Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Great Sin

A redated post.

C. S. Lewis on Pride: The Great Sin
I first read Mere Christianity when I was 18 years old. At the time, I was between my freshman and sophomore years of college, and had spent much of my time until then in the Arizona competitive chess scene. (Just so you know, the competitive chess scene, especially amongst teenagers, is not a hotbed of humility).
In addition, I have spent much of my life since in pursuit of achievement, especially intellectual achievement. So this chapter of Mere Christianity was a like a hard kick in the stomach.
Today many people with a “psychology” orientation would say that “self-esteem” is very important.
Aristotle said that humility is a vice.
27 years ago, I wrote a sermon counterbalancing was an overstated case in this chapter. However, a properly balanced chapter on this subject would not have had the impact on me that the actual chapter did.
I should warn you that those who know me best might tell you that I am the last person on earth to be lecturing anybody about humility.
Further, the Christian tradition’s emphasis on humility effectively demolishes the theory that Christianity is the product of wishful thinking. Who would want this to be the main sin of the human race?

Lewis: this is where Christianity morality differs from other moral ideas.
No one except Christians ever admits to this vice.
However, no one who is not a Christian ever shows any mercy towards it on others. No fault makes a man more unpopular, but we are unconscious of it in ourselves.
The virtue is pride or self-conceit, and the opposite virtue is humility.
This, not chastity, is the center of Christian morality. This is the essential vice, the utmost evil. It was through pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to all other vice. It is the complete anti-God state of mind.

(One time I mentioned to a class of students at the University of Illinois that there were 18 or so full-time faculty members at the U of I, and that as far as I knew 17 of them were atheists. One student raised his hand and said “Those atheists in your department, do they think of themselves as the supreme beings?” I was not quick enough to say “not all of them.”)

If you want to know how proud you are ask: “How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?” The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride. Pride is essentially competitive, while other vices are competitive only by accident. Pride takes no pleasure out of having some thing, only out of having more of it than the next man has.

The sexual impulse may cause two men to want the same girl. However, pride will cause a man to take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but because he wants to prove he is a better man than you are.

Why do wealthy people want to make more money? Pride, and lust for power. Why does a girl spread misery by collecting admirers? Pride. Why does a political leader or whole nation go on and on, demanding increasingly? (This is my last territorial demand-Hitler.) Pride again.

Pride causes enmity because it is enmity. In addition, it is enmity toward God, as well as toward others. If you are always looking down, you cannot look up.

Why are people who are obviously eaten up with Pride say they believe in God and appear very religious? They are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing before a phantom God, but are really imagining how much this God approves of them and thinks them better than ordinary people. (VR: Pharisee’s prayer: I thank God that I am not as other men.)

Whenever we think that our religious life makes us better than other people, we are being acted on not by God but by the Devil.

The real test of being in the presence of God is that you see yourself as a small dirty thing or you forget about yourself altogether. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

Teachers appeal to a boy’s pride or self-respect, to get him to behave decently, you can even overcome other sins through an appeal to pride. (VR: I’m not sure about this one). However, the devil is happy with that, he is happy to cure your chilblains by giving you cancer.

However: Pleasure in being praised is not pride. Vanity, the pursuit of the praise of others, is a kind of pride, but it is the kind that is least bad—at least you care about what someone other than yourself thinks.

One should be glad that one has pleased another, and even more glad that one has pleased God. VR: I should think, as well, that one should be pleased to have achieved any worthwhile goal.

Someone can be “proud” of a son, or father, or school, or regiment, etc. If we mean admiration, then that is not a sin. However, if you give yourself airs because of it that is a sin.

God does not forbid Pride because it offends God’s own pride, but because God wants you to know Him, and your pride gets in the way.

Lewis says he wishes he could tell us what it is really like to get free from pride.

A truly humble person would not be a self-denigrating person; he would simply be a cheerful person who was very interested in what you said to him.

First step toward humility? Realize that you are proud.

31 comments:

Steven Carr said...

Luke 18:11
'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.'

The message of the Bible is - do not thank God that you are not a robber, an evil doer or an adulterer - the praise belongs to you alone.

You are the person you should thank, not God.

Of course, the real message of the Bible is that people who belong to other religions are not to be praised, even when they are thanking God for their salvation and redemption.

M. Ross Fergus said...

Interesting decontextualization there Steven. How about we look at the verse IN context?

Luke18:10-14
10"Two men (N)went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

11"The Pharisee (O)stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.

12'I (P)fast twice a week; I (Q)pay tithes of all that I get.'

13"But the tax collector, (R)standing some distance away, (S)was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but (T)was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'

14"I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; (U)for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

It seems verse 14 contradicts your conclusion. The point of these verses is to show that one's recognition of one's sin and repentance is what justifies.

Steven Carr said...

Look at the verse in context? The way Victor removed the context of the Pharisee thanking God that he was not a robber? What a horrible thing to thank God for!

The Pharisee was clearly repentant. If he knew he was righteous (what Plantinga would call a properly basic belief), he clearly had followed God's rules about repenting for sin

The passage is simply a denigration of other religions. Other religions have sincere believers, so Christianity has to pretend that they are not really sincere at all - that it is all just show, that deep down they are wicked, sinful , boastful people.

If Christianity did not do that, they would see how unjust it was for God to send sincere believers of other religions fo Hell.


Christians like to feel superior to the Pharisees, although the Pharisees tried to follow God's laws as well as they could, so they condemn the Pharisees, even when the Pharissees were praising and thanking God for strengthening them when they were tempted by theft, or adultery.

Only Christianity would condemn whole groups of people, Pharisee being just one group, without ever having met one personally.

Many Christians though, rise above the level of their religion, and practice true tolerance, and respect.

Jason said...

Speaking as someone who goes out of his way to give credit where credit is due to even the Pharisees in the anecdotes of the Gospel accounts (and as the undisputed reigning advocate of Christian universalism on this board, I think it's safe to say {g}): M. Ross is right, Steven--you're reading it out of context.

