One remark made by my friend George triggered in me something of a Pavlovian reflex. In an older post about icons, he wrote: „… the pressure to decorate classroom walls with icons, flags and coat of arms just is a pressure to exclusion, self-righteousness, and poor education standards”.

What intrigued me was his use of the term „self-righteousness”. This term and its cognates (especially the adjective „self-righteous”) are used very much by people who presumably wish to criticize religious people’s false claim of being „righteous”. [It may or may not be the case with my friend George. What follows bellow does not concern directly his remark, but rather a widespread attitude among religion’s „cultured despisers”.]

I take it that critics who claim that Christians are „self-righteous” mean, by such a remark, that Christians are hypocritical. They are „righteous” in their own eyes, but not so in reality. In fact, who knows anything at all about true Christianity, knows too that one of its basic tenets is that no man can actually claim righteousness in God’s sight (or in anyone else’s sight, for that matter). We all fail to love God fully and we all fail to love our neighbour as ourselves.

However, does this failure mean that we ought not dare criticize anything which we perceive as wrong in others? I wonder: are the journalists who point out corruption in the government criticized for making an ugly display of their „self-righteousness”? Leaving this aside, one point must be granted: the accusation of „self-righteousness” is correct if it in fact targets those devotees who insist on their rectitude (much like the Pharisee praying in the Temple – Luke 18:11) yet „swallow the camel” instead.

Jesus himself speaks strongly against those who claim to „take the speck of dust out of other people’s eyes, when all the time there is a log their own eye”. But He does not stop at that. He recommends something further: „You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

The critics would probably be content with everybody failing to see everybody’s „specks” and everybody being ok, in a big happy family, much like in Schiller’s „An die Freude”, where the worm and the cherub share in the same universal joy:

Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.

Well, not so. Let us remove the logs from our eyes and perhaps by then we shall see clearly that associating the worm with the cherub is not, after all, such a good idea. It gives me chills to think that the Serpent in the story of the Garden of Eden managed to sneak its way into the new Paradise instated by Schiller as a mere „worm” and claiming to enjoy the same status as the cherubs (he himself having been formerly one of them).
With that, I kindly invite my friends to point it out to me that calling something „evil” is dangerous because it invites exclusion, hate, repressive measures, discrimination and all other evils that we humans have proved ourselves capable of. In exchange, I propose to call everything good and thus to rid ourselves of any effort to discern the shades in the morality of our society and produce the moral value-free Paradise that we so long for.