Everyone On My Side: DON’T DO THIS

I knew this was going to happen.

Some background: Vice-President Elect Mike Pence attended a performance of Hamilton in New York, where he was roundly booed. After the performance, one of the actors offered a patronizing plea to the Vice-President that “we are a diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that this new administration will not protect us.”

Conservatives were understandably angered by the  disrespect shown Mr. Pence (though the VP himself responded with perfect class), and now some have retaliated in the worst possible way.

The audience member, who was sitting in the balcony, reportedly shouted, “We won! You Lost! Get over it! F*ck you!” during the number “Dear Theodosia.”

One Twitter user, BroadwayWorld notes, claims that the disrupter ended up in a conflict with security prior to being removed from the theater

Go here to read the rest.

Crassness aside (not to mention the fact that this wasn’t even the same group of actors who insulted Mr. Pence), this makes me angry. I hate this kind of thing, no matter who does it. When you go into a theater, you’re there to enjoy the show. That’s something that goes across all lines of ideology (unless you just hate the show, of course, in which case what are you doing there?). Anyone can enjoy good music and a good story, and a ton of people on all sides of the political spectrum love Hamilton (I haven’t seen the show, but the music is awesome). You have no right to disrupt a performance that a lot of people have taken the time and spent the money to attend in order to make a crass political statement.

Probably a lot of people in the audience are on your side, but whether there is a single person in the theater who voted for Trump or not, you do not burst in on their hours of entertainment trying to disrupt the show they paid to see in order to insult and attack them. You are injuring them, embarrassing your own cause, and showing yourself to be a gross, uncivilized, and selfish human being.

For pete’s sakes, this is the kind of crap the Black Lives Matter morons pull: barging in on people who are minding their own business and trying to shove your political message down their throats. It is unacceptable in a civilized society. We’ve just spent two weeks cringing and laughing at the other side’s undignified breakdown: let’s not join in now. I hope and pray that no other Trump supporters do crap like this, and that my fellow conservatives will join me in condemning them as loudly as we can.

The Dangers of Attacking Hypocrisy

There’s nothing more popular these days, either in the Church or the surrounding culture, than attacking hypocrisy or moral pride: Pope Francis talks about it all the time, and slinging accusations of it back and forth has become something of a pastime among Catholics of differing traditions. Of course, the Other Side uses it as a “shut up criticism free” card whenever anyone dares to criticize their behavior or suggest that perhaps their way of life isn’t the most conducive to health and happiness.

I think this is a very dangerous state of affairs for the Church, and that we seriously need to downplay this kind of talk, especially with regards to one another.

fred_barnard07

“Seeing as I am so very ‘umble…”

In David Copperfield we have one of Dickens’s more interesting villains; Uriah Heep. Heep is a man of lower class and oily manners, constantly talking about how “’umble” he is and affecting submissive manners towards his social superiors. Before long, however, it becomes clear that Heep is an ambitious, selfish, amoral man whose humility is a blind that he uses to manipulate and control those around him. In fact, he loathes the rich, well-mannered, ‘respectable’ people, like Copperfield himself. He is eaten up with envy and considers all their good manners, morals, and ‘respectability’ to be nothing but pride and hypocrisy.

To take another literary villain, consider George Wickham in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, who blames Darcy for the ‘pride’ that led Darcy to refuse to continue supporting him after he had already given him several thousand pounds, which Wickham had squandered on immoral, lascivious, and idle living. Wickham likewise accuses Darcy’s sister of being proud because she had come to her senses in time to avoid being seduced by him. Basically, ‘proud’ to Wickham means ‘anyone who presumes to be more moral than is convenient to me.’

Now, neither Dickens nor Austen lacks for examples of real pride, snobbishness, and hypocrisy. In David Copperfield we have the merciless Murdstones, the snobbish Steerforths, and the cruel Mr. Creakle. In Pride and Prejudice we have the haughty Lady Catherine, the unctuous and ridiculous Mr. Collins (who is offended by Elizabeth’s refusal of his marriage proposal), and the snobbish and hypocritical Bingley sisters, who look down on everyone they consider below their circle, despite the fact that their money all comes from trade. But both authors had the moral subtlety to know that those who lack morals, or who are deficient in that line, very often compensate themselves and sooth their own self-loathing by accusing their superiors of being proud, hypocritical, and self-righteous.

So there is a great danger in warning against moral pride and self-righteousness; the danger is that it is extremely easy to accuse anyone with any morals of having that particular sin. Practically any act of virtue, prudence, or good-judgment is sufficient to render an accusation of self-righteousness plausible.

