Category Archives: Religion

Endorsement Anxiety

Christianity supports many virtues. Love, forgiveness, tolerance, charity. There is no controversy – we can call these virtues. Religious and non-religious alike can recognize them. The practice of those virtues is woven into daily life a varying amount, depending on the individual and culture. Some (Gandhi famously) have objected to how much focus the virtues actually receive, and I think it’s time to bring attention to this again.

My Christian friends, endorsement anxiety is a plague of termites chewing on your house. Endorsement anxiety is, simply, the notion that applying your virtues without figuring out who deserves them first is somehow sinful.

It is important to begin by saying Jesus did not appear to have endorsement anxiety. Jesus would wash the feet of sinners and bathe them equally in forgiveness without a thought about who deserved how much soap. Today, overwhelming attention is placed on who can get married (without compelling a churchperson to perform said marriage). Overwhelming attention is placed on whether to make a cake for said wedding – whether it violates a Christian belief. Recently, a great deal of Catholic attention is being lavished on who can be excluded and how much from communion, in reaction to the suggestion it be made more inclusive.

Put simply, a lot of effort seems to be going in to “who can we keep in the outgroup?” The subtext seems to be “we are at war, and have enemies on all sides, so the more we can keep out, the more likely our sacred institutions will not be damaged by them.”

It is this idea which is actually counter to (and destructive towards) those sacred institutions. Those institutions are strong if they pull their flocks towards the virtues, not if they hide from sinners – by Christian measures, nearly everyone is a sinner. What good would it do to hide? Why is there a growing menu of sinners to whom it is no longer necessary to apply charity, tolerance, or love? When it comes to endorsement anxiety and violating a belief, I ask you:

Which belief?

More importantly, where is the endorsement anxiety more central to Christianity than love and temperance and tolerance and charity and humility?

Today, some Christian media seems heavily occupied with some kind of war – media war, culture war, a war for the survival of Christianity, Christianity’s “decline.” I hear scholarly faithful remark bitterly about the negative trends, the hostility towards the religious. I cannot argue that the trends are positive compared with 70 years ago, but I must ask, how negative really are they? How much threat is there? This is a religion millennia old with institutions that have weathered more historical events than any country on the planet, whose adherents lived in tombs and crypts to escape death when times were tough. Isn’t the panic about the end a little overdoing it?

Isn’t the panic as dangerous a media darling today as anything else the news is over-reporting?

Luckily, there are some significant counter trends. These trends don’t get nearly enough attention, and they should.

Christian ancestors lived among the dead and took communion in secret, survived those times, and flourished. Weekly they take the blood and body of a god, the same god who offered Judas the first Eucharist. What fear is there in kindness to sinners? What fear can overcome you at all?

God Will Provide?

A friend of mine recently sat in a dental office as a woman, whose child was headed to Columbia University, was complimented on being a good parent. He wondered if the kid should be left out, for having worked hard herself. The parent responded that she could only thank God. He, a Catholic, thought she had overcompensated in the other direction. While she could also thank God, he thought, her own and her child’s role were still relevant.

Whether religious or not, you have probably come upon the expression “God will provide.” It is an idea some people find comforting. On an individual level, it can be helpful. Unfortunately, it often isn’t, and on the wider, social level, it usually isn’t.

First of all, it’s statistically untrue. Someone whose nine children are starving in Haiti today cannot expect, on the tenth, God will reverse their fortunes. Sure, one of the many hard-working charitable organizations trying to feed them in God’s name may get there before tragedy, but that often doesn’t happen. For the world’s population in poverty, the notion that “God will provide” may be more an expression regarding “the strength to endure” than the physical things you need.

I have no children myself, and have been asked more than once why. I would like to have them. However, I cannot afford to do well by them. I have been told in response that no one ever “has enough” for children, a lovely sentiment if you’re in a six-figure household. I have also been told “God will provide” – as aforementioned, a statistical falsehood. Nor do I blame the people who have children despite having little. It is not, after all, money that buys happiness, but poverty can buy a whole lot of sadness.

When it comes to finding work, having children, or engaging in any of the difficult challenges of life, let’s not discredit the people who worked hard facing real uncertainty about whether they would be successful. Let’s remind the ones who succeeded and forgot the uncertainty, honor the ones who succeeded and remained mindful, and remember the ones who faced that obstacle and lost. One can do this and be humble at the same time. Whatever our affiliation, let’s stop saying “God will provide.” If you’re religious, God already provided quite a bit – let’s use it to do well by each other now, instead of hoping for more later.