An earlier post I wrote about cussing got a lot of positive response on Facebook -- and an interesting question. "How is one to know a religious person when one sees one?" my friend asks. A valid query. I assume he is wondering, specifically, how does one know that someone is the type of religious person who will be offended at cussing. After all, not all religious people are alike.
I probably should stop here and clarify that I tend to use the term "religious" in a pejorative sense. There are the Redeemed, people who know themselves and know God and are striving to live their lives in right relationship between the two. And then there are the Religious. In Jesus' time, these people were the Pharisees. Whitewashed tombs, Christ called them. Beautiful on the outside, full of death and corruption on the inside. Blind guides. Hypocrites and snakes. "You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel." Jesus pulled no punches with these folks.
I openly admit to my status as a recovering Pharisee. Perhaps that is why I get so frustrated by them. But, to answer my friend's question, how is one to know a Pharisee when one sees one? Well, there are rarely any tell-tale signs directly on the person. The only surefire way is to mark how the person reacts to someone else's sin.
So, here's a test: upon meeting a new acquaintance whom one suspects of Pharisaic qualities, casually bring up something like . . . your lesbian best friend who is watching your kids for you tonight. Or the summer you spent volunteering at Planned Parenthood. Or just drop in a juicy curse word.
And then look at their eyes. Watch for one of the following reactions:
Fear. As in, "Oh, no! It's one of them! Back away slowly . . . hide the children . . . don't breathe in the heathenistic, heretical germs! We'll be infected!"
Hunger. As in, "Aha! It's one of them! A potential convert! I will crush him with my logical arguments for the faith and drag him, limp and defeated, into the kingdom of God. Another notch for my halo!"
Contempt. As in, "Hmph! It's one of them. Those small-minded, faithless, corrupt pea-brains who are destroying my beautiful one nation under God with their Godless liberalism. Scum-bags. Get outa my country."
Pity. As in, "Oh, dear! It's one of them! Poor, poor soul . . . oh, they just have to be miserable and they don't even know how miserable they are! Tsk, tsk, tsk."
Now, I should qualify this a bit to give a break to we recovering Pharisees. Like the recovering alcoholic whose mouth starts to water at the sight of beer even while he remembers with horror his last binge -- many of us will find ourselves reacting in one of these ways instinctively before our better parts get control and rein us in. Give your new acquaintances a little bit of time to show their true colors.
Ultimately, the Redeemed will come to look at you not as one of them but as . . . well, you. The you that God created and wants to redeem as well. And we hope you will look at us the same way.