“I’m terrified at the moral apathy, the death of the heart, which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long …. And this means that they have become, in themselves, moral monsters.”
–James Baldwin (American Novelist)
It’s that time of year when winds howl and creatures creep and movies of monsters and dark and loathsome things proliferate. It’s a month of fright nights and haunted houses, when scary things decorate porches and dangle from neighborhood trees.
When I was a kid, I loved vampire and werewolf movies, Frankenstein and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I watched movies about aliens attacking earth and giant ants, psycho birds, and The Blob oozing and destroying life as we knew it.
I loved the scare and spine-tingling rush of it all.
But all that Halloween-ness of the month doesn’t scare me anymore because, well, I know it’s fake—so much stage blood, costumes and special effects.
Still, I have to confess that there are creeping creatures in the darkened shadows of life that still scare me. And this is the month that seems appropriate to share them with you.
The following are 9 Moral Monsters that still scare me…
1. I Fear the Zombie-like State of Spiritual Apathy
When we set no spiritual goals and aim at no moral improvement, working on no Christ-like qualities, we have surrendered to inertia.
When we just go through the motion of discipleship without the heart and soul of discipleship, we turn into something resembling the walking dead, shells of who we could become, half-filled vessels of unmet potential.
When we walk without sincerity, act without purpose, and do without caring, we forfeit the life that a sincere walk produces.
We then become the living-lifeless, the almost-alive, not really living, but not yet dead, stumbling through our days instead of running toward what’s good and beautiful, worthy, inspiring and meaningful.
We risk becoming numb to the Spirit, feeling hallow in our worship and stagnated along the covenant path.
Then resentment and disaffection creep in like so many spiders spinning webs of discontent in what could otherwise be the vibrancy of a Spirit-led life.
So let’s cast off our zombie-ness and put on the whole armor of God.
Stand up and stand tall and move decidedly toward our Savior, along the gospel path, purposefully, intentionally, faithfully, imperfectly for sure, but resolutely nonetheless.
Aim at the next step in our discipleship and move a foot forward toward it. Set a goal and take action.
Read and ponder eternal truths that have eternal ramifications with spiritually igniting effect. Expand and deepen your prayer life. Seek inspiration and personal revelation.
Awaken the spiritual giant within as you fill your life with the Living Waters of Christ and His gospel.
Do this and watch apathy transform into spiritual anticipation, into faith and joy as the Light of Christ returns life and light to the soul.
2. I Fear the Vampire of Perfectionism
This pernicious fiend sucks the lifeblood from the soul as our inevitable lack and failure to live up to the impossibly precise and unwavering standard of Christ-like perfection.
Ironically, the pursuit of perfect prevents us from enjoying what falls short of that ideal. The very attitude that elevates our aim moves the target to the realm of unattainability.
Perfectionism impedes progress by constantly moving the target further out of reach and often out of sight, not as an incentive to keep going or to try harder, but as an indictment for not reaching the unreachable and a sentence of self-contempt for not being what’s currently impossible to be.
It can produce nothing but discouragement and disillusion. It is a weight that oppresses as we inevitably fall self-condemnably short.
This ever-thirsty vampire sucks the life out of worship as we hear all the things we’re not doing and watch all the people we think are so much better than us.
As the fangs of perfectionism sink deeper into the jugular of our discipleship, every talk, lesson, and sermon becomes a condemnation and every testimony a judgment of shame.
Inspiration becomes the sun we cannot bear; scripture becomes the cross we cannot tolerate; church becomes the mirror in whose image we can no longer see ourselves.
Perfectionism demands the undemandable and expects the impossible.
Perfectionism mistakes the commandments as a verdict and misinterprets the gospel as an anvil against which the hammer of eternal Truth pounds us to pieces.
We read about love, but experience contempt. We participate in lessons about forgiveness, but condemn ourselves for needing to use it.
As perfection is the standard against which we judge others and ourselves, satisfaction and joy, peace of mind and the joy of gospel living are never fully experienced.
We then risk sinking into the caverns of self-contempt and burying ourselves in the coffins of our self-assessed worthlessness.
