You are currently viewing The Face of Smug Superiority
  • Post published:September 1, 2023

There is an old joke about St. Peter leading a group of new arrivals on a tour of heaven. When they get to a certain neighborhood in the heavenly city, St. Peter asks the group to remain silent as they pass by. Why? “Because these people think they are the only ones here and we don’t want them to know any different.”

This notion of theological exclusivity is nothing new. The Catholics developed it over centuries from indulgences to the Inquisition. The Protestants co-opted their distinctive takes on righteous living as the Reformation movement dissolved into splintered factions. This need to be right on all points might be designed to make believers feel closer to God, but it can have the opposite effect. Being right on all things theological can make congregants fearful and anxious when they get it wrong. And yes, we all get it wrong.

The same oppression happens among people groups whose tribal instincts encourage one race to feel superior to another. Bad things happen when that instinct is allowed to run rampant. Jesus got into trouble when he embraced the outsiders of society, those who were marginalized because of race, economics, politics, gender, and even physical disabilities. He faced great opposition from the powerful elite and even from his closest circle of friends.

The Samaritans in Jesus’ day were considered an inferior race, and brothers James and John, dubbed the “sons of thunder,” were soundly rebuked when they offered “to call down fire from heaven” upon a Samaritan village for not showing the proper respect to their leader. Such a story would be laughable were it not for the racial prejudice exposed in the story and the arrogant misuse of power the brothers’ thought they possessed.

On another occasion Jesus tells the famous story of the Good Samaritan and asks us to get over ourselves and embrace the other with love regardless of skin color or social status or religious and political incompatible beliefs. The face of smug superiority is one of grotesque distortion that cannot be airbrushed away. Best not to wear it to begin with.