Does Genuine Spirituality Require Private Intimacy? — Pastor Skye Jethani Thinks So and Makes a Strong Argument against Too-Public Displays of Religiosity as Being Hypocritical almost by Definition — His Subtle Argument Merits Consideration because Authentic Soulfulness Is a Nuanced Condition
© 2012 Peter Free
10 January 2012
Pastor Jethani’s message to Christians applies equally well to other Deity-centered spiritual traditions, otherwise I would not have taken this subject up
I share northern Europe’s discomfiture with excessively public displays of religiosity.
In-your-face evangelism smacks of spiritual hubris combined with a profound disrespect for the souls that one is displaying to.
Though I understand the evangelical “we alone are correct” impulse, I have always been suspicious of the arguably shallow depth of spiritual understanding that seems to underlie the majority of its flauntings.
Consequently, Pastor Jethani’s essay struck a chord.
Skye Jethani, Is Tim Tebow a Hypocrite? Huffington Post (07 January 2012)
Don’t be misled by the title. Author Jethani does not think Mr. Tebow is a hypocrite.
Human experience indicates that when spiritual guidelines are too easy for us to live, they should be distrusted
Pastor Jethani used Denver Bronco’s quarterback Tim Tebow’s public displays of Christian religiosity to introduce legitimate questions about the spiritual risk of such manifestations:
Tim Tebow represents America's two great religions: Christianity and Football.
But the way the young Denver Broncos' quarterback intertwines the two has made some followers of each faith uncomfortable. His post-game interviews always begin with "I'd like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," and he frequently drops to one knee on the field and bows his head in prayer--a posture now called Tebowing. . . .
Tim Tebow's behavior on the field does raise important questions about prayer and how Christians ought to practice it.
© 2012 Skye Jethani, Is Tim Tebow a Hypocrite? Huffington Post (07 January 2012) (paragraphs split)
“Pete, this is silly — let’s leave Tim Tebow alone”
Pastor Jethani makes no judgment at all about Mr. Tebow. Instead, he uses “Tebowing” as reminder of how easily we can miss the meaning of prayer.
In Jethani’s view, religious hypocrisy is about “pretending to be devoted to God so that [one] may win the approval of people.”
Cultures like ancient Judea and the modern United States value religiosity. They emphasize external displays of devotion. Naturally, this motivates play-acting hypocrisy on the part of people who want social approval.
Jethani asks, “Are we praying out of genuine devotion to God, or merely to win favor with people?”
Avoiding hypocrisy by keeping prayer private
Pastor Jethani notes that pretense aimed at getting other people’s approval is impossible, when one is alone. There is no audience to act for. That is why, he thinks, Jesus “tells us to pray in private.”
Does today’s online social media and non-stop media exposure makes spiritual hypocrisy inevitable?
Jethani’s concern is that our digital age makes hypocritical play-acting a significant temptation.
Digital communication too easily substitutes (a) seeking other people’s approval for (b) the intimacy one should actually be looking for with God.
From the Pastor’s perspective, genuine spirituality requires privately displayed intimacy — we cannot be self-aware in a setting that invites us to build facades
Here, I more overtly state what I think this portion of Jethani’s essay tried to say:
Without secret knowledge, privately shared, there is no true communion.
Public transparency is a sham. We purposefully do not reveal the entirety of our souls. We hide flaws and cover our deepest doubts.
In public, we live a facade that defies God’s knowledge of who we actually are. Self-camouflage is spiritually destructive because our unceasing public performances deceive us into losing sight of our inner twists.
Without intimate communion, there is no path back to self-knowledge and humble connection. Soulfulness is lost.
Jethani points to the spiritual hunger that our culture’s 24/7 online performances unsuccessfully attempt to fill
The Pastor writes that our culture apparently believes that a meaningful life requires that other people notice us. This deep-seated, essentially spiritual need fuels blogs and the social media.
Yet, he cautions, “This kind of hunger for intimacy can only be satisfied in hidden, private communion with our Creator.”
The Soul-distraction that perennial performance and unending distraction creates
Being older and “reality-oriented,” one of the curiosities that strikes me every day is how people divert themselves from what is happening here and now by focusing their uninterrupted attention on communications devices.
Americans walk, drive, and even converse, while babbling or babble-reading in the cyber world. Generally silly tweets become more important than birdsong or footfalls on concrete and earth.
It seems an odd way to spend a physical existence, which — in Deity-centered terms — we should probably suspect is here to catch our attention in a spiritually evolving way.
Skye Jethani’s moving statement about ultimate meaning
Pastor Jethani closes his essay with an insightful comment:
I believe in God's economy there is not a single thought, feeling, or moment that is lost.
There is nothing that is unseen or unrecorded.
But in our culture of digital voyeurism, we are tempted to believe things only become real when they are external...on paper, published, posted, tweeted, or displayed.
All the more reason why we need to recapture the discipline of secrecy in order to foster our trust that God is indeed with us and witnessing every thought and reflection.
In the privacy of prayer I discover that my life really does matter--not because someone read it, heard it, or saw it, but because God is my witness.
© 2012 Skye Jethani, Is Tim Tebow a Hypocrite? Huffington Post (07 January 2012) (paragraph split)
One need not similarly believe to recognize the spiritually valid nuance of Jethani’s thinking
Narcissism can take religious forms.
Self-glorification via aggressive displays of public religiosity is indeed a temptation. Narcissism lures us into making our soul apparently larger and more attractive by publicly and flagrantly riding religious teachings.
Such is the prayer-based hypocrisy that Pastor Jethani warns against. It is a legitimate caution. For any faith.