Or we retaliate with angry contempt against the church for the pain we experience at the hands of our perfectionism, not realizing it was never the gospel or the Lord or His church doing the pounding that caused the pain.
The only cure, like in all vampire movies, is to drive a stake right through the heart of perfectionism. The beast must be killed to free us from it’s vampiric clutches.
So accept the reality of human nature in a fallen world. Accept our fallibility as an inherent characteristic of our humanness.
Accept the reality of our divine potential but also the reality that our potential will never be fully met in this life.
Realize that the only path forward is one step at a time.
Remember that the gospel of Jesus Christ is an incremental process of discipleship, that our Savior was presented before the foundations of the world precisely because our perfect God knew our imperfection would require it.
And let’s apply ALL the principles of the gospel to ourselves.
Obedience is one of those principles, but so is patience. Righteousness is one, but so is repentance. Discipleship is one, but so is compassion. Enduring to the end is one, but so is the injunction to not run faster than you have strength to.
Do what you can without condemning yourself for what you can’t. Strive forward even while accepting yourself and others where you and they currently are.
3. I Worry about the Plight of the Invisible Man
I worry about the invisibility of those who sit alone, who feel unseen, who walk in the shadows of life.
These invisible men and women, youth and children stand in plain view and are missed, veiled glimmers of people we sort of remember but haven’t embraced. They blend into the background, sitting quietly unnoticed.
I’m afraid of what that might mean about the sighted, the faithful, and the ordained whose eyes overlook the unseen.
The elixir that brings the ignored and forgotten into focus, that gives substance to their invisibility is love.
As we grow in our capacity to love, as we learn to reach out more authentically with love, as we trust that love is more important than routines, preferences and comfort zones, we will begin to see the unseen with a clarity that invites them out of the shadows and into the light.
That’s when we will finally be moved to seek out those living in the shadows of their faith, where we can help them turn on the lights of the gospel, where they will no longer be secrets and shadows, but living disciples in the Living Church of Jesus Christ.
4. I Fear the Witchery of Judgmentalism
When possessed by this peculiar witchcraft, we tend to look down the long and crooked noses of contempt at others’ imperfections.
The warts of our intolerance and moles of our lack of compassion disfigures our relationships and renders us obstacles to our neighbors’ progress.
The spells of criticism that boil and bubble from the cauldron of judgment, like so many rats, bats and black cats, creeps and crawls through families and congregations and neighborhoods infecting the culture with detachment, distrust and disunity.
Contention is its Frankenstein Monster.
Humility is the only counter-spell to the brooding witchery of judgmentalism. To be meek in the face of others’ weaknesses is to accept their fundamental humanity and to connect ours to theirs.
To judge another is to ride the broom of self-righteousness to absurd heights, levitating our judgment above Christ who suffered for our brokenness and doesn’t need our help adjudicating the worthiness of those for whom He already paid the dreadful price.
Christ’s payment in blood does not need the usury tax of our criticism, as though His sacrifice did not quite go far enough and our added self-righteousness is the final push Christ’s atonement was lacking.
No, our debt has been paid in full. His atonement was complete and needs no prison guards of contempt whipping stragglers at the back of the repentance line.
In fact, our judgmentalism means that we’re likely right behind them (perhaps very far behind them) in that same line anyway!
Judgmentalism fuels the oozing wounds of hate that cut the jagged scars of intolerance into the fleshy walls of our critical hearts.
It is the path of personal destruction that corrupts the soul and moves us closer to the cliff’s edge.
The way back to spiritual safety is to stop focusing so much on everyone else’s warts, moles and crooked noses and to focus on the good and positive in people instead. Replace judgment with honest praise for qualities we train ourselves to see.
Replace complaint with heartfelt gratitude for the blessings we learn to recognize from those we used to complain about.
Refuse to cast spells of criticism, no matter how “constructive” we think they are.
Instead, learn to see others through God’s eyes, as He sees them. Train yourself to recognize others as children of God, the spark of divinity within, all doing the best we know how.
Don’t get me wrong—there is a place for honest feedback under circumstances that may even require that you offer it. Still, love and humility should be the larger context within which we reluctantly share our thoughtful critique.
