Thursday, May 26, 2016

Self-Righteous Isn't Righteous

If you focus your awareness only upon your own rightness, then you invite forces of opposition to overwhelm you. This is a common error. Even I, your teacher, have made it.Children of Dune, Frank Herbert 

The opposite of faith is not doubt, it's certainty.—Annie Lamott

Never confuse righteousness with self-righteousness. They sound similar, but they are opposites. The righteous see the good in people, the self-righteous only the bad. The righteous make you feel bigger, the self-righteous make you feel small. The righteous praise; the self-righteous criticize. The righteous are generous, the self-righteous, grudging and judgmental. The righteous are humble, the self-righteous are proud. The righteous understand doubt, the self-righteous only certainty. 

Once you know the difference, keep far from the self-righteous, who come in all forms, right and left, religious and secular. Win the respect of people you respect, and ignore the rest.
—Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
In "Bookends: Are There Any Unforgivable Sins in Literature?" Rivka Galchen tackles self-righteousness.
For me, the unforgivable sin in literature is the same as that in life: the assumption of certainty and the moral high ground. That words like “righteous” and “pious” are often used to suggest the contrary of their original meaning is ­telling. . . 
But sometimes it’s difficult not to be certain. On more days than I’d like to admit, I find myself walking down the street in an all-too-certain righteous rage about other people’s righteousness; I’ll read an essay or story with horrified suspense as it delivers some sermon on a mount, but then I myself indulge in assured despising — that’s a sin, too. I admire a pope who says, “Who am I to judge?” and a book that reads as if thinking is something ongoing, not something that is ever absolutely done.
Although Jewish, she was exposed to two types of preachers. One called her a "heathen," even though she knew the New Testament better than he did; the other, a beloved supplier of pizza. 
Pizza Preacher said some Christian thinkers had argued that there couldn’t really be unforgivable sins, because that would mean that a person could do something that limited God’s will — limited God’s ability to forgive. That seemed wrong, right? Surely that couldn’t be the case.
I have a number of wince-inducing memories of my forays into self-righteousness, from my five-year-old youth to my 20-year-old stupidity to my really-should-know-better current age. When I try to remember the sensation that took hold of me at those times was my absolute conviction in what I saying or thinking.
Having resolute assurance is . . . well, nice. There's none of my default, debilitating dithering over my actions. I'm not second-guessing my words for once, debating if I had spoken too hastily with excess emphasis. Being adamant has the emotional equivalent of warm fuzziness. 

But we are not here to be sure of ourselves. We aren't supposed to be, until the day we die. Pirkei Avos says so.   

Sigh. Bye-bye, warm fuzziness.  

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