Sunday, August 10, 2014

Humility: Accepting Reality

A man trying to organize a men's choir said I had a fine voice. Given a choice, he asked, wouldn't someone prefer a beautiful voice to a powerful mind or athletic body?

I agreed, but was a bit embarrassed: since I've got two out of the three. My wife's opined that if bad hips hadn't kept me from excelling at sports: I'd be insufferable. She's probably right.

Self-Esteem Run Amok

Since pride is a sin, is it wrong to be proud of my voice?

Yes — and no. It depends on what sort of "pride" is involved.

When "pride" is self-esteem run amok, it's one of the seven capital sins: along with avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1866)

Ancient Greeks called it hubris. It's a bad idea in stories, from "Oedipus Rex," to Milton's "Paradise Lost" and Paul Ryder's "Cosmic Monsters."

Most of us don't get the sort of reality checks featured in Greek tragedies and epic poems, but hubris is a bad idea in real life, too.
"...A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you...."
("Mere Christianity," C. S. Lewis)
Since I'm a Catholic, I see it as a cause of envy, unjust social and economic inequities, war, and hatred of God. (Catechism, 2094, 2317, 2540)

Getting a Grip About Humility

One sort of humility is a sort of make-believe: smart folks pretending they're not; strong people pretending they're puny. Acting that way is "polite" in some situations, but in its own way it's as unreasonable as hubris.

Another sort of humility is the opposite of hubris. I'll get back to that.

St. Thomas Aquinas had quite a bit to say about pride, reason, and getting a grip, including this:
"...'A man is said to be proud, because he wishes to appear above (super) what he really is'; for he who wishes to overstep beyond what he is, is proud. Now right reason requires that every man's will should tend to that which is proportionate to him. Therefore it is evident that pride denotes something opposed to right reason...."
("The Summa Theologica," St. Thomas Aquinas, translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Benziger Bros. edition, 1947))
I'm "proud" of my voice, to the extent that I'm happy about having the native ability, and opportunities to learn how it works. That's using "right reason" to understand how I fit into my culture. But boasting about what God gave me would be an "offense against truth." (Catechism, 2481)

As if life wasn't complicated enough, I could even be proud of being humble:
"...Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, 'By jove! I'm being humble', and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear...."
("The Screwtape Letters," C. S. Lewis)

A Balanced View

Humility is a virtue. Being delusional, not so much. (September 1, 2013)

As a Catholic, I'm expected to have a balanced view of myself, others, and God. It's okay to admit that I'm pretty good at writing, for example: as long as I acknowledge God's role in my existence and abilities.

I'm also expected to avoid pride. It's a matter of moderation: remembering that God's God, and I'm not.
"HUMILITY: The virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer (2559). Voluntary humility can be described as 'poverty of spirit' (2546)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, H)

"PRIDE: One of the seven capital sins. Pride is undue self–esteem or self–love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God (1866)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary, P)
Humility is a good idea, but blindly accepting every humiliation isn't smart.

As St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, God gave us brains, and expects us to use them:
"...However, it is the mark of humility to accept humiliations without hesitation; not in all cases, of course, but when it is necessary. For, since humility is a virtue, it does not work without discretion. So, it is not proper to humility, but to stupidity, for a man to accept every kind of humiliation, but what must be done for the sake of virtue a person does not reject because of humiliation...."
("Contra Gentiles," Book Three: Providence, Part II: Chapters 84-163; Thomas Aquinas; translated by Vernon J. Bourke; via Dominican House of Studies, Priory of the Immaculate Conception ( [emphasis mine]
Being humble means accepting the truth: about myself, God, the universe, everything.

Believing that God is truth, and that truth cannot contradict truth, leads to a counter-cultural conclusion — Science, studying this wonder-filled universe, is okay. (Catechism, 159, 214-217)

Sin and Science

Over the generations, some scientists have acted as if they were "beyond good and evil," using people for occasionally-lethal experiments.

