Moore to the Point
Hello, fellow wayfarers. How I answered someone wondering about rumors of cocaine and orgies in Congress … Why C. S. Lewis thought there was more than one way to lose the faith … And a Desert Island Bookshelf … This is this week’s Moore to the Point.
Russell Moore
Cocaine, Orgies, and the Dangers of Boring Sins

“No one’s ever invited me to a cocaine party or an orgy, and I’ve been working in Washington for years.”

I never thought I’d hear myself say those words, but I did recently when a younger Christian asked me, in hushed tones, whether it’s true that members of Congress are snorting cocaine and organizing sex parties. I stared back blankly, wondering if this man knew that Congress resembles more a senior adult bingo night than a fraternity house.

I quipped that I’ve never heard of much of that going on there but that maybe I just wasn’t invited—people aren’t likely to invite a Baptist preacher if they want to put together a coke-fueled bacchanal. I had not yet heard that a young U.S. congressman described people he once respected inviting him to do such things, indicating that the series House of Cards was an accurate depiction of life in Congress.

I don’t recall ever hearing anyone who works in government describe the situation in such terms. However, I know that many people—namely, Christians—assume that any place with a lot of non-Christians who have a whole lot of power will be like that.

One reason for this, I think, is that we often don’t understand just how boring the path to sin usually is.

The Bible speaks nowhere directly of cocaine, but it does address orgies in several places. The apostle Paul warned the church at Rome to walk away from “carousing and drunkenness, … sexual immorality and debauchery” but then he immediately gave the same warning about “dissension and jealousy” (Rom. 13:13). Both, he writes, are manifestations of the “desires of the flesh” (v. 14).

In contrasting the “acts of the flesh”’ with the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5, Paul warns not only about sins such as drunkenness, orgies, and witchcraft but also—in the same list—about much more “respectable” and “boring” desires of the flesh, such as “jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy” (vv. 20–21).

Nowhere else have I seen a reference put jealousy and envy in the same category as “orgies, and the like.” When we think of “the flesh,” we think of dramatic rebellion—the kind that people would want to gossip about—not about matters as dull and (we think) innocuous as jealousy or envy.

In many cases, sin does express itself in shocking debauchery. But most often, it expresses itself in more invisible or easily justifiable ways of “walking in the flesh.”

Is Washington filled with sex-and-drug parties? There are probably a lot fewer of them than you think. But is Washington filled with the sins of the flesh? Absolutely, that’s the case.

This shows up more often, though, in careerists drinking alone in their offices late at night than it does in wild parties. It shows up more in people whose flesh burns for the external validation of election wins and media hits than in anything resembling a night in Caligula’s court.

The greatest temptations in Washington are seldom for those who want to fight for their right to party but for those who perhaps joined politics precisely because they were never invited to parties back in high school or earlier. Most enticements in the world of government are to lie in order to undercut a partisan “enemy” or to simmer in resentment over not being as high profile as some other politician or bureaucrat.

In other words, the typical temptations are not as glitzy and obviously transgressive as much as they are sad and lonely.

Even in the realm of the ordinary work of Washington, most people expect that the biggest problem is hypocrisy—people calling someone whom they privately hate “my good friend” so-and-so in pubic. That is a problem, but it’s a much bigger issue within partisan and ideological tribes than between them. In what Freud called the “narcissism of small differences,” many people are far more resentful of those who are like them, whom they perceive as rivals, than of the people they denounce on television or in fundraising emails.

In fact, the big secret in Washington is often that there are people who actually like each other but could never be seen shaking hands or laughing together in public. In a tribalized America, that sort of basic human connection looks like disloyalty. What ends up being theatrical, then, is not just the “unity” of the partisan solos but also their divisive animosity toward the other side.

Sometimes, stark and dramatic assumptions about other people’s sins can lead to horrific consequences. The people spreading conspiracies about politician-led, Satan-worshiping pedophile rings know these things are lies. But they market such to people who don’t, which has led to threats of violence.

And sometimes the result is more subtle—an erosion of truth that leads to even more cynicism and to more of a disconnect between authority and power.

But even in the more benign cases, we Christians can err by assuming that the line between Spirit and flesh is always dramatic, when it is often far more subtle. This shows up in the church as much as, if not more than, it does in the world. The Bible tells us that too: At one point the sin within the church at Corinth was, Paul wrote, “of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate” (1 Cor. 5:1).

If we don’t see this, then we will be rattled—not so much by the outside world engaging in obvious sin but by people who aren’t supervillains and who genuinely want to do the right thing giving in to desires of the flesh.

And we’ll be rattled when those who tell us we must ascribe to a certain “Christian” worldview to withstand the barbarians outside are themselves revealed to be filled with envy, rivalry, jealousy, and fits of anger—and sometimes with orgies and cocaine too.

