Monday, February 28, 2011

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.

Thomas Aquinas 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."

There is an amusing little book by Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls called “The Traveler’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."

There is also a 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.

Those 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 (which does not mean celibacy), 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 name "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.

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.

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