Piety and Politics: Have We Forgotten Christ’s Message?

The Bush administration regards itself as deeply religious.  The piety is open and explicit, because President Bush has declared Christ to be his most important moral teacher, and he occasionally undertakes “humility offensives” by acknowledging errors of judgment.  The same advocacy of Christian morals can be seen in many other members of current US political leadership.  A particularly impressive example was a speech the (then) leader of the House, Tom DeLay, gave praising humility.  Americans have generally accepted these declarations of religiosity as sincere, though reactions to them vary widely:  secular people are deeply worried, while conservative Christians are delighted and provide the votes that form the foundation of the administration’s power.

In spite of the loudly proclaimed and widely accepted religiosity, however, there remain doubts.  These doubts stem from the old observation, ‘actions speak louder than words,’ which raises a question:  is what the Bush administration practises really what Christ taught?  The following pages will investigate this question via a somewhat unusual method:  we will focus on the core Christian virtue of humility and compare the current US administration with another time and place where the leaders of a country also regarded themselves as deeply Christian.

The “comparison Christianity” is 17th-century England, and the Bush administration’s emphasis on state building, unipolar world and US Empire makes the comparison very relevant.  The reason for this is that the leaders of early modern England did in fact create a highly successful state — indeed, one of the most successful states known to history — the British Empire.  The stark differences in how 17th-century Englishmen and modern US political leaders understood Christianity may explain why the latter’s efforts to create a US-led unipolar world are producing results the opposite from those intended.

 

PRIDE

Traditional Christian humility is best understood via its opposing sin, pride.  In seventeenth-century England, the expression “sin of pride” denoted all desires, emotions, thoughts and behaviors stemming from a deep-seated yearning for power, status, praise and admiration.  This yearning was thought to be innate in every human because it was a key part of the corruption that original sin made hereditary in all of Adam’s descendants.  Interestingly, when defending original sin and its associated innateness of pride, early modern theologians supported the Bible by commonsense observations from everyday life:  “if every one will examine his own conscience, and look into the ordinary and common course of man: judgement will soon be given, and resolved upon, that all men in general have a desire to enrich themselves, to become great, and of higher authority than others “.  “there is in us naturally a competition and desire of being equal or above others .  . . . we will be somebody in the world, something we will have to be highly esteemed for, wherein if we be crossed, we count it the greatest misery that can befall us.” [2]

Pride had two main branches.  The first was a yearning for attention, praise and admiration:  “to ambition or pride of life belongeth vaine-glory:  that is, a certaine disordinate desire to be well thought of, well spoken of, praised, and glorified of men.” , “vainglory . . . a great thirst after the praise of men.” [3]  The desire for admiration could manifest itself in innumerable behaviors, such as boasting, conspicuous consumption and attention-grabbing dresses.  The effort to get noticed and admired was usually unconscious.  In fact, proud people admantly rejected suggestions that they were vainglorious and offered various rational-sounding excuses for their behavior.

The second main branch of pride was an urge to raise in status and to dominate others:  “A proud man would have as great a dependency of others upon him as he can. He would have the estates, and lives, and welfare of all others at his will and power:  that he might be much feared, and loved, and thanked”[4]  Just like the desire for attention and admiration, the lust for power was unconscious.  The most common rationalization proud people offered for their effort to rule others was that they were selflessly trying to help their fellow humans.

A key point to note about pride is that this sin was not any specific action, but a deep-seated attitude that underlied and motivated (usually unconsciously) the behavior.  This belief meant that in Christian morality — as this concept was understood in early modern England — the motivation of an action was crucial:  even the most virtuous-looking behavior, such as spreading Christianity, going to Church or helping the poor, turned into sin if it was motivated by a desire for praise, admiration and power.

Dangers of Pride   The pride of 17th-century England was similar to the hubris of classical writers.  Both the Bible and the classics also regarded pride/hubris as counterproductive:  the effort to gain power and admiration provoked God’s wrath, which resulted in disastrous punishment.  The idea that pride produced calamitous effects was a commonplace in 17th-century England and, following their habit to support the Bible with observations from everyday life, English theologians offerered an abundance of evidence showing that pride produced harmful effects through an entirely “secular” causality.  Many of the old “behavioral science” dangers have a commonsese ring of truth to them, and, worse still, several of the old “case studies” about the dangerous effects of pride describe with uncanning accuracy the behavior of today’s US political leadership.  Space limitations make it possible to discuss only three examples:

Proud people had a wildly overblown view of their capabilities and a strong desire to show off these capabilities.  The combination of these two qualities led the proud to attempt projects far beyond what they could possibly accomplish.  The modern term for this personality trait is “megalomania,” and the Biblical “case study” commonly used to illustrate this behavior was the Tower of Babel.   An example of this effect of pride in today’s US administration can be seen in neoconservatives’ “clean break” for transforming mid-East:  the US army drives through Iraq and Syria bringing about regime changes in these countries.  Then the army “takes a right” and does the same in Iran.  After this the troops move south, secure control of Saudi oil fields in passing, and finish by bringing about regime change in Egypt.  Accomplishing this task was thought to be a breeze, and its supporters believed it would bring about the blossoming of freedom and democratically elected, pro-US regimes all over the Middle-East.

