Sunday, 1 March 2009

Quote of the day: misplaced humility

"It is impossible without humility to enjoy anything - even pride.

"But what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about humself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert hiumself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - the Divine Reason. Huxley preached a humility content to learn from Nature. But the new skeptic is so humble that he doubts if he can even learn. [...]

"Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own."
- G K Chesterton, The Suicide of Thought, in Orthodoxy, 1908.

I'm not sure that this misplaced humility is actually humility - indeed, I'm sure that in moving humility, it destroys it, and I think Chesterton is getting at that. But how deceitful our hearts, that we misplace humility and are proud of it. I'm not sure whether GKC saw that coming - that we boast that we cannot know, should not know, and do not permit others to know. Hence the assumption, that if you tell someone some news as truth, you must be arrogant. "Aren't Christians arrogant to claim to know the truth?" Humility is found in ambition, Chesterton would reply - knowing that we are so small that we delight in bigger things. It isn't found in claiming that we can know nothing. When we say that we know the truth as Christians, we point to ourselves as small, that there is something bigger, more exciting, more dependable, more worthy. That is humility. Or as the apostle Paul said, "What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus' sake." [2 Corinthians 4]

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