1.) The story isn't about conflict against advocates of other religions. The story contexts are entirely about an inter-Jewish conflict, between what can be accurately described as two schools of rabbinic thought--and even, in some ways, between two schools of _Pharisaical_ thought. Leaving aside the special authority claims of Jesus, it can be compared to a dispute among Arminian and Calvinist Christians. (I don't mean in topic, but the level is basically similar.)

2.) Insofar as outsiders have any relevance to the story at all, they would in fact be represented by the tax-collector: a stock figure in rabbinic discourse for a traitor at every level to God who is to be treated _at best_ as a pagan. The canonical use of the tax-collector recognizes this stock usage, pointedly for the purpose of making an _opposite_ use of the figure--pretty much exactly in line with what you were complaining _wasn't_ being done in the texts.

_That's_ the textual context, which anyone who is going to be discussing or criticising needs to take into account. (I mean yeesh, even little 4-year-old kids are taught in Sunday School that tax-collectors represent ethically shunned traitors to God, whom Jesus and therefore God _specially loves and accepts_--for doing which Jesus caught major flack from the oppressive and powerful theocratic ultra-_conservative_ religiously exclusivistic Jewish teaching authorities in His day. You _do_ know who _those_ were, right?)

To which I can add:

3.) Actually, the Talmudic material (passed along by Jews for Jews) is way hugely more emphatic about the pride of Pharisees (and their immediate rabbinic successors) in their special and exclusive righteousness, than anything found in the canonical Gospel accounts (as difficult as that may be to believe). Including this story. But anyone familiar with those claims _within the Judaism of the time_ (as the original hearers would be), would instantly recognize this Pharisee as belonging to that group of those who have religious pride in themselves. (One identifying tag is the otherwise odd phrase "praying to himself".) You can blame the Jews for coming up with _that_ stock figure, not the Christians.

Ironically, it was the advocates of that kind of exclusive religious pride in themselves and their own self-importance, who eventually won the inter-Jewish rabbinic conflict, and dominated the Jewish scene for several hundred years afterward. It isn't reflective of Judaism today for the most part (even among orthodox conservatives, so far as I've ever heard), and hasn't been for maybe a thousand years or so--although the echoes are kept alive (and strongly so) within the Jewish Talmudic material itself.


4.) One of the reasons I _am_ (generally) so favorable to those outside the fence (so to speak), is because of parables like this one. I have lived among (and in many ways _as_) conservative Christianity all my life, and I have never _once_ seen any teacher make any use of this parable to argue that other religions are condemned by God, and so should be condemned by us. (Believe me, they have other prooftexts to bring out when they want to make that point.)

The lesson that even rank mouth-breathing fundy Christians are routinely taught concerning _this_ parable, is that _they should not consider themselves to be better than the religious outsiders_--and for damn sure (so to speak) not because of things like tithing and other religious 'observances'.

Now, a good case can be made that many Christians don't remember this lesson, or incorporate it very well, when it comes time for them to formulate doctrines about the grace and provenance of God--it contrasts directly against the gnosticism (and even heathenism) endemic in the Church. Nevertheless, it's the Gospel text in this case which is speaking over against the Christians you are deriding so much.

And if you weren't so busy trying to oppose everything you can find to oppose in Christian belief, and actually tried to pay some of that respect to other religions which you're deriding those Christians for not having, you might have been able to figure that out and make use of it yourself in this case.


Jason

Anonymous said...

Steven,

your persistent, errant waffle never ceases to surprise and confound.

Steven Carr said...

Jason writes about tax collectors '... a stock figure in rabbinic discourse for a traitor at every level to God who is to be treated _at best_ as a pagan'

What on earth is wrong with the Pharisees treating tax collectors like pagans?

Jesus would have approved of treating tax collectors like pagans.

Matthew 18:17 'If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.'

It has often been remarked that Jesus talks awfully like a Pharisee at times.

Steven Carr said...

Jason writes 'One identifying tag is the otherwise odd phrase "praying to himself".)'

I'm not sure what is wrong with praying to yourself. It does not seem such an odd phrase to me.

The Pope, for example, often prays quietly to himself.

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0504/02/bn.07.html

'No, to himself, absolutely, just praying to himself quietly. You probably wouldn't even notice if you just didn't see a rosary in his hand or sort of mumbling of his lips.'

In fact, many Christians consider that they should have the right to pray to themselves

http://www.purdueexponent.org/2000/04/18/opinions/letters.html

'Earlier this semester I had heard of some students' objection to a professor praying to himself before a lecture. These students had considered this discrimination. I do not consider a professor saying a prayer in a class, either large or small, to be a discriminating act. In our society, it might be classified as an "expression". As a Christian, prayer is a necessity.'

Of course, such a charitable interpretation of 'praying to himself' is not to be extended to Pharisees.

Jason said...

{{It has often been remarked that Jesus talks awfully like a Pharisee at times.}}

{sigh} INCLUDING BY ME! INCLUDING IN MY OWN COMMENT!! (This persistant refusal to pay any real attention to what people write to you, is why even _I_ say harsh things of you sometimes.)

Of course, I mean something more nuanced than you do--since in _this_ case when you bring up 'talking like a Pharisee' it's supposed to be something bad; whereas elsewhere the Christians are to be denounced for criticising the Pharisees.

Apparently, the principle you're sharing in both cases is: use whatever stick looks handy to flail with, so long as the Christian of the moment is being opposed.

{{What on earth is wrong with the Pharisees treating tax collectors like pagans?}}

To begin with, it's unfair to do that when they aren't actually pagans. Next, you yourself have derided the attitude of religious exclusivists who believe in a hopeless condemnation for people based on what they believe (even on what they may not be able to help believing).

I am trying to charitably suppose you weren't merely kidding about that. But when you forget your own contentions at a moment's notice in order to try to oppose something I say, then you make it far more difficult for me to show you any consideration. (Not impossible, but more difficult.)

On the other hand, on the possibility that you might think that a sizeable portion of the Pharisees _weren't_ teaching that, then I suggest you do research into the rabbinic materials. They were, and far more harshly than anything represented of them in the NT.


{{Matthew 18:17 'If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.'}}

Yes... and then how does Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors when He's around them? (Answer: so favorably well that He gets into trouble with the fundy religious authority types. As I specifically said. Which you ignored.)


