods a city, or a tornado or earthquake knocks its buildings down, or a volcano burns ’em away—the prosperity gospel really has nothing to say to such people. According to them, bad stuff doesn’t happen to God’s people. When it does, they can’t really be God’s people, can they? Not anymore, at least; they must be sinning. They stopped believing. Somehow they’re deficient, so God took their stuff away. (Like he did Job—but they consider Job a special exception to teach a special lesson.)

This blame-the-needy-for-being-needy mentality is a very old one. The Pharisees had it, which is why they were so quick to dismiss the guy born blind whom Jesus cured. Jn 9.34 Jesus’s students had picked some of it up from the Pharisees, which is why they initially asked Jesus whether the guy was blind because he or his parents sinned. Jn 9.2 Jesus had to correct them, Jn 9.3 because while we create a lot of our own luck, some of it we don’t. Some of it is just plain meaningless.

But the true gospel is that God loves the needy. That he came to meet those needs.

Prosperity-gospel folks suck at being aid and comfort to the needy. Not that some of ’em don’t try; that despite what their churches and preachers claim, they do know enough of Jesus’s teachings to recognize they need to be generous to everyone, and love everyone regardless of merit, just like their Father. They may not realize the practice of this love violates every principle of the prosperity gospel—that you’re supposed to merit God’s riches by believing really hard!—but it’d seem they follow Jesus a lot more than their teachers do.

And this is the route we need to take when we’re correcting the people who believe in the prosperity gospel: Emphasize the needy. God cares about the needy. They care about the needy. So what’s the deal with a belief system which condemns the needy?

Worshiping Mammon instead of Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 July

Matthew 6.24, Luke 16.13.

Lately I’ve been seeing a meme on social media, warning people about what might happen if society goes cashless. Some of the memes claim Dave Ramsey wrote it; he did not. Like most memes which go viral pretty quickly, it’s meant to scare people. And since it plays right into many a Christian’s fears about the End Times, of course Christians have been spreading it too.

My comment after yet another friend posted it on Facebook: “Isn’t it funny? The first thing Christians worry about when the Beast comes… is Mammon.”

Mammonism is the worship of wealth, money, material possessions, and the joy of pursuing all that stuff. Our word Mammon comes from something Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount, repeated in Luke. I’ll quote both variants.

Matthew 6.24 KWL
“Nobody’s able to be a slave to two masters: Either they’ll hate one and love the other,
or look up to one and down on the other: Can’t be a slave to God and Mammon.”
 
Luke 16.13 KWL
“No slave is able to be a slave to two masters: Either they’ll hate one and love the other,
or look up to one and down on the other: Can’t be a slave to God and Mammon.”

A few current translations drop the reference to Mammon and translate this verse, “You cannot serve both God and money” (GNB, NIV, NLT), or “You cannot serve God and wealth” (NASB, NRSV). Thing is, μαμωνᾷ/mammoná isn’t the Greek word for money; that’d be ἀργύριον/argýrion, literally “silver.” Nor the word for wealth; that’d be χρῆμα/hríma, “thing of value.” Mammoná is actually an Aramaic word with a Greek ending tacked on—as if it’s an Aramaic name. Hence people extrapolated the idea Mammon is a person, and since Jesus says you can’t serve this person as well as God, it must therefore be another god.

A false god of course. But some god which competes with the LORD for our devotion. And since the Aramaic מַמוֹן/mamón is a cognate of the Hebrew מַטְמוֹן/matmón, “secret riches,” people imagine Mammon is therefore be a god of riches, wealth, or money.

In Luke when Jesus made this statement, he’d just told the Shrewd Butler Story. Maybe you remember it; maybe not, ’cause pastors hesitate to teach on it, ’cause Jesus straight-up praises a guy who’s widely seen as an embezzler. In it, a butler made friends by undercharging his boss’s debtors. Lk 16.1-9 Jesus’s moral: “Make yourselves friends with your improper mammon.” Lk 16.9 In response, the Pharisees who heard the story rejected it, ’cause they were φιλάργυροι/filiárgyri, “silver-lovers.” Lk 16.14

So is Mammon a money god? Or simply Jesus’s personification of money? Or a mistranslation?

Mammon’s a person?

First of all, there’s nothing in ancient literature about the god Mammon. Seriously, nothing.

The Mishna is a collection of what second-century Pharisees taught—and this’d include some things first-century Pharisees taught, so it’s a useful insight into what Jesus dealt with. When the Aramaic word mamón came up in the Mishna, Pharisees meant money. When we’re taught to love the LORD with all our might, Dt 6.5 the Pharisees said it also means with all our mamón. Berakot 9.5 They sorta equated might with wealth—same as we might do. But they didn’t think of it as a person or god. Merely a power.

Archaeologists have dug up nothing about Mammon in Israel and ancient Aramaic-speaking territories. That’s not to say one of ’em won’t discover something someday. But till something gets found, all our talk about the god Mammon, all of it, is guesswork. The ancients may have never worshiped any such god as Mammon. We’re just extrapolating all of it from Jesus’s lesson.

But this sure hasn’t stopped us Christians from extrapolating away. The mind can’t handle gaps in our knowledge, and has to fill it with something. Anything. Myths if necessary.

Christians invented all sorts of theories about who Mammon is. Fallen angel or demon. Elder god or spiritual force. What its motives and goals are. What it plots when we’re not looking. Popular Christian mythology (namely The Faerie Queene, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost) include Mammon as one of the demons under Satan. Our saints invented complicated theologies about where it fits into the devils’ hierarchy. Whole books were written. Whole industries were created.

All of it guesswork. ’Cause our only source of Mammon’s existence is the Mishna and Jesus, and neither of ’em define it as anything but money.

Is there any legitimacy to any Christian teachings about Mammon? Depends on who’s teaching. Any preacher who claims, “We know from the bible that Mammon is a demon,” knows no such thing. “We know Mammon is headquartered in the financial capitals in the world”—no we don’t. “We know Mammon gains power every time the market goes up”—we do not.

We know money is a force. Educated economists understand how we create it. Yes, we humans create it. Money’s a human invention. We used to barter. Barter’s inefficient; how is a week’s labor precisely worth one goat? But if you can trade goods and labor for grams of copper, silver, gold, or platinum, now you can meter out how much you think something’s worth—and haggle over that price. Problem is, the value of precious metals is way too easy to manipulate, so governments switched it to pounds, dollars, yuan, yen, and our other currencies… and now people worry about how much governments manipulate its value. Not that the “cashless society” meme considers that… but I’m gonna stay off that tangent today.

