January 26, 2008 at 7:44 pm (Day to Day)

At the end of the 19th century, sociologist and economist Thorstein Veblen coined the phrase “Conspicuous Consumption”. This was not a term of endearment; it was a term to describe the outlandish living conditions of the world’s wealthy. It was not enough to have a shiny new engine-powered vehicle, for example. To conspicuously consume meant to have your engine-powered buggy to be as gaudy as possible so everybody knows you have it and to be jealous of it. Jay Gatsby’s yellow “circus wagon (as Tom declared it)” is an example of this. To live this kind of lifestyle means to flaunt your wealth. The idea of conspicuous anything is an interesting concept and even reflects “keeping up with the Jones.”

In less than six months I have been introduced to Conspicuous Spirituality. Conspicuous spirituality is the flaunting of one’s own piety—even if it is only a perceived piety that lacks the actual spirituality behind it. I am not going speak wryly about this; I am talking about my experiences at the BSU. These are my experiences at the BSU. They are subjective and can only be compared to other experiences: First Pres, UCM, and FBC mostly. Conspicuous spirituality is, in my opinion, the act of ostensibly hiding one’s insecurities behind flippant words and deeds.

Piety, and conspicuous spirituality, in the BSU sense is hardly defined by religiosity (or excuse me, it’s-not-a-religion-it’s-a-relationshiposity) or devotion to the religion. Piety is taking a stance on something that is well-agreed upon and defending it to the death. Being wrong is something that is not tolerated; you are, after all, never wrong. Something is wrong because it is wrong, and it will be defended like an axiom. An example that first comes to mind is poker. I like playing poker, and I like playing with a small buy-in (less than the cost of a Friday night movie at the theaters). I understand that it is a sticky subject, maybe even a grey one. I am willing to admit that it is a grey issue, however. Others are not so willing. D.J. and I were able to defend the buy-in as paying for entertainment. “RABBLE RABBLE! BE GOOD STEWARDS OF GOD’S THINGIES!” And so we defended it as if we were defending the idea of spending money on a movie. Nobody who played was an addict, it would never be played at the BSU out of respect for the rules, and some of my best memories have involved poker nights with the guys. The conversation and the guy-time has always been wonderful. We were still wrong and admonished for it, the immoral, the ones who needed guidance from the Holy Spirit that leads to repentance. This made the pious all the more pious. Be as aggressive as you can is their battle cry. I will go to great lengths to defend what I think is truth, especially biblical truth, but the methods of trying to shame and guilt somebody into thinking they are wrong is not right. What bothers me most about conspicuous spirituality is that their isn’t much use for the bible in their rhetoric. “As iron sharpens iron…” the proverb says; it’s more like two wet noodles going at it. It was something I actually wasn’t very keen to. I originally thought most of the BSUers were very affluent to biblical knowledge. It’s easy to confuse a solid biblical base with zealousness for a system than for the Creator. That system can be a number of things, but unfortunately it usually isn’t the bible.

The biggest threat to the BSU population is deviation from the status quo. The status quo has not actually defined. It could be assumed, however, that being Baptist is one of the caveats. In effort of unity, the most obvious is also the most wrong. This was something I thought I would be happy with since inter-Christian ecumenicalism is something I am very familiar with. There is a comfortable middle or compromise. This is basically middle America of the BSU. They are typically conservative in their theology and even more conservative in their politics. They tend to be more zealous in their political convictions than in their religious—or there is definitely some confusion on which is which. Within the first few weeks of the fall semester, a debate began taking place in an already-volatile atmosphere of political argument. The famous and well-remembered abortion talk took place. D.J., being the D.J. he is, not only defended the right to choose but even compared aborted fetuses (would that be feti?) to Oscars. D.J. was admonished for both his analogy but his pro-choice view. This is an example of deviation. The problems I have had never involved me disagreeing with people. The problem is that when you disagree with the majority, it is not so simple of each side thinking the other is wrong, it is that you have erred from the truth (whatever it may be) and are expected to feel remorse and shame for not agreeing. It is only by God’s grace (and some over-the-top lecturing) that you can come to a full understanding of whatever it is you disagreed on. To be different is to be wrong and potentially ostracized. The attitude is “if you would just understand my point, you would agree with me.” I used to think the same way about Calvinism. What people have a hard time understanding is that sometimes you can understand the other side and simply disagree.