I’m not, of course, saying that there is no such thing as self-righteousness or that we shouldn’t be on guard against it. What I am saying is that we should be extremely hesitant to either make that accusation or believe one that is made by others. We should be very careful when and how we bring it up. To speak against clear, easily-defined sins is far safer (for our own spiritual wellbeing) and, without a doubt, far more needed in our current world.

Moreover, to speak against moral pride is easy; as I say, everyone does it, and everyone feels confident that they know someone who has it. Very few people feel ‘attacked’ by it (unless specifically directed at them), and those who do tend to be sufficiently morally aware not to resent it. Most of us, when we hear a lecture on moral pride, can take refuge in the assumption that we are decent people who bear no one any ill will (meaning that we feel fairly calm and amiable at the moment) and easily redirect the admonition to our neighbor who dared to lecture us on our parenting techniques the other day.

To speak against one of the favorite sins of the moment, such as fornication, pornography, laziness, self-indulgence, abortion, homosexuality, and so on, however, is another story. These are things that either you do or you don’t; if you do, you can’t hide from that fact by a pleasing self-assessment or fob it off as being directed at someone else. They are concrete facts, and your only two options are to reject the admonition outright (which is uncomfortable in itself) or to regret that you did such things. In either case, I believe it to be far more useful in awakening the conscience than attacks on hypocrisy and spiritual pride, though these may be the deadlier sins.

Now, I know some of you are thinking “But Jesus attacked hypocrites all the time! In fact, He was much harsher with them than with anyone else.” Yes, but we must remember two things: first, Jesus could look into men’s hearts and know that they were hypocrites: we can’t. Second, Jesus never hesitated to call out the more prosaic sins either, but these were more or less common knowledge at the time: everyone knew them. No one had to be told that stealing, fornication, adultery, and self-indulgence were wrong, but they did need to be told that a rotten interior life necessitated repentance as well. That is not the case of the modern world. Today, everyone knows the importance of the interior life, but comparatively few people know or understand the basic principles of practical wisdom. We don’t need to be told not to be hypocrites as much as we need to be told not to be selfish, greedy, lustful, and lazy. These days the story of the publican and the Pharisee would almost be reversed: the publican would pray “I thank you Lord that at least I am not a hypocrite like that Pharisee over there! I may steal, extort, sleep around, and laugh at my neighbors’ pain, but at least I’m not a hypocrite!”

This doesn’t mean we need to be ‘flinging accusations’ around or anything; only that when we talk about morality, we should focus on warning against the specific, unmistakable sins more than the vague, non-concrete ones. Not that we should ignore these (they are, as noted, among the most dangerous), but that we should be careful about how we approach them. Besides, a man only becomes aware of his spiritual pride by being aware of his real sins: if he’s able to ignore them, he likely won’t be aware of his own hypocrisy. To be aware that we commit real and disgusting sins regularly, and that we want to do so is to recognize that we are not a very fine person after all. To awaken a man to the obvious sins is also to awaken him to his pride. Not always, but I think far more often than a direct attack on spiritual pride does.

In short, to warn against hypocrisy is at least as dangerous as a simple condemnation of obvious sins. We should warn against both, but the latter should be much more the focus of our efforts, while the former should be approached with great caution lest we encourage the very thing we seek to cure.

 

Ethics Test

I’m sure we’ve all heard people saying something along the lines of, “I don’t need religion: I can decide for myself what is right and wrong.”

A few questions regarding that:

Do you actually decide for yourself what is right and wrong, in the sense of having a real standard that you strive to live up to and which you believe to be a real representation of a universal moral law?

How often does your idea of ‘right’ correspond with what you happen to want to do at that moment?

How often does your idea of ‘wrong’ demand a real sacrifice from you or deny you a real pleasure?

How often does your idea of ‘good’ demand a real sacrifice from you or require a real effort of will to live up to?

How often does your idea of right and wrong put you at odds with your family, your friends, or the culture at large?

Have your idea of ‘good’ ever led you to improve anyone else’s life in a concrete way?

How often do you actually have the opportunity to do the things you consider to be wrong?

Does your idea of right and wrong present you with an honest ideal that you can strive towards?

Is your idea of right and wrong used more often for directing your own behavior or criticizing that of other people?

Where does your idea of right and wrong come from? Do you know what the great moral teachers of the past have to say on the subject?

Is there any aspect of your life where the laws of right and wrong simply do not apply?

While you’re considering your answer to those questions, ponder the following quote by Theodore Roosevelt:

“Yes, I know all the excuses. I know that one can worship the Creator and dedicate oneself to good living in a grove of trees, or by a running brook, or in one’s own house, just as well as in church. But I also know as a matter of cold fact the average man does not thus worship or thus dedicate himself. If he strays away from church, he does not spend his time in good works or lofty meditation. He looks over the colored supplement of the newspaper.”