People who don’t understand money, and how humans influence it, tend to imagine money has a life of its own. They attribute all sorts of special powers to it. Those are myths too. Stands to reason these same folks would imagine Mammon has a life of its own too. And that it controls money, not humans. And that we’re powerless against it—when in fact we humans have a great deal of power over everything we’ve created. Yeah, even when it gets away from us sometimes.

I’m gonna stop capitalizing the word now: I treat mammon as the same as money. It’s a spiritual force. Not a person. Yes it’s always possible there’s some no-foolin’ spiritual being which attached itself to money, and claims power over it. After all, there are humans who do the very same thing; why not a devil? But it has no more power over money than we do. It’s tricking us into thinking it’s mightier than it is. We can dismiss it, because through Christ we can easily defeat it. Any fear or awe we have of it is misplaced, and will simply get in the way of our understanding.

So… why’d Jesus personify it? Because Jesus is a poet, and this is what poets do. When the Greeks described ἔρος/éros, “passion,” as if it’s a being—one which could strike you with its arrows of love or hatred—it’s a clever way to describe just what passion kinda does. Problem is, the Greeks also began to mix up personification with personhood. They worshiped Éros as a god, same as they did Phóbos (φόβος/fóvos, “fear”) or Plútos (πλοῦτος/plútos, “wealth”—not the Latin god Pluto; notice the -S at the end). But that isn’t Jesus’s intent. Mammon’s not a competitor god. But it will, wrongly, get our worship—which only rightly belongs to the LORD.

Mammon doesn’t need to be a person before humans’ll worship it. A money manager doesn’t go to any Church of Mammon to pay homage to her god; she just goes to the office. A banker doesn’t need to pray to Mammon; accessing his online bank account serves the very same function. The ancients worshiped lifeless stone gods, and Mammonists just happen to worship lifeless wealth. Worshiping a dead god is just as wrong as worshiping a spirit; the pursuit of a fake deity will lead us just as far afield.

Yeah, every once in a while some Christian claims they had a prophetic dream in which Mammon is one of the archdemons, battling the holy angels with its silver arrows. Speaking for myself, very very few of the prophetic dreams I’ve heard are profound sources of revelation: It’s just their subconscious, telling ’em stuff we Christians already believe and sometimes take for granted… and shouldn’t. All the popular Christian myths get mixed up in their visions. The human subconscious is an unreliable messenger, so remember this whenever people insist on the validity of their prophetic dreams. Dreams regularly represent mammon as a being, but it’s still not. It’s a force. It’s money.

Money. It’s a gas.

Money isn’t material.

I know; pocket change is a physical thing. As are dollar bills. But these items only represent the actual value of money. That’s why people will pick up a quarter when they find one in the street, but they won’t pick up a washer. (Or even pennies anymore.) They’ll pick up a $10 bill, but not a napkin. Currency makes money appear tangible. In fact money is a cloud of mathematics, behavioral psychology, economic theory, and political theory. When we convert it into bills, coins, and bonds, we make it look tangible, solid, countable, and controllable. It may be countable and controllable, but it’s really not solid.

For the longest time, instead of bills and coins, humanity used metal, and we attached a specific value per gram to the metal. (Or in the States, value per ounce.) For this reason certain people wanna put us back on a gold and silver standard: They insist gold has a built-in value, and dollars don’t. But they’re wrong: Gold has no built-in value. ’Cause human psychology easily manipulates that value.

It’s actually way easier to manipulate the value with gold than dollars. One of the first events people called “Black Friday” was when Jay Gould and James Fisk tried to manipulate the New York gold market. They slowly bought up a lot of gold… then on 24 September 1869 they sold all of it, dumping it on the market. Thanks to the rules of supply and demand, too much gold caused people to value it less, and gold’s price plummeted. Gould and Fisk took advantage of the new cheap price of gold, and bought back more than they sold. And if we didn’t pass laws against this practice, people would do it again and again, just to enrich themselves. Other countries don’t pass such laws, which is why gold isn’t a safe investment: They could dump gold on the international market, and mess with the world’s prices for fun and profit.

Goldbugs insist such acts artificially alter gold’s price. ’Cause they refuse to believe gold doesn’t have a fixed value. Which only proves they’ve no idea how money works. All value is entirely based on belief: What do people imagine something’s worth? Same with trading cards, collectible toys, art, memorabilia, silver, gold, and the dollar.

The U.S. dollar is worth a dollar because the American people believe it buys a dollar’s worth of something. If we figure a dollar can buy a cup of coffee, that’s how far its power extends: Any coffee sold for more than a dollar is “too much,” or less than a dollar is “a bargain.” Everything gets tied to that dollar=coffee metric. We don’t even think about why they should be equal. Says who? Um… the government? The Federal Reserve? The economy? (Clearly not Starbucks.) The collective belief of every American?

Actually… yeah it is collective belief.

Gold works precisely the same way. Gold is worth $40 per gram because gold buyers believe it’s worth $40 per gram. When they don’t anymore, that’ll change. Might go up, or down. Claiming, “But its real value never changes” is the illusion: Everything’s real value changes. And you don’t want two speculators who don’t mind bankrupting the world, wielding the power to make those changes so they can enrich themselves. That’s why we abandoned the gold standard.

Stocks are a more obvious example. A corporation might make no money, and hasn’t for years, but it’s an internet company, and people are convinced they should put their hopes (“put stock”) in internet companies, so its stock is outrageously overvalued. Some ninny on CNBC with a sound effects box said it’s worth a lot, so it is. Conversely another company might be really profitable, doing great, very stable, yet its stock value is low because stockholders think it should be inexpensive.

The collective belief of shareholders just happens to be far more volatile than that of every American. But even American faith and credit has its limits. When other things take greater priority than money, like food during a famine, humans will trade a decent pile of money for donkey heads and dove crap. 2Ki 6.25

So money isn’t material. And any force which isn’t material is spiritual.

I know, some folks are gonna object to my reducing things that way. In part because many pagans imagine material things are real, and spiritual things are not. And money’s real!—therefore it must somehow be material. But it’s not material. Yet it’s real. Therefore spiritual.