While a member of the UCM, I never understood why there were so many divisions in the church when twenty year olds were able to co-exist in a time in our life when we are overly-opinionated and think we are right about everything. I was living in the wonderland of 1 Cor. 3. There were so many disagreements, so many debates, and sometimes so much arguing. I spent way too much time on the futons in the hallway going back and forth with people. We all deviated! The difference was there was no standard to which deviation was measured (save for the Nicene Creed maybe). If we all deviated, nobody deviated. The same people who disagreed were also the same people who worshipped together. I have been accused of stirring up trouble at the BSU by being too vocal when something comes up that I disagree with. It didn’t take long for me to choose my battles. People get this ugly look on their face that indicates they are automatically on the defensive. A ubiquitous hostility joined the room. Yes, I will admit without hesitation that I enjoy stirring up debate. I have a streak of one-upsmanship. In this past it has been more frequently meant with similar personalities. It is then taken to the arena with no casualties and hardly ever any anger or grudges. This is what I like because it allows for open an honest dialogue when it is truly needed. This atmosphere facilitates a LOT of sharp swords.

But there is the other side; the side I am often associated with so it is important to remember that I am even criticizing myself a little. So, the progressive Christians, the liberals. These are the people that have a false-uniqueness complex. They go to the BSU guns-a-blazin. They are just as loud. Because they are in the minority of the belief spectrum, they have to make themselves heard. They don’t believe much of anything, and they have an even harder time defending their whatever beliefs. Christian deism was something that really caught my attention last semester with a particular friend. Deism is the idea that God set forth laws that govern how the universe work. After everything is put into place, God took a step back and let the universe work. This is the clockmaker deity, the god that has no interaction with humanity. The problem with this belief is that it is the ultimate antimony with regards to Christianity. Under Christianity, God did the ultimate act of interacting with His creation—He became like man, interacted with man, lived as man with, and ultimately died as man on a cross. There is no biblical defense of this belief, and there isn’t even a logical one. The progressive Christians think they are more intelligent the everyday conservative Christian due to his or her ability to think outside of the box. This just isn’t the case; they create the same sized box, only paint it a different color and call it a different name. They are sure to point out that they are martyred at every turn to make sure their pain is heard. They are also politically liberal, which I don’t have a problem with. What I do have a problem with is the hypocrisy of declaring themselves a bleeding heart for humanity, wanting such programs as universal healthcare or more programs to help the poor, and then backhanding the poor with their actions. You’ll hear them talk about the crises in the Darfur region or discuss the homeless, destitute, and derelict as if they have a true connection with them. Their words are so empty and even dead compared to their actions. They are with the poor in spirit but not with their wallets or activism. They would wear a “Save Darfur” t-shirt but do nothing about it. They just want to have a cause to champion—they want to be knight in shiny armor without a sword.  This has created a bitter taste of antipathy in my mouth.

The people I have had the most spiritual respect for at the BSU don’t go on supposed moral crusades to expose the devil whispering ideas into the dissidents’ heads. They have very strong moral convictions, and live by them. Preaching morality holds a flickering flame of light compared to believing what you believe so strongly that you actually live by it enough to let it change you. Sure I have disagreements with these people (oh the pattern of me and disagreement!) but I have learned a lot. I love these kinds of disagreements. These people force me study study study God’s word. They are quick to discuss with me, and they are just as quick to say, “I don’t know” or “you might be right”. Wow, that is courage and boldness. These are the people I would expect to see in a setting like the one Paul found himself in in Acts 17:16-34. It’s so easy to preach to the choir; I never did like choir very much, and these people don’t either. They like to hang out with the choir and learn from the choir but they would rather do much more.