Judgmentalism turned inward is the perfectionism of self-contempt. Judgmentalism turned outward is the perfectionism of the contempt for others.
We thereby demand a standard we have no right to impose and judge others unworthy for failing to live up to the standard we had no right to measure them by.
Judgmentalism delivers the poisoned apple of disdain, disguised as a healthy snack.
As already mentioned, the antidote to this poison is to change how we truly see each other. So go find the silver lining of decency and good intentions in the dark clouds of our former prejudice.
Otherwise, we remain stuck in the toxic fog of judgment, clouding our perspective and discoloring our ability to see others as they truly are.
As we rid ourselves of this bewitching habit, we will finally be able to set aside the self-imposed responsibility of uncovering everyone else’s sins and weaknesses.
We will then finally be able to shift the weight and burden of shouldering others’ sin to the only Shoulders ever meant to carry them.
5. I Fear the Creeping, Clawing Rats of Sin
I know that rats aren’t technically monsters, but I can confidently say that they’ve been in every monster movie I’ve ever seen, adding significantly to the intended creep factor. Besides, sin can deliver some pretty monstrous consequences itself.
The rats of sin trap and cripple, corrupt and enslave.
These vile rodents nibble away at our true identity, creating a gap between us and our God.
The holes they gnaw into the walls of our character makes us believe we are no longer worthy to pray, unqualified to receive His blessings or guidance.
The vermin of sin undermines faith, testimony and conviction, as we stumble and stutter along the covenant path less confidently than before.
Still, we all fall victim to it. Our Savior paid the price for it. The covenant path leads us away from it.
But when rat-like sin is allowed to hide in the corners of our lives, in the dark and shadowed places of our souls, scurrying behind walls and creeping under floorboards and scratching around in attics where shame and guilt fester, sin tends to nest and spread as these rats dig deeper into the tunnels and basements of our lives.
If left alone, the infestation can grow larger and more eradicable, allowing sin to scratch and claw at our peace of mind and chew gaping holes into our weakening faith and testimonies.
As sin burrows under and through and around the structures of our lives, those structures become weaker, less reliable, more susceptible to other insecurities.
Sin begins to gnaw at our self-confidence, esteem and respect, turning us from God to the world where nothing fully satisfies and bellies are never truly filled with ultimate purpose and meaning and the kind of joy that endures.
The only proper extermination of sin is the admixture of God’s love and grace, Christ’s atoning sacrifice, our repentant and willing heart, and faith and hope in Christ.
That’s a reliable pest control that changes hearts, lifts spirits and reshapes our hopes and desires.
The sooner that potent potion is applied, the easier the process of eradicating these rats will be.
We all have a few rats running around in the attic of our souls that we will never fully eradicate.
The point is not to overdramatize the effects of what you might call run-of-the-mill moral inadequacies and spiritual deficiencies—even though such weaknesses are part of the path we’re on and should not be left unattended.
The point is to point out the intent and motivation of the father of all lies and the architect of all sin. It is to help us remember that sin is not neutral.
Sin is not passive or patient or moderate in all things. It doesn’t let up or let go. It doesn’t rest, take naps, or go on vacation. It is relentless.
In fact, sin scampers and hides, gnaws and infests in rat-like packs of temptation.
It breads disease and fear and death. Avoid it like the plague it is. Repent of sin as soon as you commit it. Then commit to do just a little bit better next time.
Lean on the word of God and connect deeply with Him through prayer so the spiritual rat-traps can quickly remove the clawing moral vermin from our lives, one rat at a time.
That’s all it really takes. It’s those small daily adjustments that keeps us squarely on the covenant path most of the time. And that path is indeed a very good path to be on.
6. I Fear Apocalyptic Outbreaks of Contagion
From the 1964 thriller, The Last Man Standing, to Outbreak and Contagion, to I Am Legend and World War Z, Halloween has had its fair share of viral outbreak movies.
Our current pandemic adds relevance to the moment.
But the viral outbreak that scares me most is one that infects hearts and minds and marriages.
I fear the disease of carnal decay, the addiction of pornographic rot that eats away at the spiritual nature of our souls, robbing us of our confident walk along the covenant path.