No, others will argue; it’s intellectual. It’s psychological. It’s conceptual. Pick any synonym with means “immaterial but real,” and they’d far rather use that word than “spiritual.” ’Cause that word “spiritual” bugs ’em, and they wanna strictly limit it to religious stuff. Stuff they don’t believe in. They believe in money; God’s another deal. If money is spiritual just like God is spiritual, perhaps they’ve gotta take another look at God… and they really don’t wanna.

If that’s your hangup, get over it. Spiritual is real. God is real. Stop treating religion as if you’re only pretending. This is substantial stuff.

And too often money has taken religion’s place. It’s why Jesus warned us about making a master of it. People look to money to save them! It solves their problems, achieves their dreams, Ec 10.19 secures their futures, buys their health, conquers their adversaries, gives them peace. Heck, if they can afford to be cryogenically frozen, it’ll even offer them an afterlife.

But like every false god, it destroys more than it gives, and all its promises are deceptions. The Beatles figured out money can’t buy you love. I joke sometimes, “No; but you can rent it.” Sadly, for a lot of people, renting will do.

In Jesus’s day: The opposite problem.

Back when Jesus first taught about mammon, it was to remind his students money is substantial. Y’see, they had the opposite problem from us: God was real, but money not so much.

First-century Palestine didn’t practice free-market capitalism. Back then the Roman Empire was on the gold standard, but gold wasn’t common enough for common people to use. (Hence the big parties they’d throw when you found a lost coin. Lk 15.8-10) Only the wealthy had actual coins. For everyone else, wealth was tied up in property: Land, slaves, animals, and personal possessions. They practiced barter-based theocratic feudalism: Everything ultimately belonged to their lord, i.e. the LORD. And every seven years the LORD decreed they’d cancel debts and free their slaves. Not all wealth would last.

God was more tangible to them than money. As he’s supposed to be.

Jesus taught about mammon because he wanted people to take money more seriously. Well, nowadays we do. Often too seriously. In fact our economic system is rigged in such a way, it’s no longer possible to follow the rules set out in the Law. Selling yourself into slavery to pay debts? On the up side, slavery’s illegal; on the down side, debt repayment might take the rest of your life. Debts aren’t cancelled every seven years. And when government takes part of our income to help the needy, same as the Hebrew priests did with tithes, conservatives scream bloody murder about socialism.

Every once in a while I hear of some Christian money-manager who holds a seminar, who claims he’ll teach you some biblical principles for dealing with wealth. I’ve been to a few. What they actually teach is free-market capitalism. (Not that there’s anything wrong with learning about capitalism; it is the system Americans live under.) The rest is about debt avoidance, based on various scriptures they quote out of context to support their ideas. Again, not that debt avoidance is a bad idea; it’s a really good idea. But what they teach about money, and mammon, come from free-market economics, not bible.

Economics in the bible were greatly different than economics today, so of course what these money-managers teach doesn’t wholly jibe with the bible. Problem is, it doesn’t always jibe with the parts of the bible which can apply to our culture. Generosity, fr’instance. Giving to the needy so we can have treasure in heaven. Mt 6.19-21 Giving to everyone who asks, and not turning people away. Mt 5.42 Money-managers don’t teach that. Instead they teach “stewardship”—a concept which they claim is biblical (and it does exist in the bible, Lk 16.1-13) but it’s not about giving; it’s about gathering. It’s about investing our money, and spending none of it, so that our pile of money will grow, so the power and security mammon could bring us will increase. It’s about storing up treasure on earth, disguised as “kingdom principles.” It’s part of the “prosperity gospel.”

True Christianity is forsaking everything, everything, to follow Jesus. When we spend too much time on wealth “stewardship,” rather than making God’s kingdom grow, we forget to be generous. We forget to take leaps of faith with our money: It’s not prudent to be foolish and wasteful, even if it’s for the kingdom’s sake. We trust our pile, instead of trusting the ultimate Owner of every pile, who can easily tap those other piles for our sake. We serve the wrong lord. And as Jesus said, we just can’t serve both.

But dammit, we Americans are convinced we can serve both if we try hard enough.

The Mammonist gospel.

A particularly American teaching—one popular among the poor, and one we’ve even exported to poor countries—is God doesn’t want his kids living lives of defeat. (Which is true.) He wants us to find success in everything we do. (Which is also true.) He wants us to be rich. (Wait a minute…)

Supposedly God wants us to have so much wealth it makes pagans jealous, and want to get in on this Christianity stuff so they too can become fat and comfortable. (Wait, God tells us not to covet, Dt 5.21 but it’s okay to use covetousness to spread his kingdom?) So to these folks, mammon isn’t God’s opponent or competitor. The love of money isn’t the root of many kinds of evil. 1Ti 6.10 On the contrary: Money is God’s tool, and money-love is God’s bait. It’s our reward for trusting him, following him, for giving money away to Christian charities or churches. God’s gonna open heaven’s windows and make it rain, baby. Make it rain!

This prosperity-gospel bushwa isn’t a new idea. The Pharisees believed in it too. It’s how the rich justified their many possessions… and their stinginess towards others. They were wealthy because God blessed them… and the poor had nothing because God didn’t bless them. Why? Well, they must’ve sinned or something. Some defect of character.

Properly this philosophy is called social Darwinism. Like Darwinism, everybody fights to survive, and the “fittest” do. The wealthy are the “fittest”—they struggled, came out on top, and deserve their wealth. Even if they inherited it, or if they stumbled into wealth through dumb luck: Those are just other forms of God’s blessing, claim the wealthy.

In bible times this was how Pharisees believed the world worked. It’s why Jesus’s students were floored when their Master informed them the rich are gonna have the darnedest time getting into the kingdom. Mk 10.23-27 To their minds, the rich were already in the kingdom—it’s why they were rich! But in this age, God gives people wealth for one and only one reason: To spread his kingdom. Not to grow our own. If we aren’t growing his kingdom, we may not even be in it. We’re worshiping mammon… but we call it “Jesus,” and pretend its power came from God.

Nope, prosperity gospel folks aren’t worshiping God. Really he’s a means to an end, and that end is wealth. They’re Mammonists. Whether they think God’s got a mansion and a crown waiting for them up in heaven, or they think God’s gonna get them a Bentley and an Apple Watch here on earth, they’re following him for the bling. They’re proclaiming their ideas to an impoverished world because hopeful Christians who believe their tripe will send them donations, and these contributions fund their lifestyle. They’re exploiting the poor, same as plutocrats who make 10,000 times what their underpaid employees do. They irritate God just as much.

