Blessed Are the Smug

Jesus said "Blessed are the smug, for they shall inherit all the churches in the land," didn't He? In any case, it certainly seems to be true that many of the most religious people that you meet are smug about their place in the world and in God's eyes. These people are also "certain" of what they believe in, and they are proud of their certainty. They believe doubt is the opposite of faith, not its midwife, and they will "testify" to you about what they "know" to be true. They are uninterested in conversation, it seems, because they are already right, and they seem to believe that quoting scriptures is sufficient to prove it.

I used to be smug. I used to be certain. I used to pray for those who did not believe in Christianity the way that I did. Sometimes I would tell them I was praying for them. Sometimes I would beg them to believe that I was right, to lean on my certainty for a while. I had such a clear view of who I was and who God was, what heaven was like, what I had to do to get there, and how to be happy and righteous in this life. There was only one clear path, and I was on it. I might have known that I had flaws and that I made mistakes, but I never got off the path. I might go backward, but I didn't believe it was possible for a hurricane of doubt and depression to take me to a different place completely and leave me there. Until it happened to me.

I sometimes wish I were still smug and certain about everything. I miss the person I was. Except that the more I think about it, the more I realize that the depression that hit was in part caused by the reality that I was never really entirely certain that I was right and that I always had doubts. I just didn't want to admit that to myself because admitting it would make me have to work a whole lot harder to figure out who I was, what mattered to me, and what I believed in. I didn't want to work that hard. I wanted to stay smug and certain, and so my depression lasted longer than it might have because I was kicking so hard to stay where I wanted to pretend I was.

So here I am, seeking for new truths, but not at all in the same way. I'm not trying to find a new way to be smug and certain, though I find it an enticing temptation to just turn all my beliefs upside down and be just as black and white as I once was, but in reverse. That's not the path I was blown to, though. And I have come to believe that where I am now is an important place to be. Not a comfortable place and not an easy place, but a place I was meant to come to from the beginning, however much I fought it.

Being smug means pretending to listen to other people, but really just wanting confirmation of what you already "know" to be true. Being smug means not letting people ask honest questions without attacking them. Being smug means pointing fingers at those who are different than you are, and arguing that anything bad that happens to them is because they don't agree with you. Being smug is never reconsidering your path, just doubling down and working harder at staying where you already are. Being smug is learning the Sunday School answers to things and thinking that's all there really is.

Seeking is in my mind the opposite of being smug. Seeking means being open to truth everywhere. It means listening to atheists talk about how religion is damaging. It means listening to the critics who point a finger at your sacred cows, who make you question the core claims of who you are and what makes sense to you. It means letting people see your most vulnerable places and flinching when they press on your wounded spots--and still not retaliating in kind. Seeking is allowing doubt to lead you to new truths that make you work harder and think more carefully. Seeking is admitting that you were wrong in every way you could have been wrong in the past. And for me, seeking has meant going back to the beginning and remaking my Christianity from the ground up.

The gospel of Christ is simple in some ways, yes. Love is simple in concept, but very difficult to live fully. Forgiveness is easy to describe, but very hard to actually do (at least for me). Humility is a lot easier to think you are doing than it is to really give up all pride. Community is easier to believe in than it is to enact on a long-term basis, with all the real, flawed human people who are going to be part of it.

If we are really Christian, don't we see everyone as having value, no matter what path they are on? Don't we ask God always to show us our weaknesses? Don't we seek for the chance to literally repent, to turn in another direction than we have been before? Don't we seek to show love, even when we are treated badly ourselves? Don't we show humility rather than smugness about our own vision of truth? Well, that's what I'm trying to do, anyway. I've given up the easy certainty of smugness and accepted a more painful and more open way of living in the world.