The Demon of Relentless Righteousness
I've spent most of my adult life believing that. I graduated from high school in 1967, just before "high" school took on a whole new meaning. The war in Vietnam was ramping up. I remember notices on bulletin boards in school informing us up-and-coming adults that when we turn 18 we were required by law under the threat of severe punishment to register for the draft - the Selective Service. I felt frightened by the whole prospect, needless to say. Either I register and risk death in Vietnam or I don't and face certain prison - in a "free" country no less!
I had already made my choice not to attend college, not only for financial reasons although those loomed huge, but also because I felt unprepared. I was an especially slow reader. I turned 18 in my senior year and obediently registered for the draft. After working through the summer I realized that I needed to do something if I didn't want to be an infantryman risking my own death in Vietnam killing and maiming people I was programmed to believe were enemies of American freedom.
Little did I realize at the time that I was being choked by righteousness, or rather by American self-righteousness, but that's exactly what was happening.
My solution was to enlist in the US Air Force so that's what I did.
That's not something I look back at with pride. I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate to have been born in the United States of America, but that was a dark time in American history, a permanent stain that will never be erased, will never fade away, will not be forgotten by me until my brain has ceased functioning rationally.
My own self-righteous American pride took a deep hit in the four years I remained on active duty. It wasn't that I lost my American pride, my pride in our nation. It was the realization that I was making a sacrifice for a cause in which I had no say whatsoever other than disobedience which, just as with the draft, would bring me certain severe punishment, possible even the lifelong stain of prison time and a dishonorable discharge from the military if I failed to submit. For over three and a half years I counted the days remaining before I could be free again.
Shortly after my "honorable" discharge in a time of deep post-military depression I became what was then openly and proudly referred to as a "born again" Christian falling into the hands of what was then called Fundamentalist Christianity. I was raised as a Christian, just not as a "saved" and "fundamentalist" and "born again" Christian.
Little did I realize at the time that just as I had been raised to believe in the righteousness of America, I was submitting myself to being groomed to the righteousness of right-wing religion. It took twenty years for me to come to that realization. Well that's stretching it a bit. My conscience kept reminding me that something about all that religion was - let's say for simplicity - fishy?
My Christian experience programmed me to believe that self-righteousness is a sin, an affront to God.
I couldn't agree more.
But my conscience wouldn't let me escape the unresolvable conflict between the sinfulness of self-righteous belief and the Godliness of Christian righteousness itself. I mean, think about this, is it even possible to believe in righteousness without actually being self-righteous? I DON'T THINK SO!
Being righteous means being right or moral. Being self-righteous means thinking you are more right or more moral than someone else. Is there any difference there at all without fudging reality? I mean to be righteous you need to submit to some authority whether it be God or Allah or Humanism or any of a dozen other moral belief systems.
To not submit is to be "free".
For someone living in a free country such as the United States to submit to an undefined or loosely defined authority is pure Orwellian. Be honest now but what authority is not either undefined or loosely defined? What authority is so pure as to not be subject to skepticism by a mind seeking freedom?
What belief system delivers freedom from error?
The music system?
Rolling Stone magazine?
Muslims would claim that submission to Islam, Allah, the Quran, and Sharia Law is the correct answer to that question.
Christians would claim (and then probably turn right around and immediately deny) that submission to God, Christ, and Jesus as well as to the Holy Bible is the answer.
Humanists would claim that submission to higher learning and science is the closest thing there is to the correct answer, that all other beliefs are anything but "right" because of the overwhelming evidence that belief in the supernatural is irrational, destructive, unproven, and self-defeating.
Each belief system requires the believer to submit to its chosen authority.
But consider this:
Who gets to do the choosing? Why of course the believer makes that choice. The believer gets to choose, whether freely or by coercion, which authority is right. Each "self" chooses its own form of "righteousness" and there lies the conflict. If the self gets to make that choice, how is it not self-righteousness?
So what am I saying. Am I saying it's just plain erroneous to be righteous in the first place?
It's never correct to believe that any belief is right. It's always correct to free your mind of belief and open your mind to seek a better understanding.
Think of righteousness as a demon plaguing mankind.
Freedom is freedom from the presumed authority of any belief system.
Suspend disbelief right along with it.
Then seek a better understanding.