Look, I have no problem with billionaires, or with preachers who make really good salaries. But like I said, God gives his people wealth so we can spread his kingdom. Hoarding it spreads nothing. And one of the surest signs we’re dealing with a Mammonist instead of a Christ-follower, is when people justify this sort of behavior. I’ve heard many a Mammonist misquote Jesus’s story of the Vineyard Employer, “Isn’t this my money, to do with as I please?” Mt 20.15 They ignore the reason the employer said this: To justify his generosity, not his miserliness. In Jesus’s culture, the only one who really owns everything is God. And it just so happens, the employer in Jesus’s story represents God. It is his money, to do with as he pleases—and it pleases him to be generous, and it pleases him when his children are likewise cheerful givers. 2Co 9.7

’Cause when we’re not, when we’re fruitless and tight-fisted, we’re likely not his children either. We’re mammon’s.

Being a jerk: “It’s just who I am.”

by K.W. Leslie, 16 July

Many a novelty T-shirt warns you they’re coming. “I speak fluent sarcasm,” or “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best,” or “Back up till I’ve had my Risperdal coffee,” or “I can go from zero to [awful] in 60 seconds.” There, that counts as their necessary legal notification that they’re gonna be a jerk.

That, and pitching a hissy fit when somebody asks ’em to put on a face mask. Yeah, those folks are just a ray of sunshine whenever their faces screw up… Sorry, I’m also kinda fluent in sarcasm. But I’ll stop now.

I used to be a jerk myself. It came out as sarcasm, which is how I got away with it for so long in Christian circles: It amused and entertained people. I still have pastor friends who enjoy the fact I can say the things they can’t. Not because I’m being a dick and they have to be better than that; plenty of pastors are dicks, and Christ Jesus expects better of both them and me. No; it’s because when the things I say bug people, it’s not gonna make ’em quit my church, or try to get me fired. But back in my a--hole days, my pastor friends were jerks like me, and appreciated how much better I was at ridiculing people than they. I had more practice, I guess.

In any event, I mocked people so often I became known as “the sarcastic guy.” Which is not a badge of honor… but I wore it like one. I thought it was a compliment: “Look how clever he is.” Wasn’t just me either: When people met my family members, they immediately noticed we were all that way. Looked like it was hereditary: Mom did it, Grandpa did it; it’s our thing. So that became my excuse: It’s in my genes.

It really wasn’t. Sarcastic people are angry, the anger gets turned into angry humor, and that’s where sarcasm comes from. Grandpa was angry that Grandma treated him like crap. Mom was angry that Dad treated her like crap. I was angry with Dad too; same reason. Sarcasm was my outlet, and since I didn’t know psychology I of course misdiagnosed the problem. And since I enjoyed making fun of others, I justified the problem: It was hereditary. I was born that way.

Humanity does the very same thing with all our favorite sins: We blame ’em on anything but ourselves. It’s because we’re the products of evolution, of our environment, of the culture, that our families messed us up, that it’s a birth defect… and of course that it is a product of our birth, but it’s not a defect; it’s like mutations in the X-Men movies, which might have their down sides but ultimately grant us superpowers. We take neither credit nor blame for them; we can’t help them either way. We have no control. It’s all predetermined.

And if it’s all predetermined, if it’s all part of the design and the plan for the universe, who’s ultimately responsible? God. He put it in us. Who else?

And God is good, and God doesn’t create evil, so if he made me this way, it can’t be evil. Doesn’t take long before determinists discover this logical argument, and immediately apply it to themselves: “I may be a rotten bastard first thing in the morning, but God didn’t make me a morning person; he made me this way. So back up. Touch not the Lord’s anointed.

So yeah, this is how jerks justify a whole lot of jerkishness. We pass the buck to God.

God’s not gonna accept it though.

I didn’t put it in you.”

Yes, in the beginning God created humanity, and called us good. Then humanity sinned, and now we’re not good. We sin; we’re self-centered. God didn’t put those traits in us, and it’s wrong to credit him with ’em. Even when we like some of those traits; if we think they’re badass. God doesn’t agree.

Imagine an automobile manufacturer who puts out a really good, reliable car, then sends ’em to the dealerships. The dealer thinks they’ll sell better if she repaints them, so she does. The dealer’s mechanic thinks he knows a trick to get better mileage out of the cars, so he tinkers with the engines. The customers don’t know any of this, and when they buy the cars they assume they’re getting ’em just as the manufacturer made ’em. Well, that’s kind of humanity’s deal. We’re not as God originally made us. Sin’s tweaked us a bunch. We need a factory reset.

The stuff God actually does put into us, is the fruit of the Spirit. We just have to cooperate with the manufacturer. But we don’t; we’re kinda fond of the “customizations”—which are actually flaws.

Jerks enjoy being jerks. They don’t care to change their character and become more like Jesus; they’d far rather be jerky than fruity. They like being known as the tough guy or the bad b----; they identify with these traits and consider them essential to who they are. They don’t want the Holy Spirit to mess with “perfection.”

But he will, ’cause he’s got an entirely different idea of perfection.

I had to get over my desire to remain “the sarcastic guy.” The Holy Spirit had to convince me I need to be better than that. ’Cause as far as I was concerned, there wasn’t better. Sarcastic Guy had fans, got laughs, was fun. I had a few arguments with the Spirit about it; I wasn’t gonna win, but I didn’t know any better. I insisted this was who I am, but he countered with, “But I didn’t put it in you.” And if it didn’t come from God, it’s gotta go. True of everything.

A lot of people are avoiding this particular conversation with the Holy Spirit… ’cause deep down, they know it’s coming. He really does want us to change, to become better people, to be more like Jesus, to produce fruit. And we’d really rather not. We’re comfortable where we are. We’re having fun; why’s the Spirit anti-fun? Well he’s not, but they don’t trust him enough to accept that he knows better, and has better things in mind for us.

He’s not content to leave us where we are. We shouldn’t be content where we are either. We should always strive for self-improvement. The path to that, is through Jesus. Follow him.

