Chalcedon Report No. 55, March 2, 1970
One of the more delightful comic strips, “Eb and Flo,” in its February 6, 1970, number has a very telling point. When Mabel comes to visit Flo, she learns that Flo’s husband, Eb, has gone to a big youth rally in town. Mabel asks: “Youth Rally? You mean all those hippies, Hell’s Angels and skinheads? Why? Is he thinking of joining them?!” Flo answers: “Never! He just goes to their meetings to keep his disgust fresh!” Here the humorist has put his finger on the essence of much religion and morality today: it lacks any real faith; it is essentially negative, and its main impetus is disgust.
More than a few prominent religious figures who present themselves as bold warriors of the Lord have really only one essential purpose: to keep disgust fresh. They publish by press, books, radio, and sometimes television, as well as in person, a stream of exposures about the menaces to church and state. Their purpose is essentially to freshen disgust. Beyond that, they have little in the way of a gospel to present, and their morality is often suspect.
The same is true of many political commentators of the right and the left. There is a continual turnover of periodicals, newsletters, and radio programs as both sides trot out their horror stories and then give way to someone else who is better at keeping disgust fresh.
Take away fresh disgust, and you rob a vast number of people of the most important part of their intellectual, religious, and moral diet. With many, it becomes their whole life. In one so-called “evangelical” church, one of the largest, movie attendance is forbidden to members; a prominent woman in the church regularly sees and reviews all the worst films before a large church midweek gathering to freshen their sanctimonious disgust. A man now in his fifties, to cite another case, is still busy, when last heard from, collecting clippings and data to prove to his comrades that a fascist revolution is about to capture America; he began his task in the 1940s. He feels it is his duty to keep the faith by freshening disgust.
What lies behind this kind of mentality? It is certainly very prevalent on all sides and is a basic motive with many people. Many members who stay in churches riddled with modernism, the new morality, and revolutionary doctrines, will not leave, nor can they be interested in sound theology; their sorry churches are a delight to them, because their disgust is kept continually fresh. Similarly, many who have left the modernist churches make it their life to review the horrors of the old church: their gospel is fresh disgust.
What lies behind this kind of mentality is Phariseeism. A Catholic woman, no better than she had to be, loved calling attention to her priest’s flagrant sins. Her attitude was this: “If he’s a Christian, I’m a saint.” A Presbyterian layman, of sorry character, delighted secretly in the bad character of his pastor: “I’m a lot better Christian than he is.” Neither one was ever happy with a good pastor: the bad ones pleased them, the bad pastors gave them grounds for fresh disgust. Their mentality was exactly that of the Pharisee of whom Christ spoke, whose prayer was in essence simply this: “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican” (Luke 18:11).
Here is the heart of the matter. The Pharisee needs a continual tale of evil, a steady recital of the depravity of men and movements around him in order to feel a moral glow. His self-justification is the sight of fresh evil in others. Hence, such people need and demand fresh evil. Is the new movie worse than any before, a fresh departure in evil? They attend it to freshen their disgust and keep their moral glow. Are their new exposures of corruption in politics? Millions of voters find it a wonderful means of self-justification: the nasty, evil men are plotting them into evil and corruption; it is not their own corruption writ large.
One brilliant professor at a major university spent an evening reciting the tales of perversion and degeneracy within his circles, amazing accounts of the moral bankruptcy of a group of scholars. His stories were true, but, subsequent events proved, his own activities were equally degenerate and brought about his own destruction. His self-justification had been to freshen his disgust at his colleagues’ similar degeneracy. Much historical “debunking” has rested on shaky moral foundations.
Is the answer positive thinking? God forbid. Man cannot live by bread alone, nor by fresh disgust, nor by positive thinking. “I think only positive thoughts,” a woman told me: “anything negative mars life and ages a person.” Her husband had to do the negative thinking with respect to the children and every other family responsibility. Every positive thinker is a parasite and requires some family member or associate to do the negative thinking which is inescapable in life. Progress requires its “nay” as well as its “yea.”
Am I suggesting that we refuse to expose evil, or to examine it? On the contrary, the only valid ground for examining evil is that positive action be taken, and this involves more than mere negation. Mere counteraction leaves the initiative to evil. A pharisaic “tut, tut,” is not improved if millions of people are organized to say “tut, tut,” together.
Our Lord declared, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Now, the word of God is not a sterile word, most churches to the contrary: it is a creative Word. When man lives by every word of God, he begins to remake the world around him in terms of that creative word.
Is a man living by that creative word? Then he is at work establishing godly institutions, not in looking for fresh disgust. Those who have no creative word hate those who live by it. One man who has established three new churches in a few years, and a truly great Christian school, was recently the target of trouble from these living dead men. They tried vainly to freshen their disgust by finding fault with him. The Pharisee must be able to say, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are.” He needs the scoundrels to keep his disgust fresh and his self-righteousness flourishing. His greatest enemy, a constant affront to him, is the godly man who, in terms of the creative word, is actively engaged in godly reconstruction. Against all such, the hand of the Pharisee is forever raised.
The Pharisee claims to be the only true believer, the only activist, and the only person “alive to the issues.” Can anyone else compile a like record for “exposing” evil, for nosing out the living men and demanding they be disciplined for accomplishing something, and for getting ever greater responses of fresh disgust? The Pharisee needs evil: it is the air he breaths.
Men who live by the creative word of God know the reality of evil all around: it was there when they were born, and it will be there when they die. For them, the important question is this: will they have extended the boundaries of the Kingdom of God a little further before they die? Will they have exercised dominion under God and subdued the earth in terms of His creation mandate? The world was not empty when we came in to it; we must add more than a pharisaic “tut, tut,” to it before we leave.
The church in the apostolic and post-apostolic age was not a great force numerically, it did not even possess a church building for probably two centuries. Yet Rome felt it necessary to wage a war unto death against these “followers of the way.” By their family life and their sexual morality, by their quiet stand against things like abortion, by their strict obedience to the law of God, and by their strong sense of charity and mutual care of one another, these “followers of the way,” members of Jesus Christ, were creating a new social order in the midst of an old one.
Let the dead bury the dead. The living must follow their King in the task of making all things new. But if you want to keep your disgust fresh, move over into Sodom, and take out your citizenship papers. You’ll be happy there.
- R. J. Rushdoony
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.
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