You Can Believe and Still be a Jerk

Having shared a humorous reference to Marcus Borg recently, I thought I ought to share something more serious that he actually wrote. In the image and in the text below, is an insightful statement from Borg about the problems which arise when one defines Christianity in terms of believing certain things to be true, rather than about a transformed life (HT Kissing Fish on Facebook):

You can believe all the right things and still be a jerk.  You can believe all the right things and still be miserable, still be in bondage, or still be untransformed. So, the emphasis upon belief is, I think, modern and mistaken. It’s also very divisive – once people  start thinking that being a Christian is about believing the right things, then anybody’s list of what the ‘right things’ are becomes a kind of litmus test as to who’s really a good Christian and who’s not. Being a Christian is really about one’s relationship with God. And that relationship with God can go along with many different belief systems.

— Marcus Borg in Living the Questions


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  • So James – how does one learn how not to be a ‘jerk’.  

    • My own view (with an obvious indebtedness to another) is that it involves cultivating a consideration of how we would want to be treated if we were the other person. In short, empathy. But that makes it sound simple when it is in fact frequently challenging, no matter how dedicated we might be to avoiding jerkhood. 

    • BlazeL

       Thankfully there are no atheist jerks!

  • plectrophenax

    This is the split between praxis and doxis, isn’t it?  For some reason, Christianity became neurotic about belief, I suppose in the Reformation and afterwards.   I quite often meet people who are obsessive about doctrinal points, and yet treat others like a sack of spuds. 

  • Thanks James – yet let me press the Q further. How does one cultivate consideration? (It may be too that being a jerk is part of the enemy structure that brings us to heel.)  What if I were to say that we are cultivated into mercy – and it is an active passive.  I was over a barrel at the Jabbok long before I knew who had me over said barrel.

    • I was tempted to say that it is being a jerk to ask so many questions about how one avoids being a jerk. But then I realized that, even if I said that in jest, I would still be being a jerk! 🙂

      But seriously, I think that it is precisely through a process of cultivation, as you so nicely put it. Realizing that we do not need to focus on rather than ignore and forget those things which others do that annoy us – precisely because we realize that things that we do annoy others, even if we try not to. Indeed, some may even find our attempt to avoid annoying others to be annoying!