This viral outbreak of epidemic proportions corrupts honesty in the darkness of deceit, hidden in the night of our shame.
It transforms its victims into zombie-like slaves of appetite, flesh-crawling souls of bottomless hunger for the lurid, corrupt and immoral.
It spiritually maims and morally softens our will to fight and endure. It cripples our discipleship and disrupts our spiritual progress.
It weakens our moral agency and supplants testimony with spirituals apathy.
It robs us of irreplaceable hours and lost ambition. It dims future prospects of possibility, and lengthens and complicates pathways forward.
Trust, confidence and hope bleed from its open wounds. It insidiously darkens reality by forcing it to compete with the corrupting influence of airbrushed fantasy.
In that state of moral vertigo, where spiritual foundations start to slip and slide and we feel the moral landscape shifting underfoot, it becomes easy to lose an eternal perspective in a mortal life.
When our spiritual immune system has been compromised by the habit of carnal desires, it becomes exponentially more difficult to feel the reconfirming impressions of the Holy Ghost.
Spiritual assurances can then start to waver and the world can start looking like an increasingly attractive alternative to the demands of discipleship.
These are spiritually perilous times. Just as we cannot serve God and Mammon, we also cannot continue walking the covenant path in sin without losing sight of where we’re supposed to be going.
The two are fundamentally incompatible.
Carnality corrupts our moral compass and weakens our spiritual legs along the path that we find increasingly difficult to see in the moral fog our addiction creates.
The sin we repeat starts to feel like the sin we cannot stop. And the sin we can’t stop starts to feel a lot like moral failure of a permanent kind.
That gives room for shame to accelerate the infection, making it easier to believe the lie that God has abandoned us. We feel unworthy to stand in His presence, so also feel uncomfortable standing in His church.
It’s a slippery slope of self-destructive viral contagion that must be stopped.
The best vaccination against the spread of this habitual devouring disease of self-disdain is to wash deeply in the waters of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, decisions have to be made. Since technology and privacy are the spreading agents of this disease, technology and privacy need to be considered when combatting it.
Immoral thought that sits in the poisoned well of the soul poisons other parts of the landscape as well.
One way to lessen the viral impact of the past is to dilute the effects of sin with a flood of inspiration and truth.
Read and listen, watch, pray and ponder on eternal principles until the dirty waters of the past have become so diluted that the waters of your current life taste a lot like the filtered Living Waters of Christ.
But the first step to ultimately cure any viral outbreak is to get yourself to the doctor. Christ is the Great Physician.
His grace and atoning sacrifice, His love for and acceptance of each of us—no matter where we are or what we’ve done—are emotionally cathartic and spiritually healing.
Certainly, the Great Physician calls us to higher ground, to climb the mountain of addiction to the summit of freedom, but He nonetheless accepts us as we are.
He calls us to follow Him whether it is from the prairies and deserts or the forests and grasslands, or even from the hole we’ve personally dug and then subsequently fallen into. It’s all the same.
He wants to heal and cure and bless us. He wants us to feel the intimacy of His divine and perfect love.
Only He can heal our wounds and change the substance our character, remove the thorn from our side and transform our very nature.
Turn to Christ and let Him lift you from the plague and disease of your addiction to a progressively abundant life.
Peace, happiness, confidence, the sweetness of the Spirit, inspiration, revelation, purpose, meaning and pure joy are the fruits of this prescribed spiritual inoculation and ultimate cure.
The process of inoculation and cure is usually incremental and progressive.
Be patient as Christ heals you. Set short-range goals and celebrate each baby step of improvement, even if it’s just refraining an hour longer than usual.
Any progress is victory over the spreading disease.
And know, most fundamentally, that you are a child of God. You are endowed with greater capacity than you think.
The moral landscape of your life may seem dark and uninviting. But that’s temporary, no matter how dark or how long it’s been that way.
All God asks is that we take the first step. Then the next.
We will stumble and fall along the way; that is part of our discipleship. That’s why Christ atoned in our past for what He knew we would do in His future.
No one learns without mistakes. No bakery has a clean kitchen.
