The New Perfectionism
“Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb. 11:16)
The book of Hebrews cheers on true faith as it reviews the champions of belief in chapter 11. As it does so, one of the defining claims is that these heroes of the faith were looking for another country, not one in this world (Heb. 11:14-16). In other words, previous saintly models were not looking for a utopia or perfection in any city or nation in this world. They knew better.
At present, however, some seem to have forgotten that. It appears that a large moral surge, rivaling any COVID-19 surge, seems to be occurring in the West. Could it be that secular protests and efforts will soon cause social change and moral perfection to dawn among us? Are we on the verge of transforming any city into the Jerusalem that is above? Or put it this way: a decade ago, who could have predicted that our culture would be demanding the following lifestyle dogmas, virtually associated with a puritan hope:
- That every creepy sexual harasser be shamed, prosecuted, and removed from any public position. No extra-marital affairs between colleagues are acceptable. Aren’t we seeing the triumph of a Puritan sexual ethic never expected by even the fondest hopes of Southern Baptists? It looks like a resurgence of the Seventh Commandment.
- That all public symbols of corruption or immorality would be removed from public spaces. No exceptions, and any vice qualifies a historical figure for forcible removal. Only statues of morally perfect humans permitted. Corollary: thus images cannot be promoted, surely enacting the Second Commandment.
- Economic equality so that everyone has plenty and no one does without. Scarcity, want, and class structure give way to utopian financial ideals. Isn’t the Eighth Commandment making a grand comeback?
- Anabaptist type communities that need no law enforcement. All autonomous zones are places of unpoliced altruism; sin must have been conquered. These neo-Gnostics can be trusted to be fully sanctified and keep all commandments.
- The highest possible requirements for “every inclination of the thoughts of the heart” for racial and social equality. And even if you think you have repented or reparated enough, you are just fooling yourself. Yes, that Tenth Commandment, as Paul found out (review Romans 7), governs our internal intentions.
Think of these as the Five Points of Neo-Perfectionism. . . or moralistic tropes like my Methodist mother often repeated (along with “nothing good ever happens after midnight”).
The New Perfectionism (same as the old utopianism) seeks:
- Morally perfect or flawless character for public displays;
- Utopian economic distribution;
- Sex-free workplaces (see mom’s trope above); and any Christian can only cheer for this!
- Monastic purity of intent, any blemish of imperfection spoils all;
- No legal structures.
And one can never do enough while seeking to transform our worldly culture into a heavenly city. Guilt is served in heaping doses, with actual repentance doubted. Finger-wagging, self-righteous accusers condemn us all the time.
This secular Puritanism is characterized by unrealistic expectations of societal perfection. It seems that some social engineers and thinkers hope for heavenly norms to be implemented already. Economic utopianism becomes the rule for the expectations: “if one can imagine it, he/she should have it.”
However, much of this is driven by looking, precisely in opposition to the saints in Hebrews 11, for a city or country in this world that is perfect. And no small amount is fueled by excessive self-importance or the narcissism of “We can change the world.” Meanwhile, the condition that allows such utopianism to thrive is the economic affluence that gives an elite Leisure class ample time for outrage.
Might be a good time for some lowered expectations of perfection—both for ourselves and our world. Sin actually persists, and our world is thoroughly smudged with sin. Who shall deliver us from this body of sin and death? Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ. And a return to some humble, less triumphalistic “godliness with contentment” (1 Tim. 6:6) might bring gain, as well as some less tension in our lives.