I promised a few days ago I would post more thoughts on what I call "the cult of the nice." My blogging friend Jakob from Denmark posted a personal thought that really resonated with me and reminded me of the "cult." He reflects,
"Today, some minutes ago, I was again taken by some kind of nausea by observing the incompleteness of much of what I am doing, much of what others are doing and much of what we do to each other. Much energy and human endeavor is being put into a living that consists of working and consuming and trying to be persons that we aren't and never will be."
Jakob is describing, in a very raw sense, the angst of those who fight against "the cult of the nice." (See the second half of my 12/19 post for more on this...)
We are surrounded on all sides by a culture that fears the struggle for authenticity. We don't want life to be unpleasant, we flee from conflict, we like the masks we wear and we grow to love them more than our real selves. The Christian life is nothing more than the struggle to remove these masks and to "become a real human being", as Met. Anthony Bloom said (quoted HERE) Becoming a real human being requires us to reject the world's frenzied drive for "happiness" and strive to become "blessed."
As Jim Forrest writes in this article, being blessed and being happy are not necessarily synonymous. Too many of our contemporaries (even, or dare I say, especially, in church) would rather choose happiness over being blessed. SockMonk wrote this comment over at Chris Davis' blog and it sums up the difference pretty well:
"When my parents and sister died suddenly as a result of a car crash, I got depressed. I didn't feel very much like praying. I didn't feel like feeling happy. The evangelical chorus-singing church I was part of, and other similar gatherings I went to, were worse than useless to me, since they measured my spirituality by how happy I acted, and their first remedy for my depression and inability to pray seemed to be to "Rejoice in the Lord!" with a goofy grin. When I turned to Orthodoxy, I was given words that I could pray regardless of how I felt. Emotion was no longer a prerequisite for spirituality. And eventually, instead of milk and maple syrup, I started to find some real meat through the grace and mercy of God.
I don't say this to be judgmental. I say this because I'm worried about how many other people are being hurt or left without the resources they need to be healed of their own wounds. I've run across too many stories like my own, including dear family members and friends. Orthodox Christians have no grounds to be proud of their own accomplishments or lofty spirituality. But please forgive us if we insist on pointing to the most competent and effective hospital we have been able to find for our own diseases and hurts."
This is a great example of how our theology dictates how we live whether we realize it or not. Western theology, being foundationally judicial, takes the sin nature and attempts to either eternally condemn it or (just as easily) deny its stark reality. Of course, these are two sides of the same coin--the classical western dichotomist framework. We see this played out in our society by the two main reactions to sin: angry condemnation and judgementalism on one hand *or* relativistic rationalization on the other.
The only way to break the "cult of the nice" is to participate in a way of life that actually treats our fallen nature as something to be *healed,* rather than something solely to be condemned or ignored. Our sinful nature is a disease and one that will leave us in a "second death" if we do not work with God to treat it here on earth. Repentance, tears, prayer, fasting....all of these (and many others) are the tools we are called to use to fight back the tendency to assimilate into the "cult of the nice."
The cult says, "Judge others and turn a blind eye to your own sins." It cajoles, "Do not rock the boat of popular opinion." It winks and says, "Hide your true feelings and fears and pretend that nothing is wrong with your soul." It urges, "Do what ever you can to blend in and be like everyone else." Above all it demands we stop searching for truth, that we believe we have already arrived at perfection and that preserving our earthly life with all of its comforts and pleasures should be our main goal in life.
I think Jakob nailed it when he said he was "nauseated." IMO, that is the only proper reaction to the "cult of the nice" we should ever have--followed closely by tears for how much we have already lived our life according to the philosophy of the "cult."