Misplaced Humility

I am reading through Orthodoxy a second time – and yes, it is even better the second go round – and one of the points that Chesterton makes is that of humility being put in exactly the wrong place.

But 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.

The chapter title from which I am quoting is aptly named “The Suicide of Thought”. In the preceding chapter Chesterton expresses his dismay at the popular exhortation that “you will do well if you believe in yourself”. Ha! I have always cringed at this exhortation myself. For the life of me, I don’t even know what it means. To believe is to have faith. I know how to have faith in God or even (to a certain extent) faith in others; but I have no idea how to have faith in myself. As Chesterton so wonderfully says,

Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Supermen. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.

It is exactly this conviction in one’s own abilities that Chesterton is referring to when he says that humility is in the wrong place. Instead of being a bit unsure of our own abilities, we are extremely unsure of our own beliefs. We have “opinions” and “points of view”, but never a conviction; and it is here that dogmas cease and religion (not to mention mankind) is weakened at its core. Without conviction the Creed becomes an embarrassment. There is nothing quite so pathetic as “it is my opinion that God became man for us men and for our salvation.” You might as well be honest and say, “it might be true that God became man, I’m really not sure.” To which the candid atheist might reply, “then you admit that you might be delusional.” Chesterton could not put it better when he says,

At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. 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. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern skeptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance.

Take that post-modernist scum!


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