Bigotry Toward Atheists »« TWO LINES a poem by Edwin Kagin

On Self-Righteousness

KAGIN’S COLUMN

 

Edwin F. Kagin is a lawyer‑poet.  He believes that, through grace and faith,

this will be a regular column and, if events are predestined, that whatever

he believes makes no difference whatsoever.  He can be reached in care of

this publication, or through e‑mail at: edwin@edwinkagin.com

Permission for non-profit reproduction is given, so long as credit is given,

so the villagers will not go after the wrong person with pitchforks and torches.

 

 

                                                    ON SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

 

self-righteous: confident of one’s own righteousness, esp. when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.  Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary.

 

Pretty soon I wanted to smoke, and asked the widow to let me.  But she wouldn’t.  She said it was a mean practice and wasn’t clean, and I must try not to do it anymore….And she took snuff too; of course that was all right, because she done it herself.  Huckleberry Finn.

 

The self-righteous are everywhere, trying to control our lives.  With the zeal of reformed nymphomaniacs peddling AmWay, they freely vend their negative judgments on the behavior and opinions of others.  Unable or unwilling to control themselves and their unhappy lives of frustration, insecurity, and despair, these petty dictators seek solace in desperately attempting to control others. For they are right.  Those who disagree with their toxic tyranny are clearly and obviously wrong, if not evil.  And they do attract followers, persons easily led, seeking certainty, and willing to praise, to flatter, and to sing unto them, How great thou art.  Self-righteous leaders reward fidelity and elevate select obedient disciples, especially worshipful ones who are confused but shamelessly self-righteous,  to CULT (Counseled Until Learned Truth) status.

 

The existence of such personalities is not new.   Jesus is reported to have said, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”  There are similar references, for self-righteousness is justly and frequently condemned in the bible, a work that, for all its many and obvious faults, is not without certain merit.   Indeed, we recommend you read it.  The book is much better than the movie.

 

Self-righteousness and hypocrisy may be joined, as in the widow’s views on tobacco reported by Huck.  But they are quite different concepts.  Hypocrites, like the widow, do themselves that which they so freely condemn in others.  Most hypocrites are self-righteous, but self-righteous persons are not necessarily hypocrites and may in fact practice what they preach.  A priest who rapes little boys, and preaches against homosexuality and violence, is clearly both, while a practicing virgin, who moralistically urges this unhappy fate on others, is not.  It’s all in how you study it.  Many have rejected religion largely because it is home to lots of goodie-two-shoes type persons of  self-righteous or hypocritical persuasion.  Sometimes, in their attempt to live justly in an unjust world, the disillusioned seek solace from religion in the perceived rationality of secular humanism.  And guess what?

 

This may come as a shock to some secular humanist readers, but the self-righteous are also to be found among the ranks of the supposedly rational, among those who look for meaning apart from the supernatural, among those who decry the artificial goodness of the godly.  Bummer, ain’t it? Thus, instead of holier-than-thou, we have those who feel rationaler-than-thou, or skepticaler-than-thou, and who demean, abjure, reject, and avoid those they feel don’t quite measure up to their standards.  Such are no less self-righteous than the widow.

 

 

Whether religious or secular, the self-righteous and the con-artist are sisters under the skin.  Both become outraged if they don’t get their way.  The slightest reasoned refusal to consent to manipulation or control is punished.  The uncooperative mark may witness a presumably well meaning, but terminally self-righteous, friend go into an inexplicable rage, answering disobedience with irrational and unpleasant emotions, until the victim seems, as best worded by Shakespeare, “beyond reason hated.”   To further complicate matters, the person deluded by self-righteousness cannot understand when others are disinclined to share their hostility and fail to concede the justness of their attitudes and actions.  The world as one conspires.

