The Myth of Christian Humility: A Commentary

As is often the case, there seems to be a degree of confusion about what I meant in my previous post “The Myth of Christian Humility”. I’ll attempt to clarify some things here. First and foremost, the post was a polemic. Meaning, I deliberately stated things in a very forceful, at times overly simplistic, manner. I make no apologies for that, for I think it is appropriate in certain contexts to overstate and oversimplify one’s position in order to make a point.

  • When I speak of “Christians” and “Atheists”, I am speaking of abstract ideal types. That means there are no Atheists or Christians in the way I describe them. These are idealizations to make a point. Yes, I do think many Christians err in ways similar to those I attribute to “Christians” in the piece, and I do think many Atheists tend to moreso exhibit the kind of virtues I extol of them in the piece, but these are very broad generalisations subject to many exceptions and complexities.
  • When I say “The Christian worships their own ego”, I do not mean that they think they are the greatest thing in the world. Nor do I mean that they arrogantly force their beliefs on others. My point is nothing to do with their mannerisms or personality. They can be (indeed in my experience often are) the nicest people in the world. By ‘ego’, I simply mean the self, and by ‘worship’, I mean that they place it as primary, treat it as foundational. In other words, they treat their own subjective experiences and interpretations of events and words as clearly indicative of the existence and nature of God. Such people, in may experience, tend not to care much or devote much (or any thought) to other possible interpretations of their experiences, limitations of human perception, biases of thought, disagreement from those with differing religious experiences. They privilege their own subjective experiences above all else. That is what I mean when I say ‘they worship their own ego’.
  • When I say that a Christian claims to “know this or that”, I do not mean that they literally have zero doubt, or admit to perfect and absolute knowledge. Rather, I am saying that the ideal type of Christian I am speaking of in this piece does so. In reality, Christians may admit to varying degrees of doubt, but may point is that they still are generally far too confident given the actual weakness of the evidence they have, and (in the case of the “deficient” Christian) the lack of proper thought given to the matter.
  • When I say the Christian “does not care about what is true”, I don’t necessarily mean that if you asked them they would say they didn’t care about the truth of their beliefs. I mean that they behave in a manner, they form their beliefs in a manner, they are uncritical in such a manner that seems indicative of not caring about the truth, just as one who carelessly does a math problem may claim to care about the right answer, though their behaviour suggests otherwise.
  • When I say “the Atheist attempts, to the best of their ability, to adhere to the Golden Mean of human reason”, I am again using an ideal type. Most atheists, of course, do no such thing. Most atheists, in my experience, are roughly as dogmatic and unreflective as many religious people. I use the term ‘atheist’ because I am deliberately setting up a binary opposite of the “Christians” spoken of earlier in the piece. I think that a careful, intellectually honest, rigorous atheist thinker does, to a degree, emulate the ideal “Atheist” I have described here, but most self-described atheists do not. Hence, for instance, when I say “they answer cautiously…”, I do not literally mean this is what most atheists actually say. It is what the ideal “Atheist” says, that type of Atheist who in my view exhibits the proper intellectual virtues, as distinct from the “Christians” who do not.
  • Needless to say, I do not mean that atheists really worship the Roman god Veritas. This is a metaphor for always carefully, honestly striving to find the truth. Christians can and should do this to, and indeed they can often do a better job than self-described atheists.

You may think that some of my comments here undermine the original post, or seem very different from what I say there. I don’t agree. The original post is attacking what I call a myth: the myth of Christian Humility. In order to tackle that myth and demonstrate its falsity, I wrote a polemic piece constructing, in a small way, a mythology of my own, involving the fictional idealizations of “Christians” and “Atheists”. I think this new ‘mythology’ has more than a grain of truth to it, but nonetheless I do not intend it to be taken literally. I intend this new mythology to be a framework for looking at the claim of Christian intellectual humility in a new light, and in the process (I hope) providing a strong critique of this notion.

 

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