{{I'm not sure what is wrong with praying to yourself. It does not seem such an odd phrase to me.}}

It isn't, in English; possibly not in other modern Latin/Germanic based languages, either.

In Greek, and in the cultural contexts of the time and place, it would be equivalent to "praying toward one's self".

It's a small thing (as I said); but it fits into the intended situation, coming in from the setup of verse 9: "And He also spoke this parable to some of those having relied on themselves, that they are righteous, and despising the rest."


I'll bet if you asked the pope, he'd agree with me on the interpretation here. {s}


{{Of course, such a charitable interpretation of 'praying to himself' is not to be extended to Pharisees.}}

Not to _that_ Pharisee, based on the setup verse. Again, if you doubt a significant number of rabbis of the period were doing as bad or worse than what is being described here, I suggest you research their own subsequently collected sayings. The NT representations look tame and sane by comparison to what the rabbis are represented as saying _by their own approving allies_.

Or, alternately, you can try taking me seriously when _I_ am the one who is saying that much of what's going on in the canonical stories involves what amounts to an inter-Pharisaical dispute. (This is particularly evident in GosJohn, for instance.)

In fact, it would be nice if you showed the same charity toward the Christian universalist that you denounce the non-universalists for not showing. Especially since I've gone out of my way numerous times in the past to charitably interpret things _you've_ said.

Victor and I are the only Christians on the board who have routinely tried to show you consideration (though there have been others who tried, before they got to know you better). If we disagree with you, it isn't because we're trying to be hostile. But the never-ending hostility on _your_ part becomes grating after a while.

Jason

Steven Carr said...

Jason writes - 'In Greek, and in the cultural contexts of the time and place, it would be equivalent to "praying toward one's self".'

Why then is it not translated like that?

Do you have any other usages of the Greek phrase?

To me, it seems absurd to suggest that Pharisees literally prayed to themselves. I don't know any religious person who does that. Do you?

To me, the passage in Luke just looks like spiteful denigration of adherents of another religion.

Especially if Luke was making the slanderous claim that Pharisees addressed their prayers to themselves.

When I read the New Testament , I am struck by the hate and bile which spews forth. From Matthew 23-24, to 2 Peter calling fellow Christians hateful names, it is pretty horrific to read.

Only Paul seems to show any charity to people he disagrees with. (OK, he does suggest that they castrate themselves, but more often he tries to spread peace)

As an outsider to religion, I see no difference in the portrayal of the two people. One thanks God that he is not a robber, while the other is not even repentant, and just begs for clemency. Why is one act wicked and the other praiseworthy?

I'm sure that if the Pharisee had been portrayed as beating his breast, the way the other person did , that would be seized upon as evidence of his boastfulness.

Why is beating your breast in public not ostentatious behaviour?

I have only ever seen Jimmy Swaggart do that...

Steven Carr said...

To turn back to the topic of pride, what exactly is wrong with boastful praying ,in the eyes of C.S. Lewis?

If you pray boastfully enough, God will answer your prayers and reward you with health and long life.

2 Kings 20

2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, 3 "Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

4 Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: 5 "Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, 'This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.

That , presumably , is how to pray.

Tell God in your prayers what a great person are, what a devoted servant of him you are.

Jason said...

{{I'm sure that if the Pharisee had been portrayed as beating his breast, the way the other person did, that would be seized upon as evidence of his boastfulness.}}

Actually, no. The set-up of the story in verse 9 is the key. No one reading or hearing the story is supposed to be basing their understanding of the meaning based on cues the Pharisee is doing. (Similarly, no one supposes that Caiaphas rending his robes is actually grieving--certainly no reader who was familiar with the family of Annas and its reputation, which is well-established and loathed even by Jewish texts outside the Bible, would believe for a moment that he was doing anything other than putting on a convenient theatric.)

If you're going to criticise against the text, at least try to learn about story design. A complaint more accurate to the story characteristics would be, "Jesus and/or Luke is positing from the outset that this character is a prideful hypocrite who trusts in himself more than God and despises other people." The story runs entirely from that.

Although, for what it's worth, yes the externals could be switched around in various ways, without altering the point. The intent is what makes the difference; also the difference between Hezekiah's account of himself and the Pharisee's. In the case of the Pharisee, the intent is established from the beginning as part of the story. In the case of the tax-collector, the character of his intent is not clarified until the end of the story. The difference for Luke's original audience, is that while they might recognize the Pharisee as the equivalent of a Baptist televangelist stereotype figure, most of them would still be unprepared to see a tax-collector _not_ behaving hypocritically but being honestly repentant instead. (On the other hand, if the first target audience did include people whom Jesus perceived as "trusting in themselves that they were righteous and viewing others with contempt", then they might not be expecting the Pharisee to be a stereotype at all--though if there's an Aramaic equivalent to that difficult Greek phrase, that would give them their first clue.)


Aside to others: notice, please, that I _am_ in fact trying to take his question (itself put rather smirkily) seriously. It would be nice to see this reciprocated, but I suspect it won't be. Sure would be nice to be proven wrong on that expectation eventually... {sigh}


{{Do you have any other usages of the Greek phrase?}}

Yep; it can also be translated (in English) 'to himself'. The point is that this usage would be just as difficult in koine Greek; they didn't have two words with distinct (though related) meanings like we do, "to" and "toward".

{{Why then is it not translated like that?}}

Because it isn't necessary; the lead-in at verse 9 sets up the situation well enough. Plus it would simply look weird to see it rendered that way in English. (For much the same reason, translators almost always render the phrase back in verse 9 as "in themselves" rather than "on themselves", though 'on' is how the preposition actually reads. And there's a reason for that, too, based on contextual use of the time.)

It even looks weird in Greek! The phrase evidently gave copyists a lot of trouble, and plenty of texts don't have it, or have something else instead. I can give a summary report on the textual history of the verse, if anyone actually cares; although it would be kind of pointless to anyone but text geeks (like myself.)

Frankly, the grammar is so peculiar even in Greek, that it occurred to me a minute ago that it might be dittoing a similar phrase from back in verse 9--this would be a recognized stylistic emphasis technique. But I checked; the preposition is different, though the usage still has important links. eph' heautois in verse 9 ("on themselves"--the use of this preposition here has important linguistic connotations when paired with a verb like the one preceding it, pepoithotas), and pros heauton tauta in verse 11.


