Self-righteous behavior makes me cringe.
Ooh, I despise it all– holier than thou testimonies, finger-pointing, long Pharisee-like checklists….
Because beneath my carefully cultivated tolerant exterior lies a fierce tigress of superiority– an innate desire to compare my piety with others and justify my value in God’s eyes. And although I’ve worked hard to tame this savage face of my personality, sometimes the giant cat claws out of her cage and scratches the people I love.
A holier-than-thou attitude has always plagued religious people. A godly life requires sacrifice and constant analysis and since none of us measures up to “Be ye Therefore Perfect” we occasionally take comfort in “at least I’m better than…”
Mormonism is chock-full of rules to guide our behavior(do I need to make a list? no, you don’t want a list)– but sometimes we seem to want even more commandments, “What exactly can we do on a Sunday?” “Is diet Coke against the Word of Wisdom or not?” I suspect that some Mormon “rules” are similar to the “right way” to fold a dishtowel– traditions that were never meant to become law.
In truth, the Lord and the Prophets have given us quite a bit of leeway on how we live our religion; each of us makes choices aided by revelation and our own circumstances. Nearly a decade ago my sister confided that she had canceled her subscription to Newsweek because it seemed to feature a naked lady every week. I laughed at her and privately thought her decision prudish. But I was humbled when my issue showed up the next Tuesday with a feature on women’s health and several gratuitous photos of naked ladies. I kept my subscription, but vowed that I would never mock another person’s attempt at personal righteousness again.
And so we come to the first of several questions– how do we develop true goodness without falling into the trap of look-how-good-I-am? My friend Kit lends me some clues:
Last Sunday Kit woke and dressed her 3 tiny girls(3, 1 1/2 and 6 weeks) and made the 30 minute drive(that’s a long way in Utah!) to attend my 9 a.m. Sacrament Meeting. Her ward had canceled services due to the Draper Temple Dedication and she still wanted to take part in church.
It’s not an effort I would have made. With a cry of “Hallelujah!” and a great moan of relief, I would have slept late, stayed in my pajamas and enjoyed a free day. But as I basked in her little girls’ glorious smiles as they sang and cuddled with my family in sacrament meeting and their genuine excitement at attending Primary and Nursery, I saw that Kit had indeed chosen the better part(for her, not for everyone– most children are not that social). Inhaling her delicious baby in Relief Society, I pondered on Kit’s true righteousness– she is kind, good, loving, sweet, she studies the scriptures, prays and attends the temple. None of her actions are for the glory of men, but simply her efforts to live a godly and happy life.
And so I wonder– have my efforts to avoid self-righteousness inhibited my progression to true godliness?
When I see preachy attitudes in others, am I simply projecting my own weakness? Am I being self-righteous about being un-self-righteous?
How can we eliminate hypocritical behavior in ourselves? And how can we, as a people, develop greater tolerance for those in the “wicked world” and in our own church?