My response is that it doesn’t have to be this way. But I understand you if you think Christians are self-righteous. In all honesty, before my adult conversion to Christianity just the word “righteous” in English would send shudders down my spine, so judgmental did it sound. Maybe you’re the same way, readers. Russian, a seamless language whose urgency speaks to the heart and not the mind, freed me from the mental space of Biblical English, a language which I would say sometimes bars non-Christian Americans from the faith. At least that was the case with me.

The term “righteousness,” which was used in the old-fashioned King James Bible, is defined in a dictionary from 1828 as follows:

“Purity of heart and rectitude of life; conformity of heart and life to the divine law. Righteousness, as used in Scripture and theology, in which it is chiefly used, is nearly equivalent to holiness, comprehending holy principles and affections of heart, and conformity of life to the divine law. It includes all we call justice, honesty and virtue, with holy affections; in short, it is true religion.”

Russian, however, feels different. And it has bypassed my hardened heart and the seeds of the gospel that were planted when I was a Sunday-school child are continually watered by my favorite language, Russian. In Russian, the definition of righteousness is quite similar, but there is an archaic definition that reads “corresponding to the ideal of moral purity and fairness” in a way that doesn’t feel as steeped in the condemnation of the marginalized as it is in English. The root “ved” in the Russian pravednii implies not only knowledge or leading but, at least to my non-native ear, the word “led.” And therefore it feels like it is more about being led by rightness and purity of heart in a way that implies one is attuned to one’s inner teacher and the divine. That the relationship is vertical – between a person and their God and their knowledge of their inner teacher – and that it has to do with purity of heart, as opposed to the horizontal, which has to do more with humans judging other humans harshly.

This framework works for me, and I encourage you to try it if this has been holding you back.