C. S. Lewis on Two Ways to Lose the Faith

Reading through a collection of letters from C. S. Lewis to his lifelong friend Arthur Greeves, I found one in which Lewis warns Greeves of a kind of “Puritanism” in his makeup that Lewis found dangerous. Part of this was due to Lewis’s “absolute certainty” that “if you ever feel that the whole spirit and system in which you were brought up was, after all, right and good, then you may be quite sure that feeling is a mistake (though of course it might, at a given moment—say, of temptation, be present as the alternative to some far bigger mistake).”

Lewis was warning not against the historical reality of the Puritan movement but against the kind of Puritanism that “inconsistently kept some worldly pleasures, and always selected the worst ones—gluttony, avarice, etc.”

And of some expressions of a harsh, dour Christianity, Lewis asked, “Have they the marks of peace, love, wisdom and humility on their faces or in their conversation? Really, you need not bother about that kind of Puritanism. It is simply the form which the memory of Christianity takes just before it finally dies away altogether, in a commercial community: just as extreme emotional ritualism is the form it takes on just before it dies in a fashionable community.”

Lewis, of course, takes aim at that second way of losing the faith—the eroding of truth claims and objective doctrinal authority—in many other places. Such a warning is needed. But we also need to see that ballast and trolling do not reveal conviction. They often reveal the frantic manifestation of a dead religion in which the glory has long ago departed.

Some forms of secularization are just ways in which a religion gives up and accommodates itself to a triumphant culture. Some forms of fundamentalism are just ways in which a religion gives up and accommodates itself to a triumphant subculture. In both cases, what’s left is memory, not reality.

And, in the case of the gospel, only the Reality will do.

Desert Island Bookshelf

This week’s submission comes from reader Terri Covil of Cary, North Carolina, who writes: “Hi, Dr. Moore! I love reading everyone’s bookshelves. Here’s mine.”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe—My favorite novel of all time. A beautiful and compelling abolitionist narrative on the evils of slavery. A picture of Christ. I feel crazy every time someone uses the phrase “Uncle Tom” as a term of derision.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou—The first book that made me feel known. An autobiography in which a love of literature helps the author overcome a lonely and traumatic childhood.

The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson—Reading these aloud to my children is a favorite memory. For months we built sandcastle Aerwiars, dressed up as Leeli and Kalmar, fought Fangs of Dang on evening walks, and threatened to blindplop misbehaving kids.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini—My favorite modern author. His brilliant and powerful storytelling helped educate me on a culture I knew little about and has given me an empathy and compassion that I would not have had otherwise.

The Poetry of Robert Frost (the complete collection)—Frost proves the mundane a beautiful thing.

Every Moment Holy, Vols. 1 and 2, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey—As a Baptist, most of my life I did not grow up with liturgy but have always been drawn to it. I love thinking about the beauty of the banal. Reading liturgy as a family reinforces the truth that our Lord is the Lord of the everyday.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo—My favorite book to read with my third graders. “The story is not a pretty one. There is violence in it. And cruelty. But stories that are not pretty have a certain value, too, I suppose. Everything, as you well know (having lived in this world long enough to have figured out a thing or two for yourself), cannot always be sweetness and light.”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith—Even though I grew up far from the inner city on a turkey farm in poverty-stricken, rural North Carolina, I felt like this book was written about me, and it reached into my soul and filled me with a beautiful hope.

The Chosen by Chaim Potok—The story of the son of a Hasidic Jewish rabbi and the son of a Modern Orthodox Jewish rabbi. Tradition versus modernity and an unlikely friendship.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones—Life changing. I bought this to read to my children at bedtime, not knowing that I would be the one forever changed by it. I read it every year to my class, lead the children from my church in a yearly pageant based on the stories, give it to everyone I know that is having a baby, and buy it for new believers. Everyone should have a copy.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass—Pure rhetorical genius. “I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. … I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels.”

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky—Because one is supposed to read this book, and I would finally have plenty of time to muddle through it on a desert island.

Thanks, Terri!

Readers, what do you think? If you were stranded on a desert island and could have only one playlist or one bookshelf with you for the rest of your life, what songs or books would you choose?

  • For a Desert Island Playlist, send me a list of up to 12 songs, excluding hymns and worship songs. (We’ll cover those later.)

  • For a Desert Island Bookshelf, send me a list of up to 12 books. If possible, include one photo of all the books together.

Send your list to, and include as much or as little explanation of your choices as you would like.

Quote of the moment

I was walking down Fifth Avenue today, and I found a wallet. And I was going to keep it, rather than return it, but I thought, Well, if I lost $150, how would I feel? And I realized I would want to be taught a lesson.

—Emo Philips

Currently Reading (or Rereading)

Ali Noorani, Crossing Borders: The Reconciliation of a Nation of Immigrants (Rowman & Littlefield)

Eric J. Tully, Reading the Prophets as Christian Scripture: A Literary, Canonical, and Theological Introduction (Baker)

Michael J. Gorman, Romans: A Theological and Pastoral Commentary (Eerdmans)

Currently Watching

My sons and I plan to watch the launch of the new Moon Knight series, starring Oscar Isaac, on Disney+.

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Russell Moore

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