Magi Mike's Blog

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How Sincere Belief Decays into Dollars

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Doctrines fitted to make the deepest impression upon the mind may remain in it as dead beliefs, never stimulating imagination, feelings, or the understanding.

An example is the way in which the majority of believers hold the doctrines of Christianity—the maxims and precepts in the New Testament—considered sacred, and accepted as laws, by all professing Christians. Yet not one Christian in a thousand guides their personal conduct by reference to those laws. Their standard is that of their nation, their class, or their preferred newspaper. They have a collection of ethical maxims, which they believe to have been uttered by their God incarnate in His infallible wisdom as rules for Christian living, and a set of everyday practices, which meet some of Christ’s maxims, deny some, and otherwise may go some way to meet them or to deny them. They are a compromise between the Christian creed and the interests of worldly life. Christians pay homage to Christ’s standards, but owe their real allegiance to worldly standards.

All Christians profess to believe that…

  • the blessed are the poor and humble, and those who are ill-used by the world
  • it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven
  • they should judge not, lest they be judged
  • they should swear not at all
  • they should love their neighbor as themselves
  • if one take their cloak, they should give him their coat also
  • if they would be perfect, they should sell all that they have and give it to the poor.

When they say they believe these things, they do believe them. They are not insincere but believe them in the sense that they believe what they have always heard lauded and never discussed, but they do not believe them in the sense of a living belief which regulates conduct. They believe Christian doctrines until they get to the point where they are meant to act upon them. They believe them as worthy doctrines useful to pelt adversaries with, and like to cite them as the reasons for anything people do that they approve of. Then they are Christian things to do. But anyone who reminded them that the maxims require them to do things they never think of doing is considered as expecting Christians to be saints, though they themselves are not. They forget that these are the requirements of God Himself!

Christ’s doctrines have no hold on ordinary believers. They have negligible practical influence on their minds, or on their actions. Christians have an habitual respect for the sound of them, but feel no obligation to God to apply the words to the things signified—nothing that forces their mind to take note of them, and make them personally conform to what are meant to be God’s own teaching, directly from his own incarnated mouth. Whenever conduct is concerned, they look round for for a pastor to assure them they do not have to go far in obeying Christ. A few regular dollars for the church and its minister is enough.

John Stuart Mill wrote most of this 150 years ago in On Liberty. It is even more true in America today.


Written by mikemagee

30 September, 2009 at 4:32 pm

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