North American Protestant Fundamentalism
All his young life, Mark Ritchie struggled with different aspects of his parents' Protestant, "fundamentalist" Christian beliefs. Much of what they believed seem judgmental or confusing to him, like a few of the 40 percent of Americans who are Fundamentalist. But several years out of his childhood home, Ritchie had an epiphany in a grubby corner market which showed him that rather then point the finger, he should examine the hypocrisy in his own life. His John 3:16 fundamentalist experience shattered his self-image and brought him to a moment of truth:
A Crossroads: Self-image Collides With Truth
I stood one day in the checkout line, purchasing a few of the simple meat pies and potatoes that were my regular diet. The store was tiny, about three aisles, and not very clean; I wiped a layer of dust off the carton of cheap margarine I held while waiting for an overweight, poorly dressed woman to pay for her groceries. She was surrounded by dirty, unruly children who begged and whined for the candy and gum that is always strategically located at check-out counters. She tried to ignore them but was unsuccessful. I felt sorry for her as she told them to shut up and wondered what sort of image she might have of herself. What contribution could this sloppy woman with her undisciplined children be making to society? I felt depressed for her, but the overwhelming attitude I had was one of thankfulness that I was not her.
While I would not doubt for a moment that an attitude of superiority is wrong, I must admit that the feeling actually gave me a little pleasure. I wondered, just for a second, how much energy had I, for my whole life, exerted toward the goal of thinking myself better than the next person. In actual fact, I thought, it would give me immeasurable pain to think that I could be considered on the same level of these folks around me, not to mention lower.
In point of fact, as I reflected back while waiting for this tacky woman of little apparent worth to get her groceries stacked up with her cigarettes and beer, I had little doubt that my refusal to join in the pecking order gave me a sense of accomplishment of which I was proud. I never verbalized it, but no doubt I was a little thankful that I was better than my peers for refusing to stoop to such a level.
Everyone knew that the most loathsome trait a person could possess was to think himself in some way better than others. We even had a name for it: We called it "stuck-up." It was the dirtiest label you could pin on a person. There was nothing worse. What an irony, I thought, for people who operate on a pecking order system to condemn one another for being stuck-up. The goal in life is to be ahead of the next guy, but just let anyone catch you thinking that you are, and you'll be labeled stuck-up, which puts you on the bottom of the heap. Thinking of myself at the bottom of a heap that included these people around me was simply unbearable. Was it evil to consider myself just slightly better than these folks?
Followers of Christian Fundamentalism
Suddenly, it was as if God himself was saying, "You are guilty of the very thing that even the 'unregenerate' dancing 'sinners' know by simple human intuition to be evil." I certainly couldn't stand anyone who thought himself better than me. Yet here I was guilty of the very thing I despised in them; thinking myself superior, which made me the lowest of people. I was in a pecking order in which the first rule was that you had to go to the bottom every time you tried to pass someone.
As I walked back to my apartment, my memory did a life-scanning review. From the most recent, the lying that I did to my superior officer, to the most ancient, the dirt-clod throwing at the little old lady, all were really nothing more than symptoms of this real matter of pride. Bad as all these memories were, they were merely byproducts of the self-centeredness that I was now encountering head on.
Now I was proving it personally to myself. It was my moment of truth, my moment of decision. That's why it did make a difference what I would do right now, even in the privacy of my own bedroom. It could make all the difference in the world and I knew it. I lay crouched in the corner shaking my head and knowing that I was not going to get out of this.
I had always seen my faults as minor shortcomings of a basically good guy who needed some rough edges smoothed off. Now I had caught a glimpse of the real Mark Ritchie and discovered that the rough edges were symptoms of a rotten core that needed a total alteration.
"Dear God," I said almost out loud through tears of remorse at this sudden self-analysis. "I am truly the lowest of your creatures, the scum of the earth. If I ever had to meet someone like me, I would hate him! I think I am meeting me and I do hate me! I'm sorry! Please help me! What will become of me?" Crouching in the corner of my room, I quivered from the shock that I was such a far, far cry from the person I thought, from the image I had so laboriously, and quite successfully, shown to others. I wondered what percent of my life I had spent trying to convince myself and others that I was something that I'm not. "God, I'm at the bottom. If you don't help me, I'm screwed!"
Excerpt from God in the Pits, The Enron-Jihad Edition, by Mark Andrew Ritchie
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