Again, a modern audience really has to be familiar with the textual situation to appreciate the peculiarity here and its probable implications. To put it mildly, there isn't any point in trying to give a congregation lessons on the nuances and textual history involved. It's simpler to render the phrase in a 'normal' way and rely on verse 9 (which is more important anyway, as well as far more obviously clear) to get the relevant meaning across: this Pharisee isn't really praying to God, except in a merely external way. That's how the story is constructed.

The story construction, consequently, would be like a Baptist preacher making use of a Jimmy Swaggart-ish stock figure for illustrating a more important point (or two such points): people shouldn't do one thing (like the Swaggartish stock figure), but should do something else instead.


{{To me, it seems absurd to suggest that Pharisees literally prayed to themselves.}}

{sigh} No, Steven, the Pharisee isn't _literally_ praying to himself as God. No, neither the writer or the original teller meant it literally like that. Yes, that would be ridiculous for a Pharisee to be doing. But it doesn't change the actual point being made in the story; and the odd phraseology accentuates the set-up information. (Or, rather, it's the other way around, since the set-up verse is probably Luke's introductory comment on the story and its overarching setting.) I suspect the usage is supposed to be wryly humorous; there's quite a bit more of that going on in the canonicals than is commonly recognized.

Recall, please, that I mentioned this _IN PASSING_ originally; the oddness of the phrase helps indicate that a stock figure is being used which would be recognized by _Jewish_ listeners: much the same way as any of several kinds of Baptist would make use of the notorious archetype of a televangelist--precisely _because_ those notorious archetypes are generally Baptist themselves. It's a criticism from within the group toward an element of the group which is giving the group a bad reputation. A Baptist preacher, making a similar point with a similar story, could just as easily drop in a similar phrase to amuse his audience as well as emphasize the criticism: the Swaggarty character may be praying externally aloud to God, and he isn't _literally_ praying toward himself, of course, but he might as well be.


{{To me, the passage in Luke just looks like spiteful denigration of adherents of another religion.}}

I suppose you're never going to listen to any reassurance from someone who has actually studied the work that it isn't; not in the sense that you're meaning. But for whatever it may be worth, I _can_ assure you it isn't meant that way. The fact that the tax-collector is the hero ought to be a sufficient clue that it isn't.

If there's any spiteful denigration going on in the text, it's directed toward a class of people which were notorious for (as the story says) "despising others"--a class _within_ the religious group of the character (Jesus) and writer (Luke).

But even _that_ judgment (about the denigration being merely spiteful) involves ignoring larger story contexts.

Even so: as I said, if you're out to whomp religious exclusivists (and I notice you're not all that keen on trying to be fairly defensive for _them_, when you think you've identified them), then that's actually what this story is about. If you want to complain about Jesus and/or Luke for criticising religious exclusivists, then fine; but at least get your complaints straight.


{{From Matthew 23-24, to 2 Peter calling fellow Christians hateful names, it is pretty horrific to read.}}

Both of which are directed by persons within one group to other persons within the same group. Judaism was a ferociously self-critical religion for a very long time; and Christianity followed suit. Again, if you want to be critical of that yourself, then fine; but get your complaints straight.

And you can demonstrate that _you_ do better than what you're claiming of them, by spending some effort on being charitable toward _them_. Which frankly I haven't seen much of yet from you. Do you think there's no point in being soberly charitable toward them? Then so much for any coherent criticism of them on _your_ part either, for doing what you claim to be the same, as a fault of principle.


In the case of 2 Peter, btw, I suppose you're talking about the second chapter. The criticism is aimed toward a group of people who had joined up from being in a sex cult, the practices of which involved coming up with behaviors as specifically degrading and offensive as possible; and being addicted to those thrills they were now trying to introduce them into the group. A study of the period will show that such groups did exist, and did have a tendency toward syncretism, so the situation being described is realistic. I suppose it's impossible to be sure that the group was actually one of those--maybe Peter is just calling names by describing a group in that way. If you're actually interested in applying charity to your own opponents, though, you might consider that Peter is telling the truth about the character of this group. After which, you can still smoke his head for being so harsh on the poor little sex abusers, if you care to.

Keep in mind, though, that while you may be able to criticise Peter for not being Christian enough--which Luke and Paul themselves occasionally report of him, as well as Jesus Himself in all four canonicals--you can hardly criticise him for not being atheistic enough instead. (So, he would have done better had he been more blindly non-rational and amoral like the ground of reality? He should have been more ruthless in applying a survival of the fittest ethic where those who can do more efficiently can do what they want?)

For you to have any hope of making a point by appealing to ethics, you have to be playing on _their_ ground, and provisionally accepting it, and expecting even your _allies_ (the ones you expect to agree with you and applaud you for making your ethical criticism) to be accepting it, too. Otherwise, so what if reading something makes you feel horror? That's irrelevant, beyond your personal taste preference.


{{As an outsider to religion, I see no difference in the portrayal of the two people. One thanks God that he is not a robber...}}

Like the tax-collector over there? That seem overly peaceful to you?

As an outsider to religion, maybe you really don't know what the common Pharisee line was toward people they considered to be sinners. Though I suspect your memory is being selective, since you show no reluctance to flame the harshness of the OT ethical code, when _that_ seems to serve your purposes. But maybe you really don't know that part of the whole point to Phariseeism was to promote (and enforce where they could on others) a hyper-fidelity to the Law _beyond_ the actual letter of it. Take all those things you reject in the OT ethical code, ramp up the intensity by seven or eight times, and that's what the Pharisee party _as a matter of stated principle_ would have its members, and everyone else, be doing in relation to "swindlers, unjust, adulterers--or even as this tax-collector".

So, by the way, when was the last time you defended the medieval Inquisition against a Baptist preacher's use of them as notorious stereotype in contrast to the favor shown by God to a penitent Mafia thug? _That's_ basically what you're speaking against, here.