When pride grew strong, it caused a loss of empathy, i.e., proud people lost the ability to understand how others perceived their actions and would react to them.  A common manifestation of this personality flaw could be seen in the ostentation and boasting proud people used to make themselves admired.  This “self-advertising” often overshot the mark, provoking ridicule and laughter instead of admiration.  Yet, even though everybody else noticed the problem, the proud remained oblivious to it.  In the modern world, examples of loss of empathy abound in the reasoning that underlies Bush administration policies:  the assumption that Iraqis will be throwing flowers to US tanks entering their country;  the assumption that bombing Lebanon back 20 years will make Hezbollah hated, not admired;  the assumption that the harsh actions taken in the war against terrorism will weaken, not strengthen, the hatred of US that forms the foundation of the terrorist movement;  the assumption that US troops shooting and bombing their way across the length and breath of the Mid-East will make people there like America.  (The often-used example of successful post WW-II occupation of Germany and Japan is not a valid comparison, because after WW-II the alternative to US occupation in those countries was not national independence but Soviet troops.  Compared to Stalin, it is easy to look good.)

Proud people wanted others to think of them as flawless superhumans.  The concern about esteem produced a feeling of shame at having to acknowledge any weaknesses, such as errors or lack of knowledge.  The sensitivity easily reached a level where proud people experienced critical feedback as personal insults and/or signs of hatred.  This personality trait produced numerous harmful effects:  the proud could not learn, because the first step in learning is to acknowledge that one does not know something.  Proud people also could not correct their mistakes, because they found it impossible to acknowledge that they had made any.  The long-term effect of these traits was particularly dangerous:  proud people’s decisions were based on limited knowledge and thus often wrong.  Yet, their inability to admit mistakes made the proud persist in the error long after its foolishness had become obvious to everybody.  This effect of pride looks very much like the insistense of “staying the course” in Iraq.

 

HUMILITY

Pride was a deep-seated yearning for power, status, praise and admiration.  This definition logically made a low regard of oneself the core of humility:  “Humiliation in the understanding consists in a low esteem of ourselves, and in self-abasing, self-condemning judgment on ourselves.” “Humility . . . a modest and slender opinion of a man’s own self, whatever his endowments or circumstances are.” [5]  The same logic made it natural for humility’s key branches to be contraries to pride’s desires for esteem and power.  In terms of esteem, humble people thought of themselves as totally worthless, and they were neither surprised nor unhappy to find others sharing that view:  “Humility is of two sorts, the first is, the having a mean and low opinion of ourselves, the second is the being content that others should have so of us.  The first of these is contrary to pride, the other of vainglory.”[6]

The branch of humility that opposed pride’s desire of power and status was called “contentment.”  This virtue was defined as: “a resolution to be pleased, and sit down quiet, in what station soever God has appointed or allotted him, not to . . . be emulous of greatness, but in patience and meekness to undergo whatever shall befall him.” [7]  A corollary to contentment was the sin of discontent.  This was an extremely serious transgression, because Lucifer’s pride had specifically appeared as an inability to tolerate his subservient position to God:  “The devil is the most discontented creature that is in the world . . . therefore so much discontentment you have, so much of the spirit of Satan you have.”[8]

A Self-Test  Pride operated unconsciously.  People controlled by this sin were oblivious to their arrogance, vainglory quarrelsomenss and desire to dominate, even though these personality problems were painfully obvious to everybody around them.  According to English theologians, getting the proud to notice their sin was the first step to overcoming it.  This step was achieved by a very detailed application of all manifestations of pride and humility to one’s thoughts, emotions and actions.  To get a “history come alive” experience of traditional pride and humility as well as the “detailed and particular application,” the reader is asked to go through the following paragraph using the method recommended to early modern Englishmen:  read very slowly, sentence by sentence, and at each point investigate yourself to determine how well you satisfy that demand of God’s Law:

