I have been reflecting on the claim to moral superiority that political leaders, media pundits, and Hollywood celebrities express when they disagree with you. Instead of being able to debate the claims to what is right or wrong, they seem to rise above all discourse and affect a superior tone of moral condescension. When I hear the phrase: “This is the right thing to do,” I cringe at the arrogance of it. It implies that all those who have preceded them and those who disagree with them are in the wrong.
Dallas Willard comments on this phenomenon in Renovation of the Heart (p.229):
“Modern Humanity – say since the late 1800s – has lived in a rage of self-righteousness. In its intellectual leaders it has lived in an attitude of superiority and condemnation toward the morality of the culture that is, supposedly, “Christian.” Its “greatest” prophets – a line of those thought to be among our greatest thinkers – have weighed Jesus in the moral balances and found him wanting.
People in “Hollywood” who are sometimes criticized as pushing immorality do not, in general, see themselves on that way. Rather, they regard themselves as pushing a “higher” and “better” morality…Traditional Christian practice is held up as morally inferior to the values sponsored by “Hollywood” presentations and as having been intellectually discredited….moral assuredness and self-righteousness in the practice of what, traditionally, would have been regarded as blatant evil is now the single most dominant feature of our common world.”
None of this is new. St. Paul experienced it in his day. He characterized the culture that surrounded him as resulting from a “futility of thinking”, i.e. thinking that is useless, ineffectual, vain or frivolous. “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (Ephesians 4:18,19)
Just because someone claims the moral high ground does not mean that they are standing on it. They may be just ignorant as to where they are standing due to the hardening of their hearts against God. To justify their opinions, and those of others in their circles, they assume that they know best.
I would want to humble myself before the Lord, and qualify my opinions with the statement: “I may be mistaken.” Jesus says that, “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commandments will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19) Our moral teaching has not improved on, or added to, his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). A thorough reading on those chapters would prevent much moral superiority, and the posturing that comes from it.