Between real atrocities like what happened at Willowbrook State School, and more-or-less lurid 'mad scientist' movies, it's small wonder that some folks think science is bad. (December 17, 2012; November 18, 2011)

Science, studying this universe, is part of being human. But like anything else we do, ethics matter. Experiments that needlessly endanger the subject are not right: even if the person understands the danger, and agrees to the experiment. (Catechism, 2292-2295)

The trick is hanging onto humility:
"...Our human understanding, which shares in the light of the divine intellect, can understand what God tells us by means of his creation, though not without great effort and only in a spirit of humility and respect before the Creator and his work...."
(Catechism, 299)
Science can't tell us why we exist, or what our goals should be. But science and technology can, used properly, let us help each other more effectively. (Catechism, 1723, 1942, 2292-2293, 2493)

We are made "in the image of God," stewards of this world: with the power and responsibility that goes with the job.
"4 What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them?

"5 Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor."
(Psalms 8:6)

"...The development of science and technology, this splendid testimony of the human capacity for understanding and for perseverance, does not free humanity from the obligation to ask the ultimate religious questions. Rather, it spurs us on to face the most painful and decisive of struggles, those of the heart and of the moral conscience...."
("Veritatis splendor," John Paul II (August 6, 1993))
More of my take on hubris, humility, and taking the universe 'as is:'

No comments:

Like it? Pin it, Plus it, - - -

Pinterest: My Stuff, and More


Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle Store

Popular Posts

Label Cloud

1277 abortion ADD ADHD-Inattentive Adoration Chapel Advent Afghanistan Africa America Amoris Laetitia angels animals annulment Annunciation anti-catholicism Antichrist apocalyptic ideas apparitions archaeology architecture Arianism art Asperger syndrome assumptions asteroid astronomy Australia authority balance and moderation baptism being Catholic beliefs bias Bible Bible and Catechism bioethics biology blogs brain Brazil business Canada capital punishment Caritas in Veritate Catechism Catholic Church Catholic counter-culture Catholicism change happens charisms charity Chile China Christianity Christmas citizenship climate change climatology cloning comets common good common sense Communion community compassion confirmation conscience conversion Corpus Christi cosmology creation credibility crime crucifix Crucifixion Cuba culture dance dark night of the soul death depression designer babies despair detachment devotion discipline disease diversity divination Divine Mercy divorce Docetism domestic church dualism duty Easter economics education elections emotions England entertainment environmental issues Epiphany Establishment Clause ethics ethnicity Eucharist eugenics Europe evangelizing evolution exobiology exoplanets exorcism extremophiles faith faith and works family Father's Day Faust Faustus fear of the Lord fiction Final Judgment First Amendment forgiveness Fortnight For Freedom free will freedom fun genetics genocide geoengineering geology getting a grip global Gnosticism God God's will good judgment government gratitude great commission guest post guilt Haiti Halloween happiness hate health Heaven Hell HHS hierarchy history holidays Holy Family Holy See Holy Spirit holy water home schooling hope humility humor hypocrisy idolatry image of God images Immaculate Conception immigrants in the news Incarnation Independence Day India information technology Internet Iraq Ireland Israel Italy Japan Jesus John Paul II joy just war justice Kansas Kenya Knights of Columbus knowledge Korea language Last Judgment last things law learning Lent Lenten Chaplet life issues love magi magic Magisterium Manichaeism marriage martyrs Mary Mass materialism media medicine meditation Memorial Day mercy meteor meteorology Mexico Minnesota miracles Missouri moderation modesty Monophysitism Mother Teresa of Calcutta Mother's Day movies music Muslims myth natural law neighbor Nestorianism New Year's Eve New Zealand news Nietzsche obedience Oceania organization original sin paleontology parish Parousia penance penitence Pentecost Philippines physical disability physics pilgrimage politics Pope Pope in Germany 2011 population growth positive law poverty prayer predestination presumption pride priests prophets prostitution Providence Purgatory purpose quantum entanglement quotes reason redemption reflections relics religion religious freedom repentance Resurrection robots Roman Missal Third Edition rosaries rules sacramentals Sacraments Saints salvation schools science secondary causes SETI sex shrines sin slavery social justice solar planets soul South Sudan space aliens space exploration Spain spirituality stem cell research stereotypes stewardship stories storm Sudan suicide Sunday obligation superstition symbols technology temptation terraforming the establishment the human condition tolerance Tradition traffic Transfiguration Transubstantiation travel Trinity trust truth uncertainty United Kingdom universal destination of goods vacation Vatican Vatican II veneration vengeance Veterans Day videos virtue vlog vocations voting war warp drive theory wealth weather wisdom within reason work worship writing

Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.