Zeal’s a work of the flesh.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 July

Frequently the excuse Christians make for being jerks is… they’re just so dedicated to God. He comes first. Orthodox truth and godly standards and biblical principles come first. Your feelings, your hangups, your boundaries, your convictions, most definitely do not—nothing comes before God. They’re never gonna compromise that. It’d be idolatry.

So while they’re defending God and his favorite things (which coincidentally happen to be their favorite things, ’cause projection they’re so tight with God), if they happen to set aside kindness, patience, gentleness, forgiveness, grace, love, or any other of the Spirit’s fruit… well, that’s just gonna be a casualty of the culture war. Fruit’s important and all that, but orthodoxy? Principles? Standards? Absolute truths? We can’t compromise those things; the whole universe will fall to pieces if we do. But we can totally compromise fruit, ’cause on God’s cosmic totem pole fruit’s probably not that important.

Which only goes to show how Christian jerks don’t really know God as well as they imagine. The Spirit’s fruit is God’s character. You think his character’s not important? Not so important, he deposited God himself in us so he can teach and grow this character in us, transform our very nature, and make us like Jesus? Seems fruit’s rather high on God’s list of priorities. But not theirs. They’d rather remain the same jerks they’ve always been, but slap Christian labels on all their works of the flesh instead of do the hard work of transforming into what God wants them to become. It’s way easier. It’s hypocrisy though.

And one of the things they slap Christian labels upon, is their impatience. Which they call zeal, and claim God wants ’em to be zealous. Wasn’t Jesus zealous when he flipped those tables in temple?

John 2.12-17 KWL
12 After this, Jesus went down to Kfar Nahum with his mother, his siblings, and his students.
They stayed there—not many days; 13 it was nearly the Judeans’ Passover.
Jesus went up to Jerusalem, 14 and in temple he found cattle-, sheep-, and pigeon-sellers,
and coin-changers taking up residence.
15 Making a whip out of ropes, Jesus threw everyone, plus sheep and cattle, out of temple.
He poured out the money-changers’ coins, and flipped over the tables.
16 He told the pigeon-sellers, “Get these things out of here!
Don’t make my Father’s house a market-house!”
17 His students were reminded it’s written,
“The zeal of your house will eat me up.” Ps 69.9

Look how zealous Jesus was for his Father’s house! Shouldn’t we be just as zealous for our Father’s house?—and for all the things in it, like orthodoxy and principles and standards? Shouldn’t we be willing to whip a few people if need be?

Here’s the problem: When Paul wrote about the Spirit’s fruit in Galatians, he first stated there are a few character traits we shouldn’t see among Christians, ’cause they indicate a person who’s not following the Holy Spirit. Instead they’re following their own selfish, fleshly impulses. And he provided a list—not a comprehensive one, but it gives us the general idea—of the behaviors we’ll find in such people.

Galatians 5.19-21 KWL
19 Fleshly works are obvious in anyone who practices the following:
Promiscuity. Uncleanness. Unethical behavior.
20 Idolatry. Addiction. Hatred. Rabble-rousing.
Too much zeal. Anger. Partisanship. Separatism. Heresy.
21 Envy. Intoxication. Constant partying. And other people like these.
I warn you of them just like I warned you before:
Those who do such things won’t inherit God’s kingdom.

Now check out that item in the second line of verse 20: “Too much zeal.”

Sometimes fleshly… and sometimes not.

What’s it say in the original Greek text of Galatians? Ζῆλος/zílos. Our word comes from their word. It’s not a different word. But it certainly gets translated as other words:

  • AMPLIFIED, CSB, ESV, GNT, ISV, MEV, NASB, NET, NIV, NLT, NRSV, TLV, VOICE: Jealousy.
  • CEB: Obsession.
  • GENEVA, KJV: Emulations.
  • WYCLIFFE: Indignations.

Jealousy, y’notice, is the most popular translation. Because people don’t wanna translate zílos as zeal.

In part because of that quote from John, which is a quote from Psalms, “The zeal of your house will eat me up.” Jn 2.17, Ps 69.9 If Jesus was zealous, and zeal is fleshly, we can’t say Jesus was being fleshly. The Spirit’s fruit is his character and nature; fleshly works are antithetical to Jesus’s very nature!

Likewise Paul wrote it’s okay to be zealous in certain situations—and in the very same letter to the Galatians; in just the chapter before.

Galatians 4.17-18 KWL
17 The legalists are zealous for you. Not for your good:
Instead they want to isolate you, so you can be zealous for them.
18 Being zealous is good—when it’s for every good thing,
and not only when I’m present with you.

He used the verb-form of zeal, ζηλόω/ziló. Means the same thing. And stated zealousness is good—when we’re zealous for good things. When we’re zealous for God, for trusting and following Jesus, for loving our neighbors, for the scriptures… and yes, even for orthodoxy, principles, and standards.

Yet Paul still called zeal a work of the flesh. Because, when misplaced or taken to extremes, it can go very, very wrong.

Same with jealousy. Y’notice those other bible translations turn zílos into “jealousy,” figuring zeal’s fine but jealousy’s not. Well, sometimes jealousy is fine. God is jealous. Straight-up calls himself jealous. Ex 20.5, 34.14 Which means he doesn’t want us worshiping anyone but him, and he’s right to feel that way; worshiping anything else will ruin us, and not because God does the ruining. And when humans get jealous, it’s likewise because we want someone’s exclusive devotion. Sometimes rightly so! You don’t want your spouse lusting after other people; you likewise don’t want our fellow Christians trying to borrow contradictory ideas from other religions, just because they prefer what the Buddha taught to what Jesus teaches.

Now. When I point this fact out to certain Christians, it freaks them out. Because they like their lists of dos and don’ts to be absolute: Always do this; never do that. Makes it simple. Means you don’t have to think too hard. Means you don’t have to practice wisdom—and there’s the real issue, right there. They’d rather not think! Or they’re a bit legalistic, and would prefer that other Christians not think; just act. They don’t want such things as situational truths, to exist. Some of ’em insist there are no such things; that everything’s a black-and-white issue; that this is how loopholes and relativism and sin happen.

But the reality is the bible was written for wise people. And if you lack wisdom, go get some; the Holy Spirit’s giving it out for free. Jm 1.5 He’ll tell you where and how to apply it. He’ll tell you whether you’re practicing proper zeal for God’s house… or improper zeal, which rightly alienates Christians and pagans alike.

Improper zeal.

