What part of 'When you pray, go into your inner room' did you not understand? (from Mt 6:6, NASB) / PsiCop original graphicSince their religion was founded, Christians appear to have had a lot of trouble with the teachings of their own religion. As I’ve explained at length, according to their own scripture, Jesus left behind some fairly clear and unambiguous instructions for them, that they more or less ignore. Some of this isn’t entirely unreasonable; after all, strictly following the order to “turn the other cheek” in every conflict could — if the circumstances are dire enough — result in injury or even death. So I get why Christians might not be too eager to obey that one all the time.

That said, some of Jesus’ instructions are far less harmful to follow, yet Christians have, historically, dug their heels in against them and refuse to follow them. Among those is his injunction against public piety. The gospel according to Matthew reports that Jesus said:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Mt 6:1-6)

In spite of this clear and explicit order, Christians don’t seem to hesitate to let others know they’re Christians, that they’re righteous, and that they worship their deity. They desperately want other people to know they’re Christians, and they never shy away from ensuring that the rest of the world knows it.

Just today, not too far away from me in the northwestern Connecticut, as the Torrington Register-Citizen reports, they got together in what amounts to an orgiastic display of anti-scriptural public piety (WebCite cached article):

More than 150 people gathered at Coe Memorial Park [in Torrington] from Saturday morning until the evening for a day of worship, entertainment and food during the 2013 Praise God Fest.

All the entertainment and food was donated, and there were several volunteers helping serve food and offer information during the festival.

The stated explanation for why they did this is pretty lame:

Michael Oleksiw is a pastor at the Freedom Hills Christian Center in Torrington, and is the coordinator for Praise God Fest.…

“Christians are real people, regular people,” Oleksiw said. “We have fun, and we just want to tell people abut the hope that we have in our lives as Christians.”

I mean, seriously, who isn’t aware that Christians are “real people”? We need this display of public Christian piety, to know that? Really?

Oleksiw’s “explanation” implies that Christians are some kind of tiny minority that’s maligned and misunderstood or something. But this is patently absurd; Christianity is the majority religion in the US, in Connecticut, and even in the city of Torrington. They aren’t misunderstood at all.

The rationales that Christians cook up to explain why they think they can display their piety openly and publicly, in spite of Jesus’ clear order never to do so, are mind-boggling. In fact, they border on incoherent. See, for example, my exchange with a Christian in the comments on this Hartford FAVS article).

One explanation I’ve heard is that, when in verse 6 of the Matthew passage Jesus said to “go into your inner room” to pray, he wasn’t giving a blanket order to all Christians to do this all the time; it was just an example of something they might want to do … sometimes. This, however, doesn’t make sense in light of the overall passage. Jesus opened that particular teaching (in verse 1) with a general statement: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” He then went on to give examples of the “hypocrites” behaving unacceptably: Being seen giving to the poor (verses 2-4), and standing in the streets to pray (verse 5). In verse 6 he turns back to his followers, and tells them to “go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret,” which contrasts with the behavior of the “hypocrites.”

Unfortunately, the idea that verse 6 is merely an example and not a universal instruction doesn’t hold up in the language of those verses … whether in the original Greek or in translation. Verse 6 opens with a distinct break, that being the Greek phrase συ δε (su de); it’s usually translated as “But you …” although for me, a closer and more literal English equivalent would be, “You, however …” In either case, there’s a clear break in Jesus’ address. He’s obviously going from having given two examples of “the hypocrites'” bad behavior, to telling his audience what they need to do, by comparison.

This kind of irrational and illogical semantic dance is to be expected of a religion that’s ostensibly based on strict readings of a particular batch of writings. I get why they do this: After all, what good is it to be a Christian, if you aren’t going to get noticed for being one? Even so, no literate Christian has any viable excuse for not being aware of Matthew 6:1-6 and Jesus’ explicit injunction against public piety. It’s time for Christians to grow up, suck it, and obey the teachings of their own religion. Even the teachings that are inconvenient.

Photo credit: PsiCop original graphic, based on Mt 6:6.

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