 

he is a truly humble Man, that does despise himself, and is contented to be counted not only humble, but vile, and wretched too; that . . . is contented his defects and in­firmities should be known, bears Injuries pa­tiently, is glad of mean employments to show his love to God, does not care for being known . . . and looks upon himself as nothing;  is circum­spect, and modest, delights not in superfluous talk, laughs but seldom . . . is well pleased with being made the filth of the World, and as the off-scouring of all things:  That does think him­self unworthy of the least crumb he eats, of the least drop of drink, he drinks . . . That can hear a friendly check with meekness, can ask forgiveness, in case he does unawares offend . . . That is contented, that those whom he loves, and in whom he trusted, and who have been kind to him, should forsake him, aban­don him, and perse­cute him, and can bear with the ingratitude of men, to whom he has done many good turns . . .  That can be contented to see his neighbour hon­our’d, and he himself slighted.[9]

The Spread of Humility  Early modern English descriptions of humility may seem unbelievable to a 21st-century observer, but a survey of popular 17th-century religious texts leaves no doubt that this virtue was widely known.  A “Protestantized” version of Thomas A Kempis’s The Imination of Christ emphatically praised humility, and the book sold some 100,000 copies in England before 1640.  Humility was also described in detail and praised in the the hugely popular — hundreds of thousands of copies sold between 1640 and 1700 — writings of the Anglicans Jeremy Taylor and Richard Allestree.  The same praise of humility and detailed descriptions of this virtue can be found in the books of the spiritual leader of the nonconformists, Richard Baxter, whose 301 published editions made him the most popular author in England in the second half of the 17th century.  The abundant normative descriptions of humility are likely to have reflected everyday life, because popular texts provided instructions for detecting hypocrisy, and these included many easy-to-use and effective tests to detect true humility in oneself and others.  (See below.)

 

THE EFFECTS OF HUMILITY

As we may recall, pride was thought to produce numerous behaviors that were dangerous.  This assumption made it logical to regard humility as beneficial, because overcoming pride eliminated harmful perstonality traits, such as lack of self-criticism, inability to learn, quarrelsomeness, ostentation and arrogance.  Humble people were easy to get along with, eager to learn, rational, and thrifty.  These virtuous traits were very likely to produce success:

 

everybody loves a humble person, because humility is naturally amiable; and the more amiable, because it is attended with many such other graces, as win and endear the hearts of all mankind, with a power that is uncontrollable, and attractive like the faculty of a magnet. Where true humility is, there is Meekness, Charity, Candour, Affability, Courtesy, Gentleness, a serene Brow, kind Intreatings, and the like; nor is it possible but such graceful endowments must meet with kind entertainment, and be beloved everywhere.[10]

The above observation raises the possibility of an intriguing, non-logical quality to humility’s effects.  After all, proud people eagerly pursued power and esteem, while the humble were meek and content with their lot.  Logically, the former could be expected to raise in society, while the latter remained on the lower rungs of the status ladder.  Early modern “research,” however, pointed to a more complicated, counterintuitive causality:  the harmful “side effects” of the desire for power and esteem made the proud destructive to themselves and to the society in which they lived, while the personality traits produced by humility resulted in the humble ending up with the status, admiration and success they did not seek.  The possibility of this illogical outcome contrasts starkly with the many influential writers who have accused Christianity — particularly its emphasis on humility — of being destructive to individuals and dangerous to the core values of Western Civilization.  Friedrich Nietzsche summed up this argument in his famous observation: “The root of all evil:  that the slavish morality of meekness, chastity, selflessness, absolute obedience, has triumphed.”[11]

Fortunately, there is historical evidence that makes possible a rough estimate of the effect of an intense application of Christianity’s morals, because in its strictest form Protestantism spread to four areas:  Calvinist Switzerland, Calvinist Netherlands, Puritan England and the Puritan colonies in America.  These areas share a “constellation of experiences” that are very exceptional in comparative history:  an initial burst of religious fanaticism, which in the Netherlands and England led to a civil war, followed by several centuries of stability, openness, toleration, representative political systems, scientific and technolocial progress, raising standars of living, remarkable political success and domestic peace — the U.S. civil war being the exception to this last rule.  The strong correlation suggests a delayed causality between exceptionally strict Christianity and beneficial social and political effects.  As to the specific links through which this causality operates, space limitations make it possible to offer suggestions on only three key characteristics based on England’s historical experience.

Fanatical Toleration  A pious Englishman had to adhere to Christian virtues in all situations and at all costs, and, after love of God, humility was the highest virtue.  Combining these demands meant that a truly religious person had to be fanatically humble.  The self-contradictory nature of this ideal becomes obvious when we recall the most important parts of humility:  an “instinctive” pleasure in criticism;  a meekness that was always combined with an eager acceptance of one’s inferiority in all things, including knowledge;  and a willingness to question one’s ideas and to respect the knowledge and opinions of others.