 

The self-righteous are troubled by democracy.  Why debate or vote on any matter of behavior or morality when truth is available by decree, and when correct answers may be so readily had from those who know the answers beyond any need for question or discussion?  To challenge such persons is, in their view, malum in se–in the vernacular, reprehensible, wicked, and wrong in itself—denoting a defect of character revealed in the very act of rebellion against ultimate authority.  Thereafter, every action or motive of the errant sinner will be understood and punished as an indisputably vile thing—another example of evil attacking good.  The psychological mechanism of projection, and the transparent narcissism of the self-righteous, is beyond the scope of this digression.  The analogies to theology are scary.  If afflicted leaders possess small power, they are merely annoying, comical, or pathetic.  If they hold real power over nations or ideologies, the graveyards of history harbour their heritage.

 

The sad part is that they don’t have to be like this.  The self-righteous prigs can get over it, or get therapy for it.  They don’t have to expose themselves to the misery.  Misery is optional, for predator as well as prey, even if one thinks they have no free will.  Rational beings don’t have to live with sustained rage, or with the chronic paranoia of waiting for some other imaginary shoe to drop.  Those who live to control others could, using the power of reason they mock, come to realize that compromise and resolution of disagreements can be something more than capitulation or appeasement, and that, in some things at least, they just might be—as impossible as it seems—wrong. One is entitled to be smug, arrogant, and self-righteous only if one has figured out how not to die. The outcast  may well be the better person.  That’s what the bible story of the Good Samaritan is all about.

 

If we can’t avoid the self satisfied—the better option—we can laugh at them.  A healthy person loves to see the pompous taken down a peg or two, and delights in mocking their phony goodness and proper ways.  This is why the common folk laugh when a stuffed shirt slips on a banana skin.  But what about self-righteous secular humanists who, in hardening their hearts and softening their minds, do real harm to those who actually favor free inquiry?  Maybe we should create a Secular Humanist Hall of Shame.   Here could be enrolled and acknowledged those whose actions have earned them the herein proposed SHAME (Secular Humanist Arrogantly Making Enemies) Award.

 

As adolescent fantasies are best left to adolescents, so childish needs to have one’s own way are best left to children, who will hopefully outgrow them.  Adults should, to borrow again from the bible, “put away childish things.”  It would be sad to die without growing up.

 

For everything there is a season,

For every act there is a reason;

As a garden reflects its seeds,

Deeds of life tell that life’s needs.

 

 

Edwin Kagin

May, 1997

Comments

  1. Happiestsadist says

    So, still crying over the meanies here not caring for your homophobia, I see. Why do you hate free speech?

  2. Mattir says

    Don’t you have anything to write about that’s not about how you’re being persecuted by meanies? Seen any good movies lately? Stories about your cat? A recipe for chocolate pie? Your thoughts on fashion for litigators?

  3. says

    the self-righteous are also to be found among the ranks of the supposedly rational, among those who look for meaning apart from the supernatural, among those who decry the artificial goodness of the godly. Bummer, ain’t it? Thus, instead of holier-than-thou, we have those who feel rationaler-than-thou, or skepticaler-than-thou, and who demean, abjure, reject, and avoid those they feel don’t quite measure up to their standards.

    One might be subscribing to the list of Geek Social Fallacies if one thinks that all atheists need to tolerate the intolerable. Or one could be taking a Phelpsian view of personal unaccountability for hateful speech that walks all over the right to free speech with muddy boots.

    And standards? What standards might such a freedom-minded advocate maintain? True Believers™ in the unassailable freedom of speech have no such thing. It’s anything goes–or it’s hypocritical. For such a person to meet another with actual standards, well that just won’t work, will it? One can’t be for no standards and get along with another who has some standards without constant quarrelling.

  4. says

    Has someone been forcefeeding you laxatives Kagin? Because you’re spewing a lot of shit.

    First we’re ickier than death, then we’re screaming faggots, then we’re GLBTs, then we’re small-souled, now we’re self-righteous.

    All we said to begin this was that we found a single paragraph slightly offensive.

    Has your goal been to escalate our opinion of you from “okay guy who slipped up” all the way to “petty manchild who can’t take criticism and hates uppity minorities?” Because that’s all you’re accomplishing. Hell, I’m sure you’re going to try to go even further than that, because at this point you seem to actively want us to hate you.