(For that matter, I suppose you routinely defend the Inquisition against hateful atheistic and sceptical denigration? It _is_ in fact entirely possible, and even historically truthful, to do so; there were certainly bad apples in the bunch, but they weren't _all_ _that_ bad. I'll be curious to hear any stories of your efforts in this matter in charity toward them.)


Jason

Jason said...

The language, contexts (immediate and extended) and structure of the parable could be gone into very much further. (For instance the tax-collector uses a peculiar phrase which is usually lost in English translation altogether, but references a technical Jewish doctrine regarding the throne of God being a shelter for the penitent--a doctrine important to the Pharisees, the implication being that the tax-collector is actually being a _proper_ Pharisee!)

But perhaps these further two bits will suffice in regard to the present topic. [Hindsight note: actually I go somewhat further than that after all. Sorry. This is what scholars who are actually interested in the material for its own sake do. And I love to study this sort of thing; so...]


Although the text is frequently translated to imply the Pharisee goes home without being justified, that isn't exactly what it reads in the Greek. The emphasis is on the tax-collector being justified above the Pharisee. It doesn't mean that God showed no favor to the Pharisee at all; only that the tax-collector received more favor. This would fit very well into several Synoptic thematics, including the one which closes the parable.


The other point I discovered when I did a cross-reference with someone who knows a lot more about the Pharisees than I do (Alfred Edersheim--a Jewish scholar of ancient and classical Judaism, and convert to Christianity). I was curious to see if he would link the peculiar phrasing to something in the habits of the Pharisees (established outside of scripture, such as in the Talmudic works).

In point of fact, he doesn't; although he does recognize that the phrase as it stands can make no sense in the context and language and culture--not the way it would in English.

His explanation is interesting, and fits together with the notice that the Pharisee was standing. On the face of it, there's no point to include that at all--the Pharisee _couldn't_ have been sitting. Standing was the nominal way of praying in the Temple courts. (He might have prostrated instead, but if his standing had been intended as a contrast to the tax-collector in this regard, the collector would have been portrayed as falling prostrate. Besides, standing was normal; there would have been little reason to connect it to an act of pride on the Pharisee's part--everyone was expected to stand, at attention before God as it were. The Christian Eastern Orthodox routinely do the same today.)

Edersheim suggests that the apparently useless reference to 'standing' is intended to emphasize that the Pharisee is intentionally putting himself apart from the others--this would fit their own methodology and even reason for existence as a party very well. If Jesus is emphasizing this in the story, then the 'to himself' can be read along the same emphasis, as equivalent to the English phrase 'standing over by himself'.

Now, I'm of mixed minds on this as an option. On the one hand, I like how it accounts for a feature of the 'standing' verb; but on the other hand, if that was what Luke intended to translate there were probably other ways for him to have done it smoothly. The construction of the phrase sticks out, for noticing.

But I'm okay either way; I can appreciate the humor of the one, if that was what was intended, and I can appreciate the connection to the Pharisee notion of 'standing apart' (along with a grammatic mistake).

Care to agree on a probable estimate here? (thus demonstrating some charity of your own by doing so?)


One more point. It's difficult for modern readers to appreciate the meaning of the three phrases attributed to the Pharisee here. If _we_ said such things, we'd probably mean them according to their face value (whether we were intending to tell the truth about them or not). But that wasn't exactly how the Pharisees themselves used the phrases. One of the critical claims of a Pharisee _as_ a Pharisee, was that he was not like the Am haArets: the common, unlearned people, about whom they taught as a fundamental principle, "the unlearned cannot be pious". To _be_ a 'Pharisee' per se, was to identify one's self to be superior to others in piety by virtue of one's talent and industry in studying. (The principle being that if one knows more of the Law, then one can keep the Law better; whereas, "This mob which does not know of the Law is accursed".)

Similarly, among themselves the Pharisees (on record in the writings of their own subsequent followers) distinguished themselves as being superior to other Pharisees, based on how often and carefully they fasted and tithed. The 'fasting twice a week' fits exactly into the common practice among rabbis (not exclusive to the Pharisees) of fasting on Mondays and Thursdays (as is still set down in the Talmud, for example at Taan. 12a)--which also happened to be the common market days. (This has a link to the admonition from Jesus, in the Matthaen Sermon on the Mount, that if you're going to be doing your fasting don't make a public show of it. It has a more direct link to a Synoptic story elsewhere about those 'more righteous than the rest' who were criticising Jesus for not holding His followers to the double-weekly fasts. Inter-Pharisaical disputes, remember...)


So when a stock Pharisee is praying "God, I thank You that I am not even like other people!" and "I am fasting twice a week, and I tithe from everything that I am acquiring!", he's saying in effect "God, I thank You that I am not only a Pharisee, but a Pharisee of Pharisees! And this is why I am! (Go me!)" (Note: the phrase 'Pharisee of Pharisees' is itself a stock inter-Pharisee compliment; one wryly used by St. Paul to describe how seriously he used to take his own Pharisee-ness.)

This is how the original hearers would have understood the meaning; because this is how the Pharisees _themselves_ were making use of the meanings. The stock Pharisee-type is being presented as praying the unofficial Pharisee creed as a means of identifying himself, especially over against the publican. While he isn't literally saying "Thank You God that I am a Pharisee of Pharisees!", that's what it amounts to. (He could even have been represented as saying _that_, and it would have actually been somewhat realistic to what the Pharisees were actually doing.)


Does that mean Jesus was death on Phariseeism per se? No, actually not. The phrase which describes the publican leaves open the question of whether the Pharisee might have been made more fair (though not as much) by God as well.

Should we leave that open, for reasons other than sheer charity to the Pharisee? What about the zorching Jesus gives them over in Matt 23?

Actually, as strongly as Jesus is throwing down on the Pharisees in that chapter--using phrases which would be familiar to a student of Phariseeism from their own works later, btw--He nevertheless includes a very strange thing in verse 23:

"Be waiilng, you scribes and Pharisees--hypocrites! For you tithe the mint and the dill and the cummin, while neglecting the weightier provisions of the Law: justice [or fairness], and mercy, and faithfulness. But these are the things you should have been doing, _without neglecting the others_."