A pious seventeenth-century Englishman thus had to be fanatically eager to doubt the wisdom of all his actions and beliefs, and to listen to other people’s criticisms.  Now, what kind of a personality ensues when people try to follow this rule? This built-in self-contradiction may have created an unexpected and illogical causality:  toleration grew out of a very special type of religious fanaticism.  This could explain the counterintuitive historical fact that, judged by the European standards of the time, exceptional openness has been the hallmark of England since the second half of the 17th century.

Humility and Violence   Humble people were meek, eternally doubting and obedient to authorities.  There was, however, an important nuance to the meekness that was summed in the question:  what to do when obedience to “worldly” rulers required doing something that was clearly against the commands of God?  English theologians noted this situation, and their advice left no room for doubt:

 

This teaches us what to do if men should command any thing which is unlawfull for us to perform . . . In this case you see we must obey God rather than men; nay, suffer loss of goods, loss of liberty, yea loss of life, rather than obey the commandments of men in case they are contrary to the commandments of God. . . God’s commandment is sovereign, and the supreme binder of conscience: Whatever commandment is repugnant to Gods word, woe to us if we do it; nay, though it be to save our goods or our lives. [12]

This reasoning explains how pious Englishmen saw themselves justified to revolt against their King.  Yet, in the civil war of the 1640s large numbers of Englishmen also manifested behavior different from the rest of Europe:  in stark contrast to the fighting on the continent, large-scale massacres of political opponents, prisoners or civilians were rare in England.  The English revolution was also exceptional in not having a period of “terror,” where the revolutionaries would have killed large numbers of their enemies. Executions were limited to Charles I and a few of his close advisers.

The ability to forgive becomes even more noticeable after the 1650s, because not even all the people who had signed the death warrant of Charles I were sentenced to death at the restoration.  At the glorious revolution in 1688, James II was not executed or imprisoned, he was allowed to escape.  The timing of the appearance of  “English Exceptionality,” may be significant, because deeply internalized Protestantism began to spread in England in the very late 16th century and by the 1630s a significant part of the literate elite was buying books idealizing humility and describing what appear to have been remarkably effective methods to internalize this virtue (conversion and meditation).[13]  The effectiveness of the widely known tests used to detect hypocrisy means the humility was very probably real.

A look at England’s post 1700 history reveals an even more impressive picture:  there have been a few deaths in occasional riots and terrorist attacks, but they are so rare as to be invisible in any demographic analysis.  For all practical purposes, England’s mortality in domestic political violence has been nonexistent since 1650.  The 350 years of tranquillity are a very impressive, particularly considering that during this period England went through the the massive social changes of urbanisation and industrialisation.

Humility and “Success”  During the “long 17th century” England rose from a backwater of Europe to an empire.  The correlation in time between spread of ascetical Protestantism and massive political expansion suggests that early modern religious psychologists may indeed have been onto something when they argued that humility makes people rational, wise, amiable, social, highly respected, well-liked and successful.  This hypothesis agrees with the fact that, except for short periods of inter-European warfare, the military of the British Empire was laughably small.[14]  The empire was not based on force — a crucially important historical fact that appears to have been lost to the members of the Bush administration.

 

FROM PRIDE TO HUMILITY;  CONVERSION

Pride and humility were attitudes that operated on a very deep level — among other things, they unconsciously influenced desires, instinctive feelings and “rational” thinking.  This deep-seated influence raises the question:  how could one overcome pride and become humble?  In early modern England, this change in personality was effected by “conversion.”  This term denoted a series of psychological changes during which pride was mortified and humility became the convert’s “natural” character.  Space limitations make it impossible to describe the details of conversion here, but one key point needs to be noted:  this psychological process very probably did bring about a real, observable change in personality.

The reason for this argument is that investigating people’s deep motives was such an important part of early modern English Protestantism that it appears to have become a popular pastime in 17th-century England.  The interest in what today would be called depth-psychology stemmed from the need to detect the conversion-produced change.  Discovering this change in oneself was crucially important for every religious person, because mortification of sins such as pride provided the only reliable sign of the touch of grace — and thus of salvation.  Detecting mortification in others was equally important because it showed that dangerous personality traits such as pride, envy and anger had been significantly weakened, and that the person thus could be trusted as a friend.  The need to discover people’s real, underlying motives was highlighted by the Bible’s observation that the prince of darkness could camouflage as an angel of light — i.e., proud people could put up an impressive show of humility, and Christians absolutely had to able to see through that facade.