And so I come to my title—The Purgatorio. This is a reference to Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. The Purgatory I am talking about is the waiting place, the holding cell that has been my experience with the BSU. It has attempted to purge me from my humanity, to keep me from all things it sees as worldly. It has distorted my view of what life is really like. The BSU is to the Perfect Blend as the world is to Starbucks.  I have not seen a lot of life at the BSU. I see archetypes and stereotypes. I even see Christ sometimes. I am a cynical Christian, but I am still a Christian. It is a struggle I recognize. Conspicuous struggles are not looked highly on. Having private struggles are okay because you can still maintain your perfection. It slips out more than I want, but I try not to let my cynicism ruin other peoples’ days. I am also honest to my convictions. This honesty mixed with cynicism creates writings like this one. I am uncomfortable at the BSU. I am very conspicuous with certain parts of my life, namely my sinfulness. I only know how perfect everybody else is, and I guess the only thing people know from me is my sinfulness.  Here is an unfortunate misrepresentation of my cynicism. I think it is hypocritical for people to condemn gay marriage (not for the sake of gay marriage alone) on the grounds that it is sexual immorality. I say this because the same people who condemn gay marriage are the same people who have very little problem with divorce. What does Jesus say about divorce?   Matthew (the 5 kind) 31″It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Adultery is a big deal. Lusting in your heart is a big deal (earlier in Matt 5), but apparently people don’t see it as a huge problem that evangelical Christians are on-part, or even higher, with the national average of divorce. I have a hard time believing the divorces were legitimate on the grounds of adultery or sexual immorality. People heard me saying this and automatically associated me with being pro-gay marriage. I am not, but I also have a very high view of marriage. Most people who are anti-gay marriage see divorce on the same level as they see over-eating or cheating on your taxes it seems. “Yeah, it’s kind of bad, but…” And this was my critical cynicism.

Romans (the 7 kind)
13Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

You gave your body to the lonely
They took your clothes
You gave up a wife and a family
You gave your goals
To be alone with me
You went up on a tree



  1. Scott Spencer said,

    I didn’t have time to read all of this.. but I got down to the part where you mentioned the NIcene Creed and I smiled… because I had thought over the break that I would add some stuff to the ucm website about our basic beliefs, including a creed or two.

    Did anyone *actually* ever refer to the Nicene Creed?!

  2. Rob said,

    Well…not really. I guess Thomas, Aaron, your, or I would occasionally refer to it. It was also recited every now and then at worship or at the healing service Wednesday afternoons. There really wasn’t too much Nestorian or Monophysite heresy going around the UCM that required us to whip it out though. Could you imagine?

    Aaron: So, I’ve been looking into this new church. Some of their beliefs are a bit out there, but I like what I read so far. They believe that Christ was a solely spiritual being with no human nature.

    Scott: Hmm, i have a book written by *insert obscure author* that talks a lot about the movement. There’s also a website by *insert obscure pastor* you should check out if you want to learn more.

    Rob: That’s bullcrap. It’s called Monophysitism. Is was refuted by Saint Athanasius at the Council of Nicea. In fact, the Nicene Creed specifically addresses it because it was one of the “hot button” issues of the day!

    Thomas: Hail Mary full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou…

    Aaron: …you guys can go **** yourselves.

  3. Scott said,

    yep, that sounds about right… dang, you nailed me… oops

    (in seminary I used to hand out articles for people to read… now I just send them links)

  4. tiff said,


  5. Scott said,

    missed you at “common ground” last night…. i made everyone recite the nicene creed… not really… but we did pray through some litany in the bcp

  6. tiff said,

    oh and by the way…i love my save darfur t-shirts…and i only stole from the compassion international kids one time at lunch…and don’t you love comments that start out ‘i didn’t have time to read all of this..’ 🙂

  7. Rob said,

    I actually wrote that whole spill while wearing my Save Darfur t-shirt. It was basically a dig at myself and another friend. Having a bucket for African kids and then making up the difference when the monthly goal isn’t met kind of excludes somebody from my “the darfur situation, we need to do something about it, but not it’s not going to be me” rant.

    The thing I figure about that post is that since I criticize everybody, everybody will like me because I criticize the people they don’t like. It makes me a well-liked individual. It’s a no lose situation…

  8. Scott said,


    You, sir, have a very good memory. That scares me.

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