Going Beyond Normalcy

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Religion has an obligation to go beyond normal. Contemporary folk wisdom says that people should be “normal.” Contemporary folk wisdom in tune with the vulgarized psychology that has given birth to a Cult Of Normalcy. But the Christian religion has always affirmed that to be good is more important than to be normal. If you cannot be good, be normal, but being good comes first. Good is the crowning of normalcy.

Normalcy is NOT a sufficient state of being to make your goal. It is true normalcy is understandable but it is not enough because it does not go far enough.

What’s wrong with normalcy? Well, for starters, to be very selfish is perfectly normal. If married, to have other affairs is undoubtedly the normal desire at some times. To disregard others is normal. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is normal, but then too many end up handicapped by a personally satisfying and normal desire for revenge. We might go on and on.

Look around you. Most sins are normal impulses carried to excess by lack of self-control and no spiritual discipline. The Christian religion has nothing at all against normalcy as such. The Gospel of John says,   “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1: 14)

If the flesh were evil or wrong in itself, Jesus would not have become flesh. To be flesh is good, but it is not complete. To fulfill the flesh we add and include self-control and a higher spiritual calling. We orient the flesh correctly by spiritualizing it to include higher concerns. Spirituality establishes priorities and the highest priority is love.

The Greeks did this for Reason. Their art works shown the charioteers of Reason driving and guiding the raw energy of the horses, the flesh.

But we in Christ know that reason is not enough. It does not carry us far enough. We are loved by God with a love beyond reason. It is love that passes all understanding, like the peace of God mentioned in Philippians 4:7. We reach God through love and grace. These surpass understanding.

If we are going to settle for being average instead of good, for normalcy and not higher love, then we have made poor choices. We have chosen to be spiritually unfilled and spiritually defective. We are then not people made in the image of God.

Observe children’s behavior. Children often are and can be very cruel. Such is normalcy but we love them anyway. Yet we realize that normalcy does not take them far enough. We want the children to learn to go beyond their first impulses of a cruelty that is perfectly normal but not enough. We want the children to go beyond mere normalcy to     self-control and a more spiritually balanced behavior.

It is the same with violence and war. The first impulse is to strike back. That is certainly the normal impulse. But Jesus urges us to turn the other cheek, to absorb the violence, go higher. (Matthew 5:39) If we strike back, there will be a fight but what will that incur but a temporary peace as the Victor wins but the loser hates the winner more and possibly nearly forever.

Contemporary psychology has created a cult of normalcy based on vulgarized psychological notions, over simplifications, and flat misinterpretations. There is now a unspoken “Reign of Psychological Terror” among people afraid others will not see them as normal. Or what they are doing may not be normal. (The cult of normalcy is a tribal way of thinking for an immature and tribal people.)

It may well be that living in a warped, decadent, and self destructive society has glorified normalcy in the thinking of people whose industrial and factory work has made them feel like pseudo-robots without the normal rhythms of life. This is unfortunate.

But business and manufacturing perform services by raising the standard of living of the poor with shoes, stoves and many other manufactured goods which promote the well being of many poor people formerly starving and living in poverty. In this the world is caught in an ironic situation. Yet the ordinary workers of the world, those producing manufactured goods are performing a Christian service for the world whether they know it or not. They deserve to be thanked and praised. They are giving God praise through their jobs which are socially beneficial.

Because the lives of people are distorted by industrial society and they must exist in cities where apartments are cages for the soul, is not sufficient reason to glorify and romanticize normalcy. Normalcy is not enough. If anything, it is a beginning but not the ending.

Christians need to go beyond mere normalcy which is often unbalanced, selfish, egocentric, tribal and merely conventional. Christians should try to socialize as well as spiritualize normalcy to achieve good values and include a sense of God and the harmonious. Normalcy can be a firm foundation upon which a sense of reverence for creation and a hope for good may be created.

Parents, if you are going to rear children in the godly way, which is really the only way, then you should say this to your children: “What you are doing is normal. I am pleased you are normal. But normalcy is not enough, I expect you to go a second mile. You must crown normalcy with self-control, spiritual awareness and being good. Average is not enough. Nor is mediocrity. Nor is conformity to a tribal peer group adequate performance.”

You must tell this to your children in season and out of season until they get it. Children will usually meet your expectations. You must be clear about what you expect and hold to it. You must expect more than mere normalcy, mediocrity and averageness.

If you cannot stand up to a child or your young person and say this, then I seriously question whether you should be allowed to be a parent. The young are held in trust from the Lord and if you cannot do this, you should not be allowed to be a trustee.

I urge you in the name of Christ not to deny normalcy but to insist in going beyond it to include higher values and spiritual times. This spiritual categorical imperative is not meant just for rearing children but for living every day in a Christian way. Make that your mantra: Live every day in a Christian way.

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Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.