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HIGH HORSE: A Lesson in Sanctimony

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I hope everyone enjoyed a good prep weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday. Me, I missed a miracle. I took three boys (two of them mine) to an Atlanta Hawks game Saturday night. My oldest boy sprained his foot and is on crutches, so with 4 minutes left in the game, and the Hawks, having been behind all night, trailing the Raptors 97-104, I made the decision to head out. I figured this was going to be an “L” and we’d need the extra time to beat the crowd with an injured member of our party.

Atlanta then proceeded to outscore Toronto 12-5 in the final three minutes. Tie game at the end of the 4th period. Overtime happened while my son was bravely cruching the half mile back to our car. Hawks win: 124-122 at the buzzer, but we did beat the crowd home, if that’s some tiny consolation.

Sanctimony is defined as “pretended, affected, or hypocritical religious devotion, righteousness, etc.” Spiritually and relationally, sanctimony is the digestive equivalent of a fart. When we smell it coming from others, it stinks to high heaven, but we get used to it when it comes from our own. Unfortunately, putting up with sanctimony is part of the human experience, just like the inevitable result of eating a few bowls of chili.

President Barack Obama famously told Christians, at the National Prayer Breakfast no less, “lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” The high horse he was speaking about is named sanctimony.

This paragraph in Obama’s speech is poignant enough to quote, in that it both condemns and at the same time proves the man’s sanctimony.

And, first, we should start with some basic humility.  I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.

Barack Obama had plenty of humility when it came to dealing with God, but missed the bar by a mile in the “we alone are in possession of the truth” test. There are some truths that cannot be reconciled or compromised, because they are subject to the “either/or” logic that plagues our minds. For example, we can say that death is Schrödinger’s cat—nobody knows what’s after it until they open that particular box, and those who haven’t, can’t know. But the New Testament, based on the Old Testament, makes some striking claims that we can know, not what, but who, is inside that box. And those claims are irrefutable by science, since science cannot penetrate the soul.

Humility is the opposite of sanctimony, but we do tend to hold one in the left hand and the other in the right, or entertain both like little angels and devils on our shoulders.

Politics is the art of sanctimony. It is a confidence game to spread your own flatulence and make people believe it’s their own, and therefore it doesn’t stink. Political teams are more about the other side’s smelly sanctimony than trying to help make the world a better place. So you get the New York Times editors reacting to Donald Trump’s return by saying “America deserves better.” And Matt Taibbi responded that America deserves better than the sanctimonious New York Times.

Every political act of sanctimony, high-handed, high-horsed invective and pronouncement, drives people further into division. Taibbi used Dave Chappelle’s SNL monologue to cement his point.

“No one,” shouted Chappelle, “had ever seen anyone come from inside out of that house, outside, to tell all the commoners, ‘We are doing everything that you think we are doing!’”

Trump is still alive politically because he’s succeeded in turning the last six years into a referendum on what goes on inside that house. Every time someone tells a lie about what goes on in there, Trump picks up a vote. The lie doesn’t even have to be about Trump. It can be any phony act of upper-class virtue-signaling. Trump probably even picked up votes when SNL writers stayed home rather than work with Chappelle.

Taibbi called Trump “an honest liar.” An interesting point, that a man without a milliliter of humility in his whole body could also be completely absent in the sanctimony department. Without humility, Trump has nothing to compensate for, and no reason to be sanctimonious, which makes him an almost perfect weapon in pointing out the stink in other people while peddling total fantasy to eager buyers. There’s a reason Trump is trying to stick the nickname “DeSanctimonious” on Gov. Ron DeSantis. He want people to notice the stink.

Politics would have us either join one side’s sanctimony or the other’s. But true humility demands we take no side but the Golden Rule. Jesus was quoted in Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

If you like having enough food, then give to those who don’t. If you like having the liberty to vote for candidates of your choosing, then support those who don’t. If you enjoy your freedom, then visit those in prison, who have none. If you enjoy the safety of your life and your family’s lives, then grieve for those who have loss.

This means whether those who died were attending a literal Drag Queen Story Time event at an LGBT nightclub, gunned down by someone who shouldn’t have owned a firearm. It doesn’t matter what the motive was, because doing it is a hate crime. This means that spending under six percent of our defense budget to degrade the Russian military by 50% is a bargain, because it vouchsafes the freedom of 40 million, or even 100 million, for many decades. This means that people who don’t share Christian religious doctrines or values are still human beings with dignity and essential—inalienable—rights, and Christians should be first to treat them as such.

The world is filled with terrible places, and inhabited by some terrible people. But there are truly no “sh*thole countries.” There are only countries where people need more help, not high-horsed pronouncements.

America is blessed to have an entire holiday dedicated to getting off our high horses and recognizing each other as mere riders on the river of a short life relative to the age of nations and the business of stars and galaxies. Knowing the creator of that river doesn’t give us any right to wield the truth as if we owned it. Christians, especially, are co-heirs with Christ, who gave up his position to become one of us, to open the box of death, descend to the nothingness of the void, and emerge with hope for us.

The sanctimonious will not enter heaven, because nothing of our own devising can be taken with us. Our truth is useless, and only the love, respect, kindness, patience, and virtue we display to others has any effect in the light of eternity’s purity. This is why James wrote “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

Sitting down at the table of Thanksgiving with our loved ones, and having a real thanks-giving requires repenting of sanctimony. The battle for light versus darkness is bigger than any of us, and even bigger than all of us. The biggest obstacle to Thanksgiving is sanctimony. The cure is humility—or death, whichever comes first. Having trouble feeling thankful? Start there.

Support a suicide hotline. Or get trained and sit on one for a few hours. People need help. They need an ear to talk to, a calm, kind voice. People need love, warmth, food, and acceptance. Start there. Then give thanks for your turkey dinner.

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