The United States is at a crossroads. Regrettably, all of us listened to our parents, teachers and Walt Disney, who conspired to convince us that we should believe in ourselves–and now, everyone believes in themselves. It’s a disaster.
We believe in ourselves and thus believe that our ideas, preferences and personal beliefs hold universal authority. When daily life demonstrates that our beliefs are not universal, we push back–sometimes violently–to silence all those who threaten our mental perfection. Did I say mental? Yes, I did. We are mental.
The problem with mental perfection is that it’s a fraud. We enshrine ourselves in a temple dedicated to self-serving ideals and declare ourselves the perfect example of the righteousness of these ideals. Religious people do it, liberals and conservatives do it, and those who seek power love it because you can ride self-righteousness like a tidal wave, all the way to the top.
The perfection that Jesus demands in the Gospel of Matthew is different. It’s a perfection that shames us and strips us of power. It’s a perfection that makes clear—in no uncertain terms—that we are not to believe in ourselves; that we are a fraud; that we cannot accomplish the most basic requirements of human morality, let alone the demands of the Torah. It’s a perfection that can only be realized in our defeat on the cross, the symbol of a teaching that consigns all perfection to the dead.