Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Quest for False Humility: A Declaration of War on Thought

When normally defined, humility means being modest, slight in one's opinion of oneself, and bearing a certain perception of personal lowliness.

This word has recently and egregiously been hijacked.

In postmodern language (though many now recoil at the term "postmodern", preferring to be considered more post-postmodern [and so it goes, I suppose, ad nauseum, ad infinitum]), humility has undergone a metamorphosis.

Rather than dealing in the realm of introspection and view of oneself, humility has now been unjustly thrust upon the realm of ideas. Now, to have an opinion which one believes is universally and objectively true, and especially to voice that opinion, is considered arrogant. Appreciation of academic debates has therefore been dulled, or has even disappeared entirely (especially within the Church). Strong political and theological stances (especially if smelling, even faintly, of conservatism) are ridiculed for being absolutist and unyielding to individual differences, and truth claims in general are dismissed as reckless and supercilious statements. Confidence in knowledge and firmness in ideas have been tragically confused with personal pride, and thus are no longer welcome in the (especially younger) public square. These are the ways of the humble postmodern, post-truth, post-thinker.

Sporting its newly contrived franken-definition, "humility" has begun its nationwide tour to extinguish rational thought. Where there is a knowledge claim made, "humility" fires the dismissive charge of "arrogance" at the rebel thinker. Where there is an opinion that attempts to claim universality and objectivity, "humility" thrusts the painfully dull spear of relativism. "Humility"attempts to convince the masses that we absolutely cannot know the truth in any absolute sense, and that we must be "humble" at all costs, even if that cost is reason.

Even within the Church, being staunchly opinionated has become rather faux pas, as it is (falsely) seen as the antithesis of Biblical humility. While this is far from accurate (Paul, for one, argued for positions brilliantly and steadfastly), the Church has nevertheless adopted this truly unlivable and self-defeating philosophy which carries with it the stench of relativism. However, many defensively cry, "But we are not relativists! There is a truth out there, we just must not be so arrogant as to think it is knowable." This common defense is actually quite permeable; to deny the possibility of ever knowing truth that may be out there somewhere is to detach oneself from absolute truth, and leads only in the direction of relativism. Having cut the anchor of objectivity, these individuals' attempt at disassociating from relativism is futile. After all, one absolutely must believe something is knowable in order to have warrant to make an objective truth claim about it!

So, what is the modus operandi of the "humble" post-thinker?

1) Beliefs and opinions are private, personal, and should not be "shoved down anyone's throat".

2) Knowledge is subjective and emotion-based, because absolute truth either doesn't exist at all or is unknowable.

3) In conversation, to take an unyielding position is to be arrogant and is therefore to be avoided, lest the discussion begin to resemble a debate and someone should take offence.

4) Facts are of little importance, and we must realize that those we hear are only the records of the "winners". We must humble ourselves enough to give equal appreciation to all opinions, especially those of the "losers", as none are wrong or right; they are all unique.

Rather than perpetuate this popular and absurd philosophy that draws upon a misconstrual of humility, human beings need to passionately and zealously discuss and defend knowable truth if they intend to preserve a milieu of legitimate and intellectually solid exchange in the marketplace of ideas. Furthermore, they can and should do so by also pursuing authentic, Biblical humility in order to maintain necessary civility when speaking the truth in love.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why don't you read the OED entry before making a bunch of ad hoc claims. I can't fathom your point in this convoluted entry. There are so many grammatical problems, stylistic oddities, and ambiguities that I don't even know where to start.

Here are a few examples from the first sentence: the first sentence is passive, learn how to use an adverb, one's and oneself is too much, and "certain perception" is ambiguous. Ad nauseum.

Don't think too highly of yourself. Learn the basics of writing. This acerbia is clumsy, heavy, and quite unacceptable. But hey--my standards are probably unreasonable and you shouldn't aspire to anything but the bare minimum. And I'm mean so you can shrug me off.

As an aside, you have one particularly strong writer as a model on this blog: Tim. Follow his lead. And Kevin is also a decent writer. Mimic good writers before crafting a voice of your own.

Beitler said...

Nice post Sarah!

It is indeed a "stench" of relativism that permeates thought these days.

Chesterton's wonderful chapter in Orthodoxy called The Suicide of Thought explicates this phenomenon beautifully.

As he puts it, "What we suffer from to-day 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 himself, 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 - himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - the Divine Reason" (Doubleday, New York: 1959. Pg 27).

Of course he goes further, but I thought that might add a dash of seasoning to your informative thoughts. Good stuff!

Sarah Scott said...

Anonymous,

I'm sorry.

Beitler,

Thanks! That wonderful quote provides such savory seasoning.

Sarah Scott said...

Anonymous,

I agree wholeheartedly that Tim is a great writer! If I eventually can cultivate writing somewhat near the quality of his, Doug Groothuis', and Os Guinness', I will be pleased.

danny wright said...

"(1)Beliefs and opinions are private"

Except for the belief that beliefs and opinions are private I suppose

2) Knowledge is subjective and emotion-based, because absolute truth either doesn't exist at all or is unknowable.

Except for the knowledge that knowledge is subjective.... I suppose

3) In conversation, to take an unyielding position is to be arrogant and is therefore to be avoided, lest the discussion begin to resemble a debate and someone should take offence.

Unless you take a position that taking a position is arrogant I guess?

4) Facts are of little importance, and we must realize that those we hear are only the records of the "winners". We must humble ourselves enough to give equal appreciation to all opinions, especially those of the "losers", as none are wrong or right; they are all unique.

Is that a fact?

If a person just loosing everything in Miramar told me I was rich, It wouldn't necessarily affirm to me that I was. Never the less, I will complement your writing: I appreciate not only what you say but also how you say it.

Sarah Scott said...

Danny,

Thanks for the encouragement!

Also, if only more people responded to those claims in the in the way you did...

Sad.

Heath Countryman said...

Perhaps the problem is such that there are many who at one time held beliefs in "truths" that were in fact not true, yet they very much thought them to be Universal Truths. Having discovered that their false truth lacked a firm foundation, they have now come to look upon all truth claims with much skepticism, so much so that those who know the Truth cannot be distinguished from many other wolves in sheeps clothing.

And while there are many who are capable of offering a view of the Truth with an inviting tone, sadly there are many others who join the frey who lack the diplomacy needed to offer Hope to the hopeless.

I believe what is needed is not a correction of the definition of humility, but instead an example of it in our offering of Truth.

Sarah Scott said...

Heath,

Thanks for commenting over here.

Holding false beliefs is no reason to abandon trust in Truth itself. This is why it is so vital for mature thinkers to help others build a firm foundation on which to come to the Truth. Discernment and education are the cures to the disease you describe. It also brings a new importance to individuals having competent skills in the art of logic and argument (and absolutely the Bible!) so as to better wade through many conflicting truth claims.

I agree with you on your second paragraph. However, in evangelism for example, diplomacy is useless without Truth to accompany it.

Heath Countryman said...

Please reread my comment. I did not say they have abondoned trust. I argued that they lack the ability to discern what should and should not be trusted.

In fact, I very much believe that the post-modern mind is very much interested in placing trust in Truth. However, those who know the Truth must deal with the fact that logic and argumentation are meaningless if the other person is not listening. We must therefore build a foundation with those who are lost before we unleash our attempts at eductaing them in our staunch opinions (to use your terminology).

I would argue that in evangelism, it is Truth that is useless apart from diplomacy. In the post-modern context that we find ourselves in, relationship must always come before our passionate and zealous defense of the Truth. For without it, we are simply shouting into the wind.