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The Worst Christians Continued (or, Why Money Can’t Buy Holiness)

Yesterday I posted some thoughts about Žižek, Oscar Wilde, and the Worst Christians Ever (a group in which I claimed membership). A few additional scattered thoughts this morning on this topic.

If you watch the last half of the video I included in the post yesterday, Žižek refers to an action of Cheap Charitable OptimismCheap meaning an action that doesn’t cost much; it does not require a great deal of resources or energy to be exerted. Charitable meaning that this action is intended to benefit (or at least have the appearance of benefitting) someone other than yourself, and Optimism in the sense that you anticipate or are of the persuasion that this action will actually benefit someone else.

So, a well-intentioned action that does not cost or require very much of you intended to benefit someone other than you.

Yesterday’s idea was that the worst Christians out there are the genuinely well-intentioned people of faith following Jesus with their minds and with their mouths but not doing much if anything about it.

If, like me, you identified with this “worst Christian” label, the question is begged, “what do I do about it?

Today’s answer: Don’t [just] give money.

I would extend yesterday’s classification of the “Worst Christians” to include people who only follow Jesus with their mind, their mouth, and with their money.

Giving money as an action, nine times out of ten, defaults into the camp of Cheap Charitable Optimism.

Jesus has a lot to say about money, but never says that giving money can save the world. Even if you give a lot of it.

Jesus talks often about giving, but it seems that it’s usually for your own sake rather than the sake of the other. Jesus says to give away money because it frees you from a cruel master, not because it will free someone else. I think that when Jesus said to love our neighbor, he did not intend for us to bring out our checkbook. Does that make sense?

Giving money is Cheap Charitable Optimism (CCO), and it is not enough to get you out of the “Worst Christians” category. Žižek goes on to say that too often, in practice, CCO results in “repairing with the right hand what you ruined with the left hand.” Too many broken and corrupt systems in our world are dependent upon other broken systems and institutions which in turn are dependent on our global economic markets. Giving financially and economically without any other form of action or assistance perpetuates the brokenness and corruption that exists because of our financial and economic institutions.

What I’m Saying and What I’m Not Saying:

  • I am not saying that giving money is bad, only that giving money is not enough.
  • I am not saying that giving money cannot help others, only that giving money cannot help others in all the ways that others could be helped.
  • I am not saying that you are one of the Worst Christians, only that I am one of the Worst Christians and you should ask yourself if you are one of the Worst Christians too.

4 thoughts on “The Worst Christians Continued (or, Why Money Can’t Buy Holiness)

  1. Thanks for stopping by. In my post yesterday, I suggested that (using Oscar Wilde’s formula) “the worst kind of Christians are those who are genuine and passionate about their faith but spend so much time talking about living differently that they don’t actually live differently.” More nuance offered in the previous post.


  2. TG says:

    Hey I am in the middle of Bonhoeffer bio as well..should I keep reading?

    I think the Pharisees, the religious people of their day, were revealed, by Jesus as the ‘worst’ of those who should be the ‘best’….Sometimes this is blatant hypocrisy and at other times is simply symptomatic of undernourished, undiscipled children….

    James speaks to this when he says when James 2:15-16 “15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

    The ‘solution’ remains that we need to be disciples and then we will find ourselves being doers of His Word and not hearers only.


  3. Tom, thanks for the thoughts. Totally with you on them! And love the James connection. That is, indeed, what this is all about – and what James was driving at. Funny how our problems are not exactly new, huh?

    I loved the Bonhoeffer bio. It’s gotten some criticism for painting Bonhoeffer as a bit too much of an American evangelical, and I saw a bit of that in the portrayal, but it’s a goo and powerful story!


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