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?

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