I have noticed a growing trend in the world. More and more people are adopting this trend and displaying it for the world to see. However there is something different about this trend. It is prevalent, but almost completely unnoticed. In fact, most of the people who are part of this trend do not even recognize that they are taking part in it. Interestingly, the higher this trend’s popularity soars, the more invisible it becomes.
What is this trend that becomes more imperceptible the more popular it becomes?
Self-righteousness is feeling confident in one’s own moral standing (i.e., righteousness), especially when compared to others.
How is one way self-righteousness reveals itself in today’s culture? Moral bandwagons known as social justice movements. People seem to jump on moral bandwagons quite quickly and easily. There have been a litany of moral vogues throughout the last several years. Hashtag your moral compass here. These vogues are easy to ride because they usually do not pose any challenge to the average person who jumps on. Young people seem to be especially likely to be caught up in these furors. But really, any person at any age is susceptible to trying to look better than one really is.
These pop culture moral bandwagons provide people a platform from which they can boast of their goodness … and judge others for not following suit. Even if they do not publicly boast and judge others, many still inwardly think that they are better than others because of their good deeds. “I am a good person” is something a number of people say. A good person compared to what or whom? And that is just it: so many people judge how good of a person they are based on how bad they think other people are. Well, that is exactly what self-righteousness is.
I certainly can appreciate many of these moral bandwagons (e.g., social justice movements). I could not possibly sincerely argue that these movements are completely bad or pointless. In fact, these moral bandwagons were started years ago, and even millennia ago, but they seem to have lately received a groundswell of very public support. However, it is the public support that is part of the problem. People jump onto the bandwagons publicly so that everybody can see them being good. What people do privately is their own business, but they sure are going to look good in awareness gatherings, protests, and on social media sites.
What is another way people display their self-righteousness? By publicly condemning people who have made public mistakes. I have no problem with an honest, humble critique of someone’s actions. However, social media sites have made it incredibly easy to mutilate someone based off one or a few mistakes that a public figure made. It is amazing how quickly we can go from viewing inappropriate material online to – through the same medium – publicly chiding people who are unfaithful to their spouse. We excuse our infidelities because we are not as bad as those people. That is self-righteousness.
I know self-righteousness. Why? Because I struggle with it immensely. I have tried to be righteous for most of my life. I especially know how to act righteous when around other people. But I know my unspoken thoughts. I know there are times I do something “good” simply because I am expected to. But I also know that if it were not for an external restraint, I would act however the damn well I pleased. (Sorry friends, but I had to put that there because it is true and shows you a tiny bit of my inner thoughts. You should be happy I restrained myself from really letting go.) This external restraint will be identified further down.
The Times They are a Changin’
The group of people that most typically gets tossed into the category of self-righteous is Christians. Certainly a number of them deserve that title. However, I do not believe they have sole possession of that characteristic. In fact, I have been noticing that many of the most self-righteous people are the ones who claim that they can be good without a God. I see these people piously standing up for certain good causes, and while doing so, they announce themselves as good because they have found North on their moral compass on at least a few points of morality. That is self-righteousness.
In John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan talks of the Village of Morality. The people of this village are trying to feel good about themselves through moral acts and civility. Many Westerners are in that village today. But I know why they are hanging out in that village: self-righteousness. They give to charity and stand up for causes all the while ignoring their poor morality in private. Since God has placed the law of morality on our hearts, they know they are supposed to do good. They fill this urge by taking on popular movements. They feel good about themselves, but since they do not listen to God reminding them of how far they fall short, they get puffed up having blind eyes to their sin and get self-righteous. Of course this is a general description of most people in the Village of Morality, some are truly humble people, but it stands as a true description for most.
God is the external restraint I mentioned earlier. God reminds me that even with all my good deeds, I still am a very sinful creature. This reminder humbles me and stops me from speaking sanctimonious platitudes about myself. It is this reminder that should cause all Christians to be extremely humble and the anti of self-righteous. However, many Christians still tumble into self-righteousness and this fact should only just reinforce how sinful we are and how desperate we are for a Savior. Thank God for forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
As I said earlier, not all people in the Village of Morality are prideful, self-righteous people. Some are humbly trying to fulfill that law of morality inside them. I have met many of these people. I hope these people will be honest with themselves and recognize that even they fall short of their own moral requirements. This is where Christ steps in. While on the cross, Christ took upon Himself all the sins that we could not stop ourselves from doing. I am eternally thankful for Christ. Without Him, the best I could do is accomplish a few good deeds and try to ignore all my failures.
Self-righteousness is a sly invader. It has crept into our society in the shadows of morality and civility. I think we need to stop fooling ourselves that we do not have this problem.
*This is not a full critique of self-righteousness in our society, but I think it is a good starting point.