Righteousness Fatigue

Annie Spratt

In my writing at present, I’m reflecting on what I’m imagining as very basic questions. Last week I mused on what is religious about religion. This week: Why do preachers preach?

Where’s the line between being righteous and being tiresome? Is there one?

I don’t remember who it was that pointed out that heroes are not as a rule good breakfast companions, but you get the point.

Unlike most words used for religion in the English language, righteous is a good old-fashioned Old English word. Righteousness started out as rightwise, meaning “in the manner of what is right.”

I’m in the religion business, and I’m sometimes called a “preacher.” To be frank, we all know what people think of too much preaching and being “too preachy.” The word sermon doesn’t stir warm fuzzy emotions for most people either. And street corner preachers? Gimme a break!

I have to ask: is it ever righteous to lighten up? Or maybe even shut up?

The prophet Amos wrote the famous words “. . . let justice roll on like many waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing river” (Amos 5:24). Read his book sometime. Between the lines it’s not hard to see that Amos was a “one-note Nelly,” as the old cliche goes. (No, that cliche isn’t fair to either the beauty of one note or Nellys everywhere, but it’s descriptive of the problem.)

But for those of a preachy disposition, there’s just so much injustice going on. Jew, Christian, Muslim, pagan, and on-and-on, or secular such as I, those of a left-wing disposition preach from one side; those of right-wing disposition preach from the other. Those inclined to agree with whoever and whatever message tend to choose their personal flavor of righteousness. And it appears that nobody thinks there’s enough of it flowing!

If PEW research isn’t “fake news,” fewer and fewer people are putting themselves in the way of preachers, left, right, or center. Whether this is leading to a “generation of vipers,” as Jesus phrased it, or reflects a more level-headed approach to righteousness is anybody’s guess.

The prophet Amos was silenced. He went home and wrote down his words, thus becoming the first prophet to do so and creating a literary genre. Nowadays, I suppose, he would blog.

As for me, sometimes I wonder if it is ever righteous — “in the manner of what is right” — for preachers to shut up and listen to what’s blowing in the wind. After all, preachers are clearly preaching to cross purposes. What if everyone just shut up?

But, nah. Won’t happen. Amos has got to be Amos.

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