There’s a delicate, healthy balance religious people need to work out:
- Investing one’s time talking and debating theology.
- Getting out in public and doing something for God, for right-ness.
Religious people talk plenty of talk, oh dear God, do we talk. By the way we talk, you’d think that religious people are the most righteous people on the face of the earth. And we’re the smartest, too, having explored nearly every nook and cranny the theological spectrum. But in reality, the only thing we lead the world in is hypocrisy, I bet.
Many of us have strong opinions. We don’t have to be pushed to have an opinion about that new religious take on that one blog. That ministry’s theological position. That leader’s personal ethics. We do it naturally. Left to our own devices, that's all we’d ever do. Sometimes I worry that I spend more time talking about God and theology than actually doing it.
What is “it”? Living a right life, contributing to God’s goals for the world. I hate to use “righteous life”, because that brings too much baggage and connotations to the table. How about living a good life? A consistently good life in public AND in private? We talk –and fight– about theology, about which of the commandments we should be keeping, for example. We talk about liturgy and the make-up of our congregation and our services. We talk about what the future of our religion is. We debate about the goals of our religion.
If that is the bulk of your religious life, God help you.
At the point when I spend all my time talking about God, and very little of my living a right life, my worst fear has been realized: I've become a pundit. The last thing the world needs is more pundits. Scratch that, the last thing this world needs is more religious pundits.
As Jeff Atwood wrote,
Pundits add ephemeral commentary to the world instead of anything concrete and real. They don't materially participate in the construction of any lasting artifacts; instead, they passively observe other people's work and offer a never-ending babbling brook of opinions, criticism, and witty turns of phrase. It's pathetic.
And it’s worse when the pundits are intellectuals. Oh, intellectuals! The rare, special enlightened among us! The problem with intellectuals is that they intellectualize everything. "The plain meaning is X, you see, but if you really study like I have, and understand all the nuances and vagaries and context, the meaning is Y.” Suddenly, that clear statement from Yeshua is now a gray sea of vague.
God save us from intellectuals.
On the Messianic blogosphere, it’s comedy gold. Pundit Isaac comments on real work W, then commenter Jacob disagrees with his punditry, and offers his own commentary on the Isaac’s commentary. And they fight about it! If Isaac is lucky, some opposing pundit may even write a reactionary punditry on his own blog!
Judaism is especially rank with this. Many of our traditional texts are merely pundits commenting on other pundits’ commentaries. Religious people commenting on other people’s commenting, ad infinitum, such that we have meta-pundits. Pundits upon pundits! 10 layers of commentary before getting to the meat. It’s pundits all the way down.
I do not dismiss the real works that our sages have contributed, but I do wonder how many of them contributed anything beyond commentary. As much as we value their wisdom, I wonder how many of them, you know, did something.
Perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to the idea of looking at their fruit. It’s an old religious cliché, I know. But I think it’s basically true that we’ll be judged by what we do, not by what we say.
We are especially good at tearing apart actual works of other religious people. But how many of us actually do stuff for that Kingdom we’re supposedly citizens of?
Seriously, what have you done? If what you have done consists mostly of theological debating and arguing and commentary, what the hell have you been doing? If your answer is, “I kept kosher and kept the feasts and did shabbat!”, well, that’s nice, but aren’t you missing something big?
I can already hear the frantic, angry pundit responses, but it must be said: the goal of this religious life isn’t to be saved from hell by trusting in Jesus, or keeping observances of X and Y. If you think that’s the goal, you’re a selfish religious butthead with your head in the sand.
Trusting in God and observing commandments are tools to a greater purpose. The goal of this religious life is to do the things that build God’s kingdom. What have you done, what have you contributed? Give me that over all the commentary in the world.
- You wrote a nice commentary on this week’s parsha? That’s nice. But what have you done?
- You wrote a good blog post refuting that one theology? Ok, but what have you done?
- You debated that one guy and told him what’s what? Ok, but what have you done?
It's helpful to discuss theology, and writing your punditry can be useful, but sometimes the value of a theology is inversely proportional to how much it has been discussed. Our job as religious people is to serve God by doing, not by discussing and debating theology until Kingdom comes [pun by all means intended].
We’ll be judged by what we’ve done, not by the meta-discussion around what someone else did.
Don’t wait. Don’t procrastinate. Stop talking about it. Righteous people aren’t the ones who put out the greatest commentaries. The good people of planet earth, right now, are the people out there doing. Dreamers don’t do good. Get off your ass and start doing something for the kingdom, something real, something tangible. Otherwise, you’ll end up just another forgotten religious hypocrite that had nice ideas but never did anything.