And of course improper zeal demonstrates most of the other works of the flesh. It’s unethical. Hate-filled. Rabble-rousing. Angry. Partisan. Separatist. Heretic. Envious. And when it’s hopped up on caffeine, sugar, alcohol, adrenalin, or (less likely, but it happens!) liquor and cocaine, yep it’s intoxicated.

Improper zeal ditches the Spirit’s fruit because that stuff gets in its way. It doesn’t bother to be patient and kind. It claims it’s acting in tough love, or harsh love, or “love” modified by all sorts of adjectives which take all the actual love out of it. It’s not about winning people over, but about winning—we gotta defeat our opponents in the debate, or purge sinners instead of rehabilitate them. It’s not about growing closer to Jesus, but about achieving personal goals in knowledge, power, or prestige. It’s not about love of God; it loves his stuff or his perqs, like miraculous power or New Jerusalem—and God himself is secondary, and sometimes we can even take or leave him.

Proper zeal exhibits good fruit: More love, more patience, more grace. Those who demonstrate proper zeal are never gonna get called jerks by the people they interact with—or even the people who oppose them. Even their opponents will appreciate their zeal. They might totally think it’s misplaced—“Y’know, all that effort she puts into her ministry would make her far more money in the private sector”—but they’ll still appreciate it, and recognize she’s a good person regardless of their feelings about her ministry.

Improper zeal? Just the opposite. Their opponents don’t appreciate their enthusiasm; to them it just demonstrates how they’re dicks through-and-through. Any good which might’ve come from it, is wholly squandered.

So yeah, when the subject of zeal comes up, we gotta use our noggins. What kind of zeal are we talking about?—the good kind, or the evil kind? What kind of fruit is it producing? Pay attention. And be cautious, ’cause human nature means it’s more likely to go wrong than not.

“But Jesus was a jerk sometimes.”

by K.W. Leslie, 14 July

Probably the Christian jerk’s favorite excuse for their awful behavior is Jesus himself: He’s a bit of a jerk sometimes, they’ll argue. Therefore sometimes (although it’s way more often than sometimes) it’s all right if they get a little bit jerkish.

Since when is Jesus ever a jerk? Well, they got proof texts.

Let me preemptively say they really don’t. They’ve got Jesus stories where yes, he can be accused of rude, harsh, thoughtless, dickish behavior. But this interpretation is entirely based on the presumption Jesus had a bad attitude: People pissed him off, so he was clapping back at them. Despite having God’s very nature, he decided to act entirely unlike himself, and be fruitless instead of fruity.

Why do they presume Jesus had a bad attitude? ’Cause they have a bad attitude. ’Cause they’re projecting their own bad attitudes upon Jesus. The gospels don’t remind us of his motives and character in every single story; the authors figured we oughta know Jesus already, or at least we oughta hear the stories from someone who does. They didn’t take into account all the selfish people who spin Jesus wrong in order to justify their own fruitless behavior.

And that’s what we have in all the Jesus stories they use to defend themselves: Misinterpretations. Every last one of ’em.

If you truly follow Jesus, you know what he’s like. He’s loving, patient, kind, generous. He’s thoughtful, not reckless. He’s self-controlled, not impulsive; especially not angrily impulsive; he gets ahold of himself so that love, not anger, is his driving force. Really love’s his only driving force.

If your interpretation of Jesus has him acting with any other motives, you don’t know him. Get to know him.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!”

Every Christian jerk’s favorite proof text is Matthew 23, where according to popular interpretation, Jesus has absolutely had it with the Pharisee and their scribes, and tears ’em a new one. This is the “woe to you” chapter, and the way people like to imagine Jesus, he’s just livid with rage and bile. Here’s a few pull quotes.

Matthew 23.13 NIV
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
 
Matthew 23.27-28 NIV
27 ““Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
 
Matthew 23.33 NIV
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?”

Pretty much every translation from the King James onward has thrown in a number of exclamation points, ’cause they wanna give you the idea Jesus was yelling his head off at them. That’s how popular Christian culture has chosen to interpret Matthew 23, and far be it from them to disagree. To most, Jesus is cursing the Pharisees, calling down woes upon them in condemnation of their hypocritical behavior.

That’s not accurate. The bit the NIV renders “Woe to you” is οὐαὶ ὑμῖν/ue ymín. The ue is actually a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word אוֹי/oy. We have that word in English, ’cause Yiddish-speakers used it so often: “Oy vey,” meaning “woe to me.” No, those who say “oy vey” aren’t cursing themselves; they’re expressing their own misery. Life is rough, and they’re lamenting this.

The Good News Translation puts it a little better:

Matthew 23.33 GNT
25 “How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You clean the outside of your cup and plate, while the inside is full of what you have gotten by violence and selfishness. 26 Blind Pharisee! Clean what is inside the cup first, and then the outside will be clean too!”

I mean it is terrible for them that their hypocrisy blinds ’em to the fact they’re not as good as they imagine. But again, Christians have traditionally read our own bad attitudes into Jesus’s statements, and assume he’s lecturing them. In reality he’s diagnosing them. This is what’s wrong with too many Pharisees: They focus on looking outwardly devout, but they’re not any more fruitful than before. Christian jerks are exactly the same.

Those who claim Jesus is raging at Pharisees, really don’t understand what he’s doing. He’s lamenting too. He’s weeping in dismay and frustration. As is obvious from how he ends his rant:

Matthew 23.37 GNT
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!”

He’s a spurned father, not an angry crank. Anybody who thinks otherwise is projecting.

And anyone who knows what Jesus is actually doing, but doesn’t care because it doesn’t let ’em get away with being a Christian jerk, is just as much a hypocrite.

Flipping tables, cursing trees, rude names, dead pigs, and the poor.

Moving along, we got Jesus flipping tables in temple. This one’s real popular with jerks who like to pick fights: Jesus got to whip people, so why not they? But double-check that story: Jesus doesn’t appear to whip anyone. Nor does anyone arrest him, or object that he shouldn’t do as he just did. They wanna know who gave him authority to act, Jn 2.18 but they never object and say he did wrong. Because those who ran the concessions legitimately weren’t supposed to be where Jesus found ’em. Jesus simply did the temple cops’ job for them.