Now, the reference to the tithing of spices is well-known (among students of early rabbinic Judaism) as being one of the ways a Pharisee shows how seriously he takes obedience to the Law of God. The typical Christian interpretation is to suppose that Jesus is only saying that they were being overly picky on things that really don't matter, when they should have been doing things that do matter. (Somewhat on the 'straining a gnat and swallowing a camel' motif; which of course is verse 24.)

But that _isn't_ what the verse says. What the verse says doesn't fit that notion at all; and indeed doesn't fit at all into the notion that Jesus (or the writer of GosMatt, if you prefer) was only spouting hateful rejection of someone else's religion. It should be noted, in passing, that what Jesus and/or Matthew is specifically rejecting in this passage, is not the religious form, but ethical practices--the kind of religious exclusivism, in fact, which you yourself are deriding.

What Matt 23:23 shows--and shows so well that many Christians simply ignore the implication--is that Jesus was willing to recognize, not only that there was some sort of real good in the Pharisees doing what _we_ would consider to be a ridiculously little thing, but that He agreed they _should have been_ doing that.

In other words, precisely where we would most naturally expect Jesus to be flatly inveighing against a harmless religious excess, He actually recognizes and agrees that they were right to be doing that.

And yet, He still describes it as straining out a gnat (while swallowing a camel instead). So it is a ridiculously small thing after all--yet, He expected them to be doing it, because they _should_ be doing it.

What does this mean?--that every good follower of God is supposed to be meticulously tithing out even the spices we receive? We're talking about a practice where, when a Pharisee is passed the salt and pepper for his evening meal, he shakes out x amount into his hand, and keeps a tenth of x to be given to God as an offering in the Temple. That's ultra-super picky, isn't it?

Yes--yet there were people who _did_ have the ability to do that. Nominally they were supposed to be doing it as a way of actively loving God, the way a wife might do something finely meticulous as a way of loving her husband. This is part of the tradition, too. Jesus is saying that if they have this ability, then yes they should be doing that--not sheerly because they have the ability (as a justification in itself), but for the same reason they _nominally_ claimed to be doing it: in love of God.

That kind of person will naturally act toward keeping the weightier commandments, too; the ones regarding fairness and mercy and trustworthiness (which is how the word we normally translate 'faithfulness' can be more accurately translated.) And they'll do it for the same reason they tithe stupidly small amounts of nothing--because they truly _love_ that much.

So in GosMatt 23, Jesus isn't even throwing down the wrath on Phariseeism in general. He's _agreeing_ there's something good worth doing in Phariseeism; what's being flamed is a prevalent pseudo-Phariseeism, or corrupted practice, masquerading (that's just about literally what the cognate of 'hypocrite' means) as the real thing.

(This kind of thing helps explain, btw, why rabbis, including some among the Pharisees themselves, kept on being willing to support and help Jesus in the canonical stories. This is especially evident in GosJohn--ironically the last place most people would look nowadays for Jesus and Pharisees getting along well together...)


Now, a truly charitable person will be interested in finding out something like this. (I know _I_ would be, in learning of something similar in the Koran, for instance.) The uncharitable Christian will only want to be seeing Pharisaism zorched across the board, and so will ignore (or reject) the contexts. But the uncharitable sceptic will only want to find any reason he can to zorch what Jesus is doing--and so will ignore (or reject) the contexts.

Let's see if anything truly charitable happens...


Jason

Steven Carr said...

CARR
{{Do you have any other usages of the Greek phrase?}}

JASON
Yep; it can also be translated (in English) 'to himself'. The point is that this usage would be just as difficult in koine Greek; they didn't have two words with distinct (though related) meanings like we do, "to" and "toward".

CARR (now)
I didn't think Jason had any evidence to back up his claim that the Greek meant anything more than what English people mean when they say that the Pope often prays to himself.

Papalinton said...

Fourteen comments in and Apologetics is in overdrive; Luke says this, but ah! Matthew says this; but wait, don't forget Kings and Peter. And don't forget the Pope who prays often with an audience of one.

Sheesh.

From the OP: "Why are people who are obviously eaten up with Pride say they believe in God and appear very religious? "

Because christians have great pride in displaying their virtue of humility.

For those who are really interested in human behaviour start out with Psychology 101. Reading the bible has as much use in understanding the motivations that underpin behaviour or emotional conduct as does studying Adam and Eve for an explanation of evolutionary biology and genetic drift.

B. Prokop said...

Papalinton writes:

"Reading the bible has [no] use in understanding the motivations that underpin behaviour or emotional conduct".

Really? You can say this after reading the story of David and Absalom? Or of the Patriarchs? Or Ruth? Or Job? Or Naaman the Syrian? Or the Prodigal Son? Or the story of Peter's denials? Or of Mary "treasuring these things in her heart"? (etc., etc., etc.)

You don't have to be a believer to appreciate the unbelievable depth of humanity behind such stories, or to stand in awe before their insight.

I'm not arguing for their inspiration just now, just for their value as a window into our innermost feelings. The Bible ranks among the very best of the best, simply as literature, merely as stories about human beings and what makes them tick.

(In fact, thinking it over, I can think of only one book that can hold a candle to the Bible in this regard, and that's Dante's Divine Comedy. And since that's absolutely soaked in biblical imagery, it may not even count as competition.)

Papalinton said...

Bob
"You don't have to be a believer to appreciate the unbelievable depth of humanity behind such stories, or to stand in awe before their insight."

Correct, you don't. No doubt great literature. And for its place in literature the bible is a splendid piece of work, as are the Chinese works such as, Classic of Rites (Lǐjì), or, Commentaries of Zuo (Zuǒzhuàn). And of the Greeks, Aeschylus: The Suppliants, The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, Oresteia; and Sophecles: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Electra and other plays; or Euripides: Alcestis, Medea, Heracleidae, Hippolytus, Andromache, Hecuba, The Suppliants, Electra, Heracles, Trojan Women, Iphigeneia in Tauris, Ion, Helen, Phoenician Women, Orestes, Bacchae, Iphigeneia at Aulis, Cyclops, Rhesus; or Aristophanes: The Acharnians, The Knights, The Clouds, The Wasps, Peace, The Birds, Lysistrata, Thesmophoriazusae, The Frogs, Ecclesiazousae, Plutus.