    I’ll be looking forward to your post on how God hates fags.

  5. says

    oh yeah. you’re being so thoroughly censored and stifled in your free speech, you’ve published hundreds of words on this topic over the last few weeks entirely unhindered.

    seriously, free speech doesn’t mean you get immunity from criticism; not even very vigorous, outraged criticism. You and Laura Ingraham would both do well to learn this.

  6. says

    Er, I just wandered in. Would you mind stopping poking the beehive with a stick for a minute? You’ve obviously written quite a bit of material over the years — maybe you could post, say, a dozen pieces that are clearly, unarguably unrelated to this topic, *then* come back to it? Please? You wouldn’t even have to wait a while (although I’d recommend it), because the stuff is already written. Just show that you’re not obsessing over this. Yes?

  7. Goblinman says

    Uh, ok then.

    Since Kagin appears to be in full-on hyperventilation mode, I’m going to step out of the discussion unless someone asks me something direct-like.

  8. says

    Whether religious or secular, the self-righteous and the con-artist are sisters under the skin. Both become outraged if they don’t get their way. The slightest reasoned refusal to consent to manipulation or control is punished. The uncooperative mark may witness a presumably well meaning, but terminally self-righteous, friend go into an inexplicable rage, answering disobedience with irrational and unpleasant emotions, until the victim seems, as best worded by Shakespeare, “beyond reason hated.”

    But see, we could easily flip that around and say that the person complaining about the self-righteous is an out of control psychotic. Which is to say that the person unwilling to consent to manipulation or control is the Real True Self-Righteous Person (RTSRP).

    Calling the RTSRP uncooperative and disobedient is quite an understatement–the RTSRP won’t do anything anyone asks of them because that is the RTSRP’s personal policy. The RTSRP lives to see other people fly into frothing rages and will do anything possible to ensure this happens all the time because no one–NO ONE–will ever tell the RTSRP what to do and have the pleasure of seeing the RTSRP do it.

  9. Robert B. says

    “The self-righteous”? Is there only one? Are we Platonists now, discussing the ideal form of self-righteousness? Or did you have, y’know, a specific grievance against an actual person that you wanted to discuss?

    You take a well-known trick of astrologers and reverse it. Where an astrologer offers vague compliments, so that everyone will see themselves in her words and be flattered, you offer vague insults, so that everyone will see themselves in your words and be indignant. Or perhaps some will see their enemies in your words and feel superior, and respond to the first group in defense of what you “said.”

    I can’t see what this game of rhetorical pareidolia is meant to accomplish, unless you meant to troll your readers, in which case you’ve obviously succeeded. As a troll, I give it 8.5/10, with half a point off for the tl;dr, and one point in reserve, to be awarded if you actually get us fighting among ourselves.

    Do let us know when you have some actual content.

  10. Rike says

    May I say, in self-righteous congratulation to myself, that as soon as I started reading today’s blog, I developed a huge smile in anticipation of all the responses.
    Thank you, Edwin, for holding up the mirror that unfortunately seems to only reflect the asses of those who look into it!
    Your blog is #1 on my list. Having not known you/about you before you came to ftb, I am a very happy new follower!

  11. grumpy1942 says

    It was just a day or so ago that I found Edwin’s blog because it appeared on the ftb list. The first one I read was about monotheism, and the blog post and the comments both struck me as top quality.

    Then I come here today and look in the archives for something new to read and here are all his commenters, some of whom I recognize from pharyngula, heaping vituperation on Kragen’s head. Most distressing.

    I’ve never seen the homophobic post to which these folks refer.

  12. says

    love your blog, this is great. don’t get why any one would get offended by your thoughts & words regarding the self righteous! the truth is the truth, what’s the wah wah about. self righteous folks are kooky, manipulative & a pain in the ass, who didn’t know that.

    Please keep up the good work. Love the truth.

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