Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Jerk Factory

This article by Richard Beck is doing the rounds again, and there are some classic quotes there. Here's a great bit:
"Christianity" has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed "spiritual" substitute. For example, rather than being a decent human being the following is a list of some commonly acceptable substitutes:
  • Going to church
  • Worship
  • Praying
  • Spiritual disciplines (e.g., fasting)
  • Bible study
  • Voting Republican
  • Going on spiritual retreats
  • Reading religious books
  • Arguing with evolutionists
  • Sending your child to a Christian school or providing education at home
  • Using religious language
  • Avoiding R-rated movies
  • Not reading Harry Potter.
The point is that one can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being. Much of this activity can actually distract one from becoming a more decent human being. In fact, some of these activities make you worse, interpersonally speaking. Many churches are jerk factories. 
It resonated with me a bit because last month I was talking with a guy who runs a home for migrants and Christians in trouble.  What he found was that many of the (Asian) migrants were far better human beings than the local Christians.  The foreigners would help with household chores cheerfully and without complaining, while the Christians would often complain or avoid helping altogether and were often surly and unpleasant to be around.  This was a problem for that guy and it is clearly a problem for Richard Beck.  You can read Beck's article for yourself but I think he has two main concerns.
  1. Christians are supposed to be nice people
  2. If Christians aren't nice people that will put others off Christianity

Now I am all for decent human behaviour, I get very stressed by people who are rude or antisocial and do not respect others. But on the other hand I'm not sure the jerk factory is the church.  I encounter jerks everywhere.  Today I had to ask one jerk to collect the turd that his dog/wolf left on my front lawn.  Jerks regularly leave their rubbish around the parks and beaches where I like to walk.  A beaurocratic jerk sent a 30 page document back to me because one word was missing from my address when I wrote it for the 3rd time, despite the fact that that word was not necessary for the address to be clearer as there is only one road by the name in the entire country!  Jerks are endemic, prolific and pretty much under or crapping on every rock you pass.  And so in a world loaded with jerks you kind of hope lots of Christians are jerks because well, if God doesn't save jerks then we're screwed.  Yes I would hope being a Christian would mitigate that behaviour, and as sanctificatinon takes place jerkish behaviour should reduce.  I don't have a problem with wanting Christians to work on not being such jerks - I'm working on such things myself and on myself.

But here's the thing.  I don't believe if all Christians stop being jerks everyone is suddenly going to convert.  "Wow you Christians are such nice people can I join your wierd religious club?"  And neither do I believe it is an acceptable excuse for turning your back on God just because Christians/church didn't behave very well sometime.  I see jerks everyday on the road, I still drive a car.  I hear jerks everyday on the radio phone ins, I still use a phone and listen to the radio.  Jerks go to supermarkets, schools, swimming pools and beaches but I do not use their behaviour as a reason to put me off these activities.  But people often use the jerks in church as an excuse not to be part of what God is doing in the world, and frankly that is a pathetic reason.  And now Beck has validated one more poor excuse for turning your back on God, "those Christians don't tip very well."  But I am unvalidating it.  If you are letting jerks put you off from the glories and hope of Jesus Christ, stop it right now!

Why should your salvation be dependent on the actions of jerks?


  1. because the un-saved are fickle like that - they DO get put off because of jerks (they tend to stand out a bit much).

    We need to be an example, Christ-like, a witness through our lives and actions, not just when we're preaching at people.

  2. I love this post (and will probably be referencing it soon in one of mine). My question has absolutely nothing to do with it, though.

    Are on Twitter? I've been doing and more of my "idea-getting" there and I'd love to follow you.

  3. Hi Mike, I'm not arguing jerks don't put people off, i'm saying people who are avoiding following God are not allowed to use jerks as their excuse. As I said I am all for encouraging Christians not to be jerks and trying not to be one myself.

    Hi Leslie, welcome to the blog, i've been enjoying yours for a while now. :-) No tweeting i'm afraid, but happy to make your aquaintance on facebook if you like.

  4. I agree that many people in churches can get carried away with "spiritual disciplines" and forget some of the basics of Christian service and hospitality - but that doesn't make them jerks; it just makes them people. Who are these jerks anyway? The guy who stands a bit close to you and talks too loudly? or the guy who eats with his mouth open? or the guy who never seems to smile? Does God think they're jerks, or just people who need sanctifying?

    And also, let's face it, being nice to people doesn't instantly mean that they are going to want to hear what you have to say. If that was the case, sales people would do it a lot more often ;)