But as you take each subsequent step, and lean on the love and grace of your Savior, even if many of those steps you take are retracing lost ground, you will eventually have climbed the rocky terrain of this mountain in your life where you can finally breathe the redeeming air of spiritual freedom.
It is on your horizon, beckoning you toward it.
When Jesus invited us to follow Him, He never expected all of us to follow at the same pace or in lockstep with His. But He does expect us to follow nonetheless. I pray this will be your call to action.
7. I Fear the Blob of Stagnation
The Blob was a science-fiction horror movie in 1958 that depicted an alien blob of gooey proportions spreading slowly, methodically, but ever lethally through a city, engulfing and smothering everything in its oozing, expanding blob-ness.
We too are susceptible to alien attacks from the gooey grips of laziness, where we are slowly suffocated by The Blob of our own unchosen options.
When we stop moving forward, stop learning and striving and becoming, we allow The Blob of procrastination and atrophy to set in.
It’s then that the gangrenous loss of will-power and self-discipline stops us from taking the shape and form we were meant to occupy.
We are created in the image of God.
That’s not a mere physical reality. We were also created in the image of who we could become.
To stagnate on the couch of life is to forfeit that potentiality and allow who we could have been to bleed into the gutter of regret.
To end that slow bleed of potential, begin today to aim at something worth aiming at and then take your first steps toward it.
Discipline yourself to learn and grow. Read and think. Write and pray. Love and serve. Organize your life around incremental steps toward your ideal self.
Cut back on watching so much TV or YouTube, social media, Netflix or whatever undemanding devices of delay are preventing you from becoming more than you were yesterday or last year.
You were meant for amazing, so go start building something that leans in that direction.
Of course your first or even twenty-first build will crash and burn. Maybe all of them will to one degree or another, but so what! Build anyway.
What’s the alternative? Build nothing? Become nothing more than you currently are?
No, that’s to miss the point of our creation. So work hard and aim the best you know how at the best thing you know to aim at. And then adjust as you go.
Choose a talent and develop it. Choose a hobby and work at it. Choose a subject to explore, a project to accomplish, a trait to acquire, a weakness to overcome.
It doesn’t really matter what you choose to do because doing almost anything productive is better than sitting like a blob on the couch of life in wait of some epiphany or revelation to push you forward.
Epiphanies and personal revelation, by the way, are much more likely to come while in the act of becoming and doing.
So become and do. What else is there, after all?
8. I Fear the Self-fulfilling Prophecy of Self-doubt
Like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, it lurks in the dark swamp of our insecurities. It creeps through the murky waters of base comparisons where other creatures of self-contempt and self-loathing lurk.
Dark thoughts, like dark creatures, breed and multiply in dark places, then spread, scraping and clawing at our true nature and eternal potential until all that’s left is the emptied vestige of a former self.
Our divine origins are then hidden in the cold depths of spiritual confusion and misunderstanding as we sink to the bottom of the darkened waters of disbelief and gasping faith.
In that watery grave it becomes easy to get lost in the marshes of spiritual disorientation where our self-doubt creates the shackles that bind us to our lesser selves.
And yet we’re taught to love and serve each other with kindness, patience, acceptance and compassion, overlooking the flaws and imperfections of mortality, while focusing on the good in others.
We should have that same attitude turned inward as we stumble down the covenant path, no matter how imperfectly and inconsistently.
We’re taught to love our neighbors as ourselves. But harsh self-criticism is hardly the proper context for that love.
The implied scriptural assumption in loving others as we love ourselves is that we treat ourselves well, and so ought to treat others at least equally well.
And yet we often treat ourselves with something more resembling contempt than love.
We can be quite harsh and unforgiving, pummeling ourselves mercilessly for failing to measure up to some self-imposed standard.
Don’t get me wrong—standards are essential. They give us something to aim at and keep us acting within certain acceptable parameters.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is, in fact, a gospel of moral and spiritual standards. But to verbally slash the tires of our own self-regard undermines our effort to move along the straight and narrow properly and productively.
If only “he who is without sin” is authorized to throw the first stone, what makes us think we have the right to throw stones at ourselves?
