Saturday, September 14, 2019


I listened to a professional historian being interviewed who claimed that a man's honor in previous centuries was largely a matter of protecting his rank or social status.

There is a type of reductionism which says that all romantic love is but lust disguised; that charity is always either guilt, tribal solidarity, or sentimentality; or that fear, greed, and pride are the real foundations of work and human achievement.

I don't want to refute such ideas so much as hold them to the same standard of scrutiny.  Yes, it is true that many of our ancestors aspired to honor and defended their honor for selfish reasons.  In fact, that was known at the time, as writers reveal to us that there were men who were "touchy" about their honor, and overquick to defend themselves because they dimly knew they were dishonorable. Folk wisdom has long cautioned the young against confusing passion with true affection. The New Testament spends a fair bit of energy warning us against doing "good" things for bad reasons. Why is this cynicism considered some new revelation, to shout down the better natures of others?

What a small, impoverished world the reductionists live in, to be the only noble souls in a world of sinners.  Even if they grant better motives to circle of their own, they must see themselves as swimming in a polluted sea all their days.


Texan99 said...

I give it the C.S. Lewis test of "whom would you rather play cards with?" Someone whose honor is suspect, because he has it confused with status and shallow self-esteem, or someone who doesn't believe honor is important to begin with?

It amazes me how easy it is to make this mistake: rejecting something valuable because we've seen examples of people pursuing it badly or without perfect success. We so often barely pause to think through the worse example of people not pursuing it at all.

Hypocrisy is a bad, bad trap, but we'd almost always do better to take it as a lesson for ourselves than as a ground for rejecting someone else's professed religion or ethics root and branch--as if no one in history--as if we ourselves--had never shed disrepute on our own professed religion or ethics.

Aggie said...

I often wonder why it is that so many people find it difficult or unworthwhile to aspire to something better. Even if the 'something better' is just an attitude or a collection of beliefs, or a healthy sense of imagination. Thinking doesn't make you sweat or injure you, or even cost anything. And yet.....

Korora said...

From The Pilgrim's Regress:
Reason: They indeed will tell you that their researches have proved that if two things are similar, the fair one is always the copy of the foul one. But their only reason to say so is that they have already decided that the fairest things of all ... are a mere copy of this country. They pretend that their researches lead to that doctrine: but in fact they assume that doctrine first and interpret their researches by it.
John: But they have reasons for assuming it.
Reason: They have none, for they have ceased to listen to the only people who can tell them anything about it.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thank you. I knew my thinking was strongly influenced by CSL on this point, but you have picked what is perhaps the best of the quotes.