There are vast degrees of self-righteousness that exist in today’s culture. However, a term that dates back to 1979 is replacing self-righteous; what Christopher Lasch refers to as moral narcissism. This moral superiority is conceived from a sense that one’s beliefs, ideals, and affiliations are of greater virtue than those of the average person. Moral narcissists can range from obnoxious religious leaders, perfectionists seeking piety to sanctimonious members of the media. If you are not part of an important, powerful or significant group, expect to be looked down upon from one of these individuals who practice symbolism over substance.
He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves and were confident that they were righteous [that they were upright and in right standing with God] and scorned and made nothing of all the rest of men: 10 Two men went up into the temple [enclosure] to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector, Luke 18:9-10.
During a first century conversation, Jesus uses prayer as way to highlight the difference between the humble and self-righteous. In this illustration, Jesus compares a Pharisee to a tax collector. To set the scene, Pharisees were considered devout religious leaders, respected by the Jewish community. Meanwhile, tax collectors were often corrupt, tied with prostitutes at the bottom of the least desired occupations of their day. This background reflects how each approaches the Lord in prayer. As long as moral narcissists express how much they care publicly, following through with their convictions isn’t as important.
The Pharisee took his stand ostentatiously and began to pray thus before and with himself: God, I thank You that I am not like the rest of men—extortioners (robbers), swindlers [unrighteous in heart and life], adulterers—or even like this tax collector here. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I gain. 13 But the tax collector, [merely] standing at a distance, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but kept striking his breast, saying, O God, be favorable (be gracious, be merciful) to me, the especially wicked sinner that I am! – Luke 18:11-13.
Becoming self-righteous blinds individuals from their own spiritual condition. When you think too highly of yourself, subtle sins are ignored and overlooked. Instead of looking inward, moral narcissists compare themselves to lesser human beings as a means to feel better about their life. This mindset is a breeding ground for lukewarm spirits. Anyone who continues down this path are in spiritual danger, drifting closer to hell. The only way to snap out of this state is by acknowledging sin. May this parable serve as a warning to those hindered by a big ego, hypocrisy or smugness.
by Jay Mankus