Detecting Conversion; Hypocrisy   English theologians commonly discussed the investigation of deep motivations under “detecting hypocrisy,” and they listed innumerable ways to discover unmortified pride.  One very visible sign stemmed from the desire for esteem, which produced an unconscious effort to impress that could easily be seen in what is today called “body language”:

 

How happy is this man that is so great with the great ones! Under pretence of seeking for a scroll of news, he draws out an handful of letters endorsed with his own style, to the height; and half reading every title, passes over the later part, with a murmur, not without signifying what Lord sent this, what great Lady the other; and for what suites; the last paper (as it happens) is his news from his honorable friend in the French Court.

 

He picks his teeth when his stomach is empty, and calls for pheasants at a common Inn. You shall find him prizing the richest jewels, and fairest horses, when his purse yelds not money for earnest . . . His talk is how many mourners he furnished with gowns at his fathers funerals, how many masses; how rich his coat is, and how ancient, how great his alliance: what challenges he has made and answered; what exploits he did at Calais or Niewport.

 

* * * * *

At Church [the hypocrite] will ever sit where he may be seen best, and in the midst of the Sermon pulls out his ta­bles in haste, as if he feared to lose that note; when he writes either his for­gotten errand, or nothing: then he turns his Bible with a noise, to seek an omitted quotation; and folds the leaf, as if he had found it; . . . When he should give, he looks about him, and says WHO SEES ME? No alms, no prayers fall from him without a witness; belike lest God should deny, that he has received them: and when he has done (lest the world should not know it) his own mouth is his trumpet to proclaim it.[15]

Aside from general body language, there were numerous specific tests for detecting pride.  A simple one was to observe the company people kept:  “if a man can be known by nothing else, then he may be known by his companions.”[16]  A person who understood the meaning and dangers of pride avoided people corrupted by this sin and sought the friendship of the humble.  As with so many other old English observations about the psychology of pride and humility, the reasoning underlying this test has obvious, commonsense validity.  Unfortunately, applying the test to current US leadership produces a very clear result:  would a person who understands true Christian humility surround himself with the neoconservative advisers President Bush has chosen?

When proud people were in a low position, fear of revenge commonly made them hide their arrogance, contempt of others and desire to rule.  This fear disappeared when the person got promoted, and, with the restraint gone, the real personality came out in the open.  Promotions thus were an excellent test of hypocrisy:

 

would you find how to see the Disposition of Man truly discovered . . . Then come to him when he is advanced to a place of honor or esteem: (for promotions declare what men are) and there you shall see him portrayed to life . . . Here you see one unmeasurably haughty, scorning to converse with these Groundlings (for so it pleases him to term his underlings) and bearing such a state, as if he were altered no less in person than place.[17]

Applied to modern world, an example of this test can be seen in the Bush administration’s attitude when it believed US military power to be totally superior to any other force in the world.  In this situation, the true personalities came out in the open, and what could be seen was an impressive example of the haughtiness, contempt of others and arrogance that characterizes unmortified pride:  the UN was unnecessary ballast;  Europe old, weak and useless;  and the populations of mid-Eastern countries did not even begin to count.

Proud people experienced insults and injuries as intolerable blemishes to their esteem and reacted in a way that — in their opinion — guaranteed that nobody would dare to injure them again.   The humility of true Christians, on the other hand, made them experience insults and injuries as instinctively pleasant, and this made it easy for them to follow Christ’s commands to love their enemies and to turn the other cheek.  The starkly different reactions made the ability not to get angry a good test of hypocrisy: “Many seem to be meek, and moderate men, while they are well dealt with.  But let some injury be offered them, and the contrary will appear.  And indeed there is no trial of meekness and patience till we be provoked by injuries.”[18]  Applying this test to modern America produces — again — a troubling result:  would a truly humble Christian have said “bring them on” as President Bush did?  Did Christ teach his followers to demand:  “I want Osama Bin Laden alive or dead”?

 

EARLY  MODERN AND MODERN CHRISTIANITIES

Judged by the standards of 17th-century England, the “Christianity” of today’s US political leadership is totally lacking in true, non-hypocritical humility.  Troublingly, most members of the administration — and of its supporters — seem unaware of this flaw;  they honestly believe themselves to be true Christians.  The mistaken self-confidence is not surprising, because no American preacher has pointed out the administration’s pride and lack of humility.  This silence stems from a massive change in the meaning of Christianity, which could be seen especially clearly in Jerry Falwell’s and Pat Robertson’s effort after 