Wrestling with Moralism in Judging Katy Perry

This is a response to a blog post on Christian responses to Katy Perry.

Every moral system has shibboleths they use as boundary markers. We use a person’s words or behavior to locate them in our conceptual grid. How do they treat women? How do they treat the minorities (racial, sexual)? How do they treat the weak (disabled, old, children)? How do they treat the poor? What do they believe about ____________? It is very hard indeed to find a system where we don’t categorize people according to their behavior or their beliefs and treat them accordingly. The American cultural communities do no different.

God Looks on the Heart

At the same time we all want to be treated 1. with a presumption of our good intent to strive after the true and the beautiful 2. with the grace of understanding that we aren’t even achieving our own moral and performance goals.

When we think about things like “God looks at the heart” we appeal to that in terms of God’s evaluation of our character. We are all biased to judge ourselves kindly and with grace even while we judge others more harshly. CS Lewis associates this with Jesus’ command “love your neighbor as yourself”. In other words extend the same generosity of judgment towards others that you extend to yourself.

Community Choices

This is very difficult in a real world of choices. Whether or not we wish to express internal condemnation deciding which community to maintain public association with and which community we wish to leave will implicitly communicate or be received as judgment. Katy Perry in changing her name, changing her lifestyle, changing her message changed communities, or at least is understood as doing so and the community she left probably took it as a loss and as an expression of judgment.

The tradition I’m from, following the outline of the Heidelberg Catechism attempts to make a radical break with these moral systems by designated them as part of the law. It doesn’t fully break from shibbolethic systems, however, by continuing to have boundary markers, belief and behavioral expectations and expressions of what new life in Christ is intended to be exhibited (fruit of the Spirit, life in the Spirit, etc.) but at least there is a critique of shibbolethic moral systems as such. My traditions attempt to work through these issues, not always successfully of course, perhaps even seldom sucessfully.

I’ve seen little indication that other groups have made much progress either, even those communities of “radical inclusion”. Anyone who wishes to say “the world should be X and Y” always has to deal with those who disagree in terms of their beliefs and their behaviors.

That many Christians get this wrong is no surprise. Christianity is too commonly confused with moralism and when this happens conversations get reduced to shouting matches about moral application and designation of who’s in and who’s out or what behavior is in and what behavior is out.

The default human religion of community is moralism and Christians find it difficult to distinguish their faith from that default system.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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2 Responses to Wrestling with Moralism in Judging Katy Perry

  1. Rich DeRuiter says:

    Any culture (including that of a local congregation, a denomination, or a spiritual “stream” of some sort) that doesn’t practice genuine grace with each other, regardless of their doctrine of grace, that culture will default to legalism (AKA moralism). Our problem is that we don’t know how to behave graciously with each other, and, given how we keep trying to ‘earn’ God’s approval/acceptance, have difficulty even believing in God’s grace. In graceless communities the only options are: conformity, rebellion, or exile. Transformation can only happen within a grace-filled community — but that’s a whole other discussion.

  2. Caris Adel says:

    “The default human religion of community is moralism and Christians find it difficult to distinguish their faith from that default system.”

    This is excellent. So true. Especially if you look at other religions and countries, where they are just as moral, even more so, and more strict, than most conservative Christians are. Why this doesn’t get talked about more, I don’t know. I think when you reduce Jesus to only a Savior, you lose a lot of motivation work through all these other issues.

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