Friday, February 03, 2006

What Does 'Self-Righteous' Mean?

In Garry Wills obsequious review of Jimmy Carter's latest book on faith (New York Review of Books, Feb. 9th), the reviewer used the word "self-righteous" no fewer than five times to describe fundamentalists or conservative Christians (he makes no distinctions). It seems that "self-righteous" has become a weapon-word used by religious liberals to vilify conservatives. The problem is, they never get around to defining what self-righteous actually means. One suspects they mean to say that a fundamentalist/evangelical/conservative (take your pick) is so sure of himself that he comes across as arrogant or "holier than thou." In other words, we have the truth, you are a heretic, and need to be silenced, sent home, excommunicated (which is the best we can do these days, since burning at the stake is verboten). This caricature of a conservative serves as a useful straw man, but is it accurate?

I have met only a few self-righteous people. Some have been evangelicals, but most, however, have been liberals engaged in calling me a Nazi, a hypocrite, or some other lovely epithet, for having the audacity to defend a biblical or orthodox position.

This compound word "self-righteous" annoys me, though. Anyone with any knowledge or devotion to Christ would know that we are not righteous, but miserable sinners saved by grace alone. Adding the prefix "self" to this makes it even more offensive. It gives the appearance of having earned some merit badge of holiness, which offends against the Holy Spirit, without whose presence our sanctification would be nil. So the word "self-righteous" is itself a description of heresy - a sin.

It is not self-righteous to defend the gospel truth. It is not self-righteous to uphold evangelical or conservative principles. It is instead offensive, in this age of relativism and pluralism to say, "Here I stand. God help me, I can do no other." So when Garry Wills repetitiously describes conservative evangelicals as "self-righteous," he is really criticizing them for having convictions - convictions he opposes and finds odious.

Some of the finest Christians I know have rock solid convictions, but are not self-righteous. They are in fact the humblest people I know. Men like Maurice Roberts, Geoff Thomas, Sinclair Ferguson, and countless others who have mentored me in the faith. They knew the depths of their sinfulness, and wept over their sins with real tears, and yet they stood (and stand) like granite sentinels against heresy and downgrade.

"Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you" (I Timothy 3:16).


Blogger Red22 said...

Great post once again, Ars! Another word that gets thrown in to the mix is calling conservatives legalists. I'm not saying that it doesn't happen, but the problem is that many of the people who use it, have no idea how to define it - or won't. If someone's obediance to God's law it different then their's - they are legalistic.

Right/write on brother!
Fan from the Midwest

12:14 PM  
Blogger Rileysowner said...

Thank-you. I needed to be reminded of what is happening in this type of response to standing firm on the Word of God. Maybe the next time someone calls me self-righteous I will ask them what they mean.


10:50 PM  

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