There’s where Jesus was annoyed, so he killed a fig tree. Mk 11.12-14 Which strikes me as a little strange when people comment, “Aww, the poor tree.” Jesus used to be a carpenter; he had to get wood from somewhere, so this can’t possibly be the only tree he ever killed! But I think it’s the fact Jesus killed it with words alone which make people pay attention. Words can hurt as well as heal, and in this story Jesus demonstrates this profoundly—and that’s the point. Mk 11.20-24 People miss this point, assume Jesus killed the tree for petty reasons, figure that permits them to be petty… and no, that’s not the point either.

There’s the story of Jesus and the Syrian Greek woman who wanted Jesus to cure her daughter, and Jesus called her a dog. Mt 15.22-28 Most Christians realize Jesus wasn’t really being racist; he was testing whether her pride would get in her own way. It didn’t.

There’s Jesus calling Antipas Herod a fox, Lk 13.32 which is kinda like how we nowadays call somebody a weasel: It’s a sneaky, thieving, ignoble animal. Doesn’t show a lot of respect for his king. (To be fair, Jesus is the proper king, and Herod was a weasely, murderous politician.) I should point out “fox” is as bad as Jesus gets in his descriptions of others, whereas Christian jerks say far, far worse. And we often slander our political opponents, just ’cause they’re on the wrong team. Calling a weasel a weasel was at least honest of Jesus; jerks can’t even do that.

Lastly I’ll point out Jesus letting demons kill a few thousand pigs. This one, jerks tend to skip ’cause they never realize how useful it can be to justify serious property damage. It can’t have gone over well with the Syrian Greeks who owned those pigs; it implies some thoughtlessness on Jesus’s part, ’cause he should’ve known the evil spirits would’ve slaughtered them. But we actually don’t know whether the evil spirits killed themselves… or whether the pigs chose to kill themselves rather than be possessed. Bible doesn’t say. And Jesus might not have known what the consequence would be; all he cared about at the time was the poor demoniac in front of him, and people take priority. Putting people first, and wealth second, is the correct move y’know.

Lastly Jesus’s comment about “the poor you will always have with you,” which materialists like to use to justify doing nothing for the needy. That one’s clearly not Jesus being a jerk; it’s purely taken out of context. There are many verses where Jesus obviously isn’t being selfish or jerklike at all, but Christian jerks misuse ’em to defend their behavior, ’cause any excuse will do.

Jesus is nobody’s excuse.

But I hope I’ve made it clear Jesus is not at all a valid excuse for Christians to behave badly.

Oh, they’re still gonna use him. And think they’re entirely right to. The human mind is wonderfully creative, and can psyche itself into believing anything that’ll let it get away with anything. Nobody likes to think of themselves as evil (well, unless they wanna terrify others, or have totally sold themselves out to evil), so they’ll bend, fold, spindle, mutilate, and outright deny any facts which say otherwise. They wanna claim Jesus, so they’ll go out of their way to distort him first.

And in so doing, convince pagans maybe Jesus is a jerk too. That, in many ways, is a far greater problem than the predominance of Christian jerks.

Christian jerks.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 July
SHE. “Ugh, religious people are the worst.”
ME. “Hey. I’m a religious person. How am I ‘the worst’?”
SHE. “Oh, you’re not that religious.”
ME. “I beg to differ. I’m extremely religious. If I weren’t, I’d be a massive jerk. Now explain how I’m ‘the worst’.”

You can tell my pagan friend recently had a bad experience with a Christian, and wanted to vent. Wanted to complain how religious Christians are bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental.

I could start ranting about her own religious prejudices here—as many of my fellow Christians immediately would. But not today. ’Cause there’s good reason for this negative stereotype she claims for all Christians. You’ve seen it too: The Christian jerk. The person who claims they follow Jesus, but are just awful to other people. Sometimes to pagans and fellow Christians alike; sometimes just to pagans. With all the bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and judgmentalism my friend objects to… and thinks all of us are like.

I wanted to burst this stereotype, which is why I challenged her to define me by it. But she just figured I’m an exception to the rule—I’m “one of the good ones.” She’s still pretty sure religious people are the worst.

Way too many of us Christians are totally bigoted, narrow-minded, and judgmental. I don’t know the percentage of Christians who are like this; Jesus does, but he’s not told me. I will say it sometimes feels like a lot. I’ve visited churches where they’re all jerks. I’ve also visited churches where none of ’em are… at least, not that I could see; I don’t know how they behave when they’re on Reddit hiding under their screen names. In any event it’s too many, and they give antichrists a legitimate reason to despise Christians.

How do these people justify such fruitless behavior? Any way they can. Any excuse will do. Usually by preemptively condemning the people they wanna be terrible to: They’re sinners; they have it coming. God’s gonna smite them, so they’re just warning the sinners of this… or in all sorts of little ways, they’re making contributions to the smiting.

I used to be one of ’em.

No, I’m not exaggerating some minor unloving misbehaviors. I was a real a--hole, and I didn’t discriminate between pagans and Christians either. Think Ann Coulter with more swearing.

I’m definitely not that way anymore, which is why I could actually tell my friend, “How am I ‘the worst’?” and she could actually consider me “one of the good ones.” Means I must be succeeding, more or less. Yea me.

Plenty of my fellow Christians are also trying to resist such fleshly, unloving behavior. And like I said, it’s because we’re religious. We’re trying to perform the good works God laid out for us. Ep 2.10 We’re trying to love our neighbors. Lv 19.18 Trying to be fruity; trying to be kind.

Pagans have a pretty good idea Jesus teaches such things, but they also figure Christians are giant hypocrites whose “religion” is to affiliate with Christ but not really follow. You know, Christianism. Religion and irreligion is all the same to them, so of course they blame religion.

“So you’re the real Christians, and they aren’t?” she half-seriously told me.

Kinda.

Not that Jesus won’t save them; we’re saved by grace not good works. But a Christian follows Jesus, and if we legitimately follow him we’re gonna produce fruit! The Spirit’s gonna transform our character to resemble Jesus’s. We’re gonna be patient, gracious, gentle, kind, forgiving, like Jesus: We’re not gonna be jerks.

The Christian jerk doesn’t reflect Jesus’s character at all. Oh they might, in private; various people are quick to defend prominent jerkish Christians by pointing out their acts of charity, or how kind and loving they are to their family, friends, and pets. (Big deal, Jesus once pointed out; pagans do this too, so how’re we any better?) Thing is, this argument is used to dismiss how, when it really matters—when it’s vital a Christian be Christ to people who need Christ at a critical moment—they blow it. Not just the one time; even the best of us stumble once in a while. I’m talking consistently. I write of Christians who simply aren’t christlike. And they aren’t getting any better. We got too many.

