The Allure of Elitism

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When Justin Timberlake last hosted Saturday Night Live the opening monologue started with him talking about how it was his 5th time hosting the show. He talked about how it was such an elite group that they had their own exclusive club in NYC. You can enjoy part of the skit here

While that is all ridiculously funny and done in good taste there is a real tendency of people to feel elite. There is a term in sociology called “Illusory superiority” or the “above average effect” that basically says that if you ask people to rank themselves on things, they consistently rank themselves above average in most areas. That, of course, is statistically impossible because at the end of the day, average is still average and most people are average in most things. If you disagree with that, refer back to “illusory superiority.”

This tendency happens in Christian groups too. It happens with conservative Christians and it happens with Progressives. It happens with the young and it happens with the old. It may show up through different issues and take on different forms and expressions but it happens a lot more than we would like to admit. It happens when one blogger thinks he is better than the next blogger because he gets more “page views”. Don’t miss this. Re-read that last sentence. It isn’t about who has a better blog. It becomes an issue of who is a better person and who has more talent. In short, what we do often translates into a game of comparisons and value judgments against other people. It happens in our doctrine too. Progressives might look down on theological conservatives because they are too legalistic, knowing they really have the answers. Conservatives might look down on progressives for being way to lenient and “willy nilly” on their doctrine, allowing too much variation in practice, saying they just aren’t as series as they are in matters of faith and doctrine. In both instances, value judgments are made about the other person. It is no longer an evaluation of your views and scripture. It becomes an evaluation of the person and their actual worth or worthlessness to us.

We all have to avoid the temptation to put ourselves over other people. We all have to resist the urge to feel elite in whatever area we are tempted to see ourselves in that light. We all have to remember that right views, right practices, right theology, and right doctrine don’t give us the right to look down on others or devalue them as people. That doesn’t mean there is no right and wrong…it does mean that we have to keep our own self image in check and not play games of comparisons by the arbitrary point systems we privately construct and use to calculate value in our own heads. Jesus said it like this,

“So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’” – Luke 17:10

Jesus’ points in the surrounding verses are: remember who is in charge. Realize it is God, not you. Do what you are told. Don’t think too highly of yourself. Once you see yourself as elite the whole thing falls apart.

4 Responses

  1. Really good topic, Matt. Thanks for writing this.

    I’ve always thought that one of the most difficult verses in the Bible to fulfill is Philippians 2:3b: “Consider others better than yourselves.” That seems entirely counter-intuitive from human nature.

    1. I remember the first time I really heard Philippians 2:3. I couldn’t believe it was in there. It really hit me hard.

  2. I have often said over many years that anyone can convince himself that s/he is “better” than any other person on earth by focusing narrowly on relative strengths and weaknesses, whether perceived or actual as viewed through a lens of prejudice. We need to heed what Paul said, “They compare themselves by themselves and are not wise!”

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