A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Moral Pride

Here's an interesting Niebuhr quote I found in The Nature and Destiny of Man. This is a move to relativize us not a call to find some other absolute; not a common but needed function of religion.
Moral pride is revealed in all self righteous judgments in which the other is condemned because he fails to conform to the arbitrary standards of the self. Since the self judges itself by its own standards it finds itself good.

It judges others by its own standards and finds them evil, when their standards fail to conform to its own. This is the secret of the relationship between cruelty and self righteousness. When the self mistaks its standards for God's standards it is naturally inclinced to attribute the essence of evil to non conformists.

The character of moral pride is described in the words of St.Paul: "They have the zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of God's righteouesness and going about to establish their own righteousness they have not submitted themselves onto the righteousness of God."

Moral pride is the pretension of finite man that his highly conditioned virtue is the final righteousness and that his relative moral standards are absolute. Moral pride thus makes virtue the very vehicle of sin, a fact which explains why the New Testament is so critical of the righteous in comparison with sinners.

The final proof that man no longer knows God is that he does not know his own sin. The sinner who justifies himself does not know God as judge and does not need God as Saviour. It involves us in the greater guilt. It is responsible for our most serious cruelties, injustices and defamations against our fellowman.

3 Comments:

At 9:10 AM , Blogger Bill Baar said...

Where do you find the moral pride? I'm guessing you have examples in mind.

Nieburhr wrote this, in Why the Church Is Not Pacifist (p133 from the reprint in Loconte's The End of Illusions)

It is rather remarkable that so many modern Christians should believe that Christianity is primarily a "challenge" to man to obey the law of Christ; whereas it is, as a matter of fact, a religion which deals realistically with the problem presented by the violation of this law. Far from believing that the ills of the world could be set right "if only" men obeyed the law of Christ, it has always regarded the problem of achieving justice in a sinful world as a very difficult task. In the profounder version of the Christian faith the very utopian illusions, which are currently equated with Christianity, have been rigorously disavowed.

Niebuhr was taking a shot at the then pillars of Liberal Christianity over at Christian Century who's moral pride lead the to believe FDR was failing in to obey Christ's way and warmongering against Germany and Japan.

My experience with Evangelicals today is their completely preoccupied with those who have failed the law. Go to a mega Church and you'll find a host of support groups for people who've failed... no one claiming a moral high ground for sure... in fact sometimes I wonder if they're not overstating their failures just to insure they're not caught in the Moral Pride cohort.

 
At 9:48 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

I think it cuts across the church and society from marxists to the neo-cons to any forms of absolutism. I think that you'd find it in the church conflicts where folks speak of "irreconciable differences" in particular.

To the degree that folks left or right believe they have access to the mind of God on these issues is to the degree that this quote is a criticism directed at them. But being on the right or wrong side (say what happened in the WWII debates) is not.

Btw Niebuhr himself was a protestant liberal of a sort (Hauerwas goes after him for this in his book Against the Grain) but his critiques have saliency for us because of this fact. (especially as you're a UU reading him, I'm Disciples, we're getting things from his writings).

 
At 1:40 PM , Anonymous wesmenno said...

This is the greatest danger of church folk, INCLUDING liberals.

We accept some tenet or even expression as our lodestar, and then demonize those who do not accept it, however well meaning they may be.

 

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