Taking pride in one’s jerkishness.

When I call people out for their jerklike behavior and call it fruitless, most of ’em don’t know how to respond to me. Because nobody’s ever done this before.

Let me write that again, in italics. Nobody’s ever done this before.

A third time, in caps. NOBODYS EVER DONE THIS BEFORE.

I’m not saying nobody in the world ever rebukes fruitless behavior. My mom absolutely did with me. “Is that how a Christian’s supposed to behave?” And I had to admit it’s really not. And Mom’s hardly alone; plenty of Christian parents and mentors correct their children and disciples when they forget themselves and get jerklike. They expect better of us, and remind us Jesus likewise expects better of us.

But if your parents are sucky Christians, or your Christian mentors and “elders” aren’t all that spiritually mature… well y’might not have anyone in your life who’d even think to correct you when you get fruitless and unloving. Because they get fruitless and unloving on a regular basis—and make all the typical excuses for it.

Back when I was a young zealous Christian jerk, I was in the newspaper business. I’d write sarcastic opinion pieces for the newspaper about various issues, mocking my political opponents, trying to be funny while I slammed all the things which annoyed me. And the people of my church cheered me on. Encouraged me to keep it up. One of the associate pastors actually told me I was doing the Lord’s work.

No, they didn’t know any better. Nobody ever taught ’em better! Or did, like Mom (and the Holy Spirit), but like me, they ignored ’em as no fun, or not zealous enough. ’Cause it’s fun to be a jerk. Bullies wouldn’t bother if it didn’t feel good to smack other people around.

Popular pagan culture isn’t any better. Sometimes they rebuke jerks, like when outraged parents try to put a stop to online bullying. (Although y’notice they don’t really make a fuss till they or their kids are getting bullied.) More often we watch these jerks’ shows, or make them the protagonists of sitcoms, or elect ’em president.

Sometimes jerks even lead churches, and the church members cheer ’em on for slamming all the things they hate too. God forbid the members ever find themselves on the receiving end of their bullying pastor's ire; it's a lousy place to be, as any legalistic cult’s survivor can tell you.

How’d I snap out of this behavior? God’s grace. He put up with me long enough for me to realize the value in seriously following Jesus. As I investigated what following Jesus means, I noticed good fruit’s kinda important. So I sought that… and the Spirit purged the jerkishness out of me. Not all at once; it’s a process. It’s not entirely gone yet. Still working on it.

But at least I now know better than to revel in my awful behavior… as you’ll still see among Chriatians who warn you, “I speak fluent sarcasm,” or “This is who I am; deal with it,” or “I have zero tolerance for you bulls---,” or the various other red-flag T-shirt slogans they tweet. All of which mean, “I’m deficient in the Spirit’s fruit and proud of it.”

And a lot of people are proud of it. They sell T-shirts with these slogans on ’em, you know. They sell rather well. Christians wear ’em too. They take pride in being ornery, impatient, hostile, even shooty. They figure they’re right to be immediately angry at whatever pisses them off; it’s a righteous anger; impatience is a virtue.

It’s all over the culture, and all over Christendom. And like I said, many a Christian indulges in this behavior, and nobody rebukes ’em for it. Because they’re doing it too.

Call them on it!

Jerks aren’t gonna change unless they realize they need to. And they’re not gonna realize they need to, not gonna even think they need to, unless they’re first called out for their bad behavior.

Like most people, their self-preservation instinct is gonna kick in: “I’m not the problem; you are. You’re too sensitive. You lack a sense of humor; you can’t take a joke. You snowflake.” Whatever turns things around so they’re the good guy and we’re the uptight jerks who wanna take away all their evil fun.

Too many people fear confrontation. It makes ’em profoundly uncomfortable, so they avoid it like crazy. It’s why jerks can go for years, if not their whole lives, without any pushback: People avoid them instead of telling them to their face, “Don’t.”

But I find it works. And works really well.

If you fear confrontation, fine; try the easiest form of it, which’d be on social media. Instead of blocking or unfriending someone who’s awful to you, simply tell them they’re being awful to you. Watch what happens.

Yeah, frequently they get self-defensive and accuse us of stuff, and adopt the attitude of “F--- you if you can’t take a joke.” Doesn’t help if we’ve been a little unfruitful ourselves. But if that’s true—if you have been a little less-than-Christian in your online behavior—own it. “Yes that was wrong of me. I admit that. And this was wrong of you.” Kick the excuse of “Everybody does it, so it’s okay” right out from under them. We’re all wrong.

I’m a member of a few social media discussion groups. I like to joke discussion groups are really debate clubs, ’cause they quickly turn into argument clinics. Some people join ’em because they’re truly interested in the topics… and some already have their mind made up, and wanna pick a fight so they can defend their side. I don’t mind disagreement, but I do mind when fruitless people’s inner jerk comes out. In those cases I put the discussion on pause: We need to deal with the bad behavior.

Well they don’t wanna deal with the bad behavior. They wanna keep debating. They actually look at my objections to their behavior as a debate tactic: “You’re not dealing with the real issue.” No; I’m dealing with the more important issue: Their lack of self-control. I’m not indulging their immaturity.

Some discussion group leaders think the very same way. Others don’t moderate their groups at all… at least not until someone does something which offends them personally. Social media has all sorts. But either way, I’m not gonna wait till a moderator steps in: I’m gonna speak up. As should we all. “Your behavior isn’t appropriate. Stop or I’m leaving.”

This is much easier to do on social media, than in real-life situations. When you’ve got a jerk in the workplace, at school, at home, at church, it’s not always so easy to step away. Sometimes we do need to call in a moderator. Sometimes there isn’t one; if your boss, the pastor, or your parents are the jerks, what’re you gonna do? (In these cases, of course stepping away isn’t easy. But you gotta. Start making arrangements.)

Jerks aren’t gonna change their behavior until they get enough pushback. Until it’s no longer amusing: “Ha-ha, look what an uncompromising jerk I am.” And for Christians, enough of it might be what finally gets ’em to listen to the Holy Spirit and repent.

As for your own behavior: You know better. Don’t be a dick. Don’t give pagans any more ammunition to complain, “Religious people are the worst.” Be better than that. Be like Jesus.