How about, Etruscan literature: Liber Linteus Zagrabiensis (Linen Book of Zagreb); or Sanskrit: Panchatantra by Vishnu Sarma or Tamill: 3rd century BC to 3rd century AD: Sangam poems.

The bible stories are such a small [but nonetheless important] element in the much wider and grander literary tradition of ancient writings. And it is from this perspective that we must remain mindful of the great and enduring legacy of the creative human mind, and not to funnel down to an unrepresentative focus to one particular tome.

B. Prokop said...

Papalinton,

I have no quarrel with your list. But you implied in your comment that the Bible was useless "in understanding the motivations that underpin behaviour or emotional conduct".

Why your hostility toward that one collection of literature, and none towards the others? Why are you so ready to ascribe value to all these other writings (which they do indeed have), but go out of your way to deny any value to the Old and New Testaments?

Ilíon said...

"Interesting decontextualization there Steven."

Naaa, it's not interesting, it's just Mr Carr being a tro ... it's just Mr Carr being Mr Carr.

Ilíon said...

"(I mean yeesh, even little 4-year-old kids are taught in Sunday School that tax-collectors represent ethically shunned traitors to God, whom Jesus and therefore God _specially loves and accepts_--for doing which Jesus caught major flack from the oppressive and powerful theocratic ultra-_conservative_ religiously exclusivistic Jewish teaching authorities in His day. You _do_ know who _those_ were, right?)"

Um ... would that be like people who disregard certain "unpleasant" truths taught in the Bible, and on that basis condemn "conservative Christians" who do not so disregard these truths, and then go about drawing an incorrect moral equivalency between today's "conservative Christians" and yesterday's (self-proud) "ultra-conservative Pharisees"?

Ilíon said...

"(This persistant refusal to pay any real attention to what people write to you, is why even _I_ say harsh things of you sometimes.)"

LOL

"God, thank you that I am not like those 'exclusivists', like that terrible Ilíon, who say 'harsh things' about those who persistently refuse to reason correctly."

Ilíon said...

"Victor and I are the only Christians on the board who have routinely tried to show you consideration (though there have been others who tried, before they got to know you better). If we disagree with you, it isn't because we're trying to be hostile. But the never-ending hostility on _your_ part becomes grating after a while."

My take on that is that some persons (hint, hint) persist in, and insist upon, lying to themselves about certain other persons, far past the point that lived experience murders charitable considerations.

adc said...

In my view Pride is quite simple to understand. Ever since attaining the knowledge of good and evil - a knowledge apart from God the source of good - man has been attempting to be like God through moral actions. The central animus for this action is essentially Pride.

I am glad that Luke 18:11 was mentioned because it is a prime example. The Pharisee believed himself righteous based on a man made adjustment to God's Law in such a way that made him believe he was capable of keeping the Law. He was then able to excuse himself, and alternately accuse others (the publican). But the Pharisee misunderstood the purpose of the law, just as the nation of Israel had.

When God gave the Ten Commandments, what did the nation of Israel say?

"All that the Lord our God has said, we will do."

Pride. The purpose of the Law, as Paul points out exhaustively (Romans, Galatians, etc) was as "a schoolmaster to bring one to Christ" -- to show the error and inadequacy of human effort to make oneself righteous.

Any truly honest person, such as the publican, will look at the commandments of God, agree that they are good, look at themselves and immediately confess they are incapable of keeping them. And therefore - they need God's grace through Christ. This is the essence of humility. It is not boasting in "good works," but rejecting Satan's lie from the start - that we could be like God through our own knowledge of good and evil -- our own relative moral actions.

The greek word for "Repentance" carries the idea of a 180, or a changing of one's mind. That change is the rejection of human action as the basis of righteousness in exchange for the action of God.

At least, this is what Christians are supposed to believe. But you get a ton of God-damned (And I believe I am using the phrase properly) bullcrap thrown in about "Christian Living" today in most churches called "Christian." It's a direct parallel to what was going on in Paul's day. He preached grace, and then people came along and said, "Ok, that's great - but now you have to abide and keep the law..."

Pride is what makes man think he is capable of keeping God's commandments.

Here's is the simple test for Pride from Matt 22:36-40:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


What kind of a man can claim to have ever achieved the above in any capacity, even for a brief moment? Only a prideful arrogant liar could (like myself at one point). But that's the very kind of man that God loved and took action to save...

Ilíon said...

... and, by the way, Jimmy Swaggart isn't a Baptist. But, what the hey! all us "fundies" are interchangable, aren't we?

Papalinton said...

Hi Bob
"Why your hostility toward that one collection of literature, and none towards the others? Why are you so ready to ascribe value to all these other writings (which they do indeed have), but go out of your way to deny any value to the Old and New Testaments?"


There are a number of reasons:
1. This statement below, a form of intentional disinformation motivated through the ultra-narrow lens of christian apologetics:
"(In fact, thinking it over, I can think of only one book that can hold a candle to the Bible in this regard, and that's Dante's Divine Comedy. And since that's absolutely soaked in biblical imagery, it may not even count as competition.)"

2. It is not the claim of the bible as a piece of literature that is the issue here. That has as ever been a given, by me. And that is its rightful place. It is the shamanic, superstitious, supernatural powers placed on it, analogous to a tome of magic potions and wizardry spells, a tome that can only be handled by experienced religious bomb-disposal experts that can interpret the secret texts 'in the right way'.

3. The denial of context in relation to the vast array of other ancient texts that have pondered the same questions as the bible but have arrived at different perspectives. It is through christian obstinacy and uncompromising stupidity that they have marshaled themselves into a corner, in a fit of rampant denialism, about the importance of humanity's other great literature seeking to explain our common human condition. Might doesn't make right. The numbers of christians in the world has little to say about rightness, but it does say much about the aggressive and malignant nature of its proselytizing regime. There are many instances in history where the meme of salvation has turned horribly wrong as people were lured by its messages. There are many reported instances in Africa of christians and clergy enabling legislation to classify homosexuality as a capital crime, of albino children considered agents of satan, or possessed of the devil, to name just a very few.

