Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Pride of Nitwits

I don't believe in Satan as some guy out there with horns and goat legs. That version is based on the mythological Greek god, Pan, and he doesn't exist, either. But if I did believe in him, I'd likely think of him as a mediocrity, a goofus who can't stand to be mocked and ridiculed.

If he's a human, he's likely to be some bumbler that no one takes seriously until he gains political power and starts World War III. He'd be a self-deluded, incompetent, self-proclaimed (but false) messiah, out to remake the world in his image. He'd think he was one of the Good Guys, and, most probably, a lot of the public would, too.

But whatever version he takes, whether Satan Version 1.0 or 1.1, I agree with John Milton, when he wrote in Paradise Lost, that Satan's main sin is Pride. And when you have a bunch of people afflicted with that kind of pride, who have enormous political power, then you have, instead of a pride of lions, is a pride of nitwits. Dangerous nitwits, to be sure, but nitwits nonetheless.

Let's take, as an example, George Bush in one of his press conferences, in which he expressed no remorse for the dreadful mishandling of the unnecessary war in Iraq by him and those in his administration. He offered no regrets, admitted no mistakes, acknowledged no flaws.

Dubya sure looks to be a stubborn and narrow-minded man, one who thinks he is appointed by God to do the Right Thing in bringing the dangerous leftist dream of democracy to be benighted wogs of the world. Apparently he's forgotten the saying, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." If he hasn't forgotten it, it's obvious he believes it doesn't apply to him. Of course he wouldn't, if he think God talks to him.

I seriously doubt that Incurious George is familiar with the writings of Thomas Aquinas. I suppose he's heard of Aquinas, unless Yale is even more hopeless than I thought, but I'm sure George has never read a word by him. And that's too bad, because Aquinas had some interesting thoughts. He's the one who defined Pride as "inordinate self-love [as] the cause of every sin...the root of pride is found to consist in man not being, in some way, subject to God and His rule."

I also seriously doubt our non-reading, intellectually slothful president is familiar with an amusing little book by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls called The Traveller's Guide to Hell: Don't Leave This World Without It. It defines pride as "the mother of all sins... the thin line between righteousness and self-righteousness." And that line, which our President was wobbling upon, he has now toppled of off, onto, oh, the left (which means "sinister") side. Although I'm convinced that he, in his own mind, believes he is a rightist. Like the people of Nineveh, he cannot tell his right from his left. Neither does the right hand know what the left one is doing.

I wonder if he surfs the Internet? I just can't imagine George Bush in a chatroom. Or does he have someone else do surf for him, the way his daddy had people shop for him, which is why he looked so befuddled when he encountered a supermarket check-out scanner. I also can't imagine George running across the website "Seven Deadly Sins", which defines pride as "excessive belief in one's own abilities, that interferes with the individual's recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity."

The sin "from which all others arise," the site says. I believe that's true. Here's another way of putting it: hubris is the only true crime that exists, because it is the basis for all other sins, all other crimes.

And the other sins, of which pride is supposed to be the basis? Envy, gluttony, lust, anger (wraith), greed (avarice or covetousness), sloth. These faults are not only inherent in every human being, they appear to be the main traits of the State. If that's true, political power is one of the worst powers there is, the one that is most easily abused.

Charles Panati, in his book, Sacred Origin of Profound Things, claimed the Greek theologian Evagrius of Pontus was the first to draw up a list of the eight worst offenses. From least to worst they were: gluttony, lust, avarice, sadness, anger, sloth, vainglory, and pride. He considered all these sins to be fixations on the self, with pride the worst.

My own self, my own ego, as the center of the world! Russell Kirk, not only an influential conservative thinker but also a fine horror writer, in one of those horror stories, "The Peculiar Demesne," correctly described this "monstrous ego," with its blind, false pride, as the "source of all evil."

Late in the Sixth Century, Pope Gregory reduced the list to seven, combining vainglory with pride, sadness with sloth, and adding envy (Aquinas later denied that sins could be ranked this way). Like Evagrius, Pope Gregory ranked the sins from least to worst: lust, gluttony, avarice, sadness, anger, envy, pride. Again, pride was the worst. In the 17 Century the church replaced "sadness" with sloth.

At one time nearly all people knew the list of the Seven Deadly Sins, along with the Heavenly Virtues: faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, temperance, prudence. I suspect more laypeople today are familiar with these lists than our leaders, who appear to unwittingly be crypto-pagans who believe in Might Makes Right.

There are also the Seven Contrary Virtues, first listed by Prudentius in his poem "Psychomachia" ("Battle for the Soul") in 410. These virtues are: humility, kindness, abstinence, chastity, patience, liberality, and diligence.

The Seven Contrary Virtues stand opposed to the Seven Deadly Sins: humility against pride, kindness against envy, abstinence against gluttony, chastity against lust, patience against anger, liberality against greed, and diligence against sloth.

The Greeks called pride by the wprd "hubris," which the dictionary defines as "excessive pride, wanton violence." Are excessive pride and wanton violence related? Surely. History confirms it almost without exception. They certainly are related today. You need look no further than the current U.S. administration., with its bumbling "stay the course" rhetoric in Iraq (that is, until they change their minds). When the blind are leading the blind, "staying the course" leads straight into a ditch.

If Bush and his crew want to put an end to evil, the first thing they have to do is put an end to imperfect human nature, to pride, to hubris. This isn't possible. They'd also have to eradicate that with which they are afflicted. There is "no end to evil." When David Frum and Richard Perle wrote a book with that name, the only thing they showed was they are Dwellers in the Mirage, appallingly ignorant of reality.

The Greeks personified hubris as a god, one who lacked restraint and dwelled among mortal men. Imagine that. Right here among all of us. The Greeks saw hubris as followed by nemesis: destruction, retribution and vengeance.

The story of pride, of hubris, is clear: it's always followed by some sort of nemesis. What kind? Who knows, specifically. But hubris is always followed by nemesis, as pride is always followed by a fall. One only needs to have one eye half-opened to see this.

I wonder if George Bush, or Donald Rumsfeld, or Dick Cheney, could list the Seven Deadly Sins? I wonder if they could give a definition of pride, or hubris? Would they believe it applies to them, or that they are so intellectually and morally superior they are immune to it? Judging by their actions, I'm pretty darn sure it's the latter.

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