Don’t allow that creature of the marshy depths to drag us down to the darkness of self-abuse, verbal or otherwise.
Instead, start treating yourself as though you were worth protecting.
Treat yourself as though you were on loan from God, as though you actually believed that you are indeed a Child of God with infinite potential.
Treat yourself as you would treat your own toddler still learning to walk by faith.
How would you treat your own flesh and blood as they wobble and stumble through life? What would you say to your own child with skinned knees and teary eyes? How would you say it?
Would you condemn and punish or lift and comfort? Would you abuse or protect? Reject or embrace? Blame or inspire? Abandon or nurture? Criticize or encourage?
Well, you are your own flesh and blood!
So, to yourself, “Go and do thou likewise.”
9. I Fear the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of Hypocrisy
Dr. Jekyll was a good-natured physician who healed by day, and raged and ravaged by night. The potion he felt compelled to drink each night turned him into a monstrous beast of unbounded evil.
But his moral weakness was not what turned Jekyll into a hypocritical Hyde; Hiding Hyde was.
Hypocrisy is the peculiar state of believing no one else can see what we are pretending doesn’t exist.
Being human is not to be a hypocrite. Failing to live up to our values is not hypocrisy. It is in the pretense of virtue that hypocrisy is found.
Pretending to be something we’re not, hiding in sin while professing a falsified image of self-righteousness is where the problem exists.
But why did Jesus mince no words in condemning Pharisaic hypocrisy? Why were His boldest condemnations saved for that particular character flaw?
Perhaps it’s because false righteousness makes the real thing appear ugly and self-serving.
Perhaps it’s because the façade of faithfulness makes a mockery of faith.
Maybe it’s because hypocrisy makes it easier to justify the wholesale rejection of the Perfect Example of all that’s good and praiseworthy.
Perhaps the hypocrisy of too many believers is responsible for too many former believers who lost their faith in the Sunday parade of costumed righteousness that was too often disrobed beyond the chapel doors.
Maybe the pretense feeds pride, which nourishes self-righteousness, which alienates those treading on newly found and still wobbly spiritual legs.
Maybe hypocrisy creates the appearance of an impossible and therefore futile attempt to measure up with too many people giving up in the false glow of the hypocrite’s self-amplification.
Christ suffered for our sins. He paid the price we couldn’t.
To fake righteousness is a bit like going into debt, getting help from a friend, then telling him afterwards that you never needed his help in the first place.
Hypocrisy is telling Jesus you don’t need His atoning sacrifice even while He’s bleeding for your hypocrisy. That kind of Jekyll and Hyde-ism looks too much like a sacrilegiously disrespectful slap.
The cure to Jekyll’s hypocritical Hyde is in the serum of truth.
It’s to tell the truth courageously, forthrightly, not as a weapon, but as a sign of respect for Truth and its Author.
It requires removing masks of deception and dismantling facades and choosing to live in the open, instead of sneaking and hiding in the shadows of half-truths and pretended appearances.
The cure is to refuse to decorate the simplicity of truth with the ornaments of pride or to over-simplify it to the point that it loses its fundamental substance.
The cure is to integrate the natural and the spiritual, while subjecting the former to the latter the best we can. It’s to live behind closed doors the same way we hope others think we live when they see us out in public.
The cure is to choose the teachability of humility over the arrogance of pride.
Courage is a prerequisite to real authenticity. Granted, it is infinitely easier to write about being genuine than to actually swing open the doors of authenticity and invite others in to see the dust and lint in the unkempt corners of our lives.
But authenticity is the true glue of connection and unity that forges inseparable bonds of love.
And that, it seems to me, is a pretty decent goal to aim at.
Moral Monsters are those creatures that sneak into hearts and corrupt souls with crippling effect. This Halloween is a good time to reconnect to what matters most in life. It’s a good time to look deeper into mirrors to find the parts of our hearts that still cling to darkness. It’s a good time to recognize that such monsters are real and are a part of who we are, but that Christ already paid the price to root out those self-harming qualities.
I invite you, with me, to lean on Him to set us free.
Art courtesy of Pixabay