4. My response is not to devalue the OT and the NT. Rather it is to place them in the 'correct and proper' perspective. They are no more or no less useful as a source for understanding how our ancestors dealt with the trial and tribulations of living as are any other great text. They all have a lesson to tell, BUT, to rely or refer on one set of texts, to the exclusion of all others, is tantamount to a badly and fatally miscued understanding of humanity. To promote one form of texts [....'only one book that can hold a candle to the Bible'...] to the exclusion of all others, is ignorance, segregationist, separatist, clubbish, akin to a street-gang mentality of 'them and us', a wholly un-ecumenical mind-set. Such thinking brings nothing to the table of a sense of shared humanity. Only secular humanism can do that.

5. Any implied hostility toward the judeo-christian writings is equally apportioned to those who ignorantly consider their religious texts as containing self-actualized supernatural powers additional to the words contained therein.

6. There is more than one way to reach goodness.

B. Prokop said...

Papalinton, you write:

"To promote one form of texts [....'only one book that can hold a candle to the Bible'...] to the exclusion of all others, is ignorance, segregationist, separatist, clubbish, akin to a street-gang mentality of 'them and us', a wholly un-ecumenical mind-set."

No, not at all. I wasn't being separatist, or any other of those things. I was simply ranking great works of literature on their internal merits. The Divine Comedy is arguably the greatest single achievement by one human being in all of history. This is irrespective of its faith content. I am evaluating it solely on its artistic and literary merits, the way one would award the Booker Prize. No ignorance or street gang mentality here.

I will give you credit, however, for softening your probably unintentionally overstated original premise that the Bible was of no value in learning about human behaviour and motivations. Your amended position, "[The Old and New Testaments] are no more or no less useful as a source for understanding how our ancestors dealt with the trials and tribulations of living as are any other great text. They all have a lesson to tell" is far more reasonable.

Papalinton said...

Bob
You say, "I will give you credit, however, for softening your probably unintentionally overstated original premise that the Bible was of no value in learning about human behaviour and motivations."

In review of all my comments on this thread, Bob, it seems I did not, anywhere, state the bible having 'no value' in 'learning about human behaviour and motivations.' Indeed, these words were put in my mouth: ""Reading the bible has [no] use in understanding the motivations that underpin behaviour or emotional conduct"."

No softening I'm afraid. My original premise remains unchallenged: "Reading the bible has as much use in understanding the motivations that underpin behaviour or emotional conduct as does studying Adam and Eve for an explanation of evolutionary biology and genetic drift."

And perhaps more germane to the discussion, is that a foray into the issue of 'pride' from a single perspective, that is, within a judeo-christian frame of reference alone, by this very action, restricts and obtusely denies the validity of the many other great ancient sources of literature that have much to contribute in the matter of 'pride'. The obscurantism of christian apologetics serves no one any good if it is practiced to the exclusion of other and equally authoritative texts about 'pride'. People are intellectually the poorer within such a framework, which can only breed separateness and the perpetuation of ignorance.

B. Prokop said...

Papalinton,

Since you stand by every word of your original statement, "No softening I'm afraid. My original premise remains unchallenged: Reading the bible has as much use in understanding the motivations that underpin behaviour or emotional conduct as does studying Adam and Eve for an explanation of evolutionary biology and genetic drift"., and even clarify it by adding "I did not, anywhere, state the bible having 'no value' in 'learning about human behaviour and motivations.", can we now mark you down as a Creationist, since you are saying (twice now) that a study of Adam and Eve does have value in explaining evolutionary biology?

PhilosophyFan said...

Does anyone else get the feeling that Papalinton just reached into a grab bag of famous literature and pulled the list out of his ***? Man, I had been able to take his 'harsh' posts seriously before, but this is getting more difficult.

Gotta add: I find it so hilariously ironic that he attacks a sort of perceived Pride in calling the Bible great, while defending other views of Pride as a good thing.

Also, I love Chesterton's article on Pride, which I believe I am thinking of Pride: The Supreme Evil but I can't find it readily online (haven't looked too hard though).

Papalinton said...

Bob
Refrain from conflating use with value. Value is an amorphous abstraction, the level of which is directly proportional to personal proclivity. To me the bible has value, as a piece of literature. End of story. To you, it is of enormous value because within out it you are nothing. You existence is proscribed within its edicts. That is the difference we both accord value in the bible.

In living my world I live without the bible as any form of reference to guide me on what is good and right and proper. What is right and good and proper seems to have gelled in me. I don't need the constant reinforcing and weekly re-education camps to go with my being good.

The silliness [and a little contemptuous disdain] in your last comment is taken in quiet humour.

:o)

Papalinton said...

PhilosophyPride
"Does anyone else get the feeling that Papalinton just reached into a grab bag of famous literature and pulled the list out of his ***?"

You are right, I can't say i've read all or most of them, but I'm getting there; and I have years remaining to reach my target.

The irony, as your PhilosophyPride name evokes, is that you probably didn't even know they existed.

You say: "Gotta add: I find it so hilariously ironic that he attacks a sort of perceived Pride in calling the Bible great, while defending other views of Pride as a good thing."

Your intellection and comprehension skills need to be worked on a little more if you are to live up to your name, PhilosophyPride. Perhaps it is your syntactical constuction that introduces ambiguity in your thought. I wasn't defending other views of pride as a good thing. Rather that we should be mindful that the issue of pride has been grappled with by many societies and it would be egregious and triumphalist and arrogant in the extreme to claim that christianity is the sole arbiter on the concept of pride. Yes I derogate christians for their monocular view of the world as it excludes the work of different traditions of the rest of humanity.

B. Prokop said...

I was at first going to just let this lie, having said my piece. But Papalinton's comment "To you, [the Bible] is of enormous value because within out it you are nothing" demands a response.

Once again (as I so often have to do with Papalinton), I must answer, "No, no, no, no, No!" You have gotten everything backwards. Without Jesus I am nothing (and neither is anyone else). the Bible has "enormous" value only insofar as it informs me of and leads me to Him. Otherwise, it would have no greater value than the greatest works of world literature. Its greater value comes not from itself, but from Whom it is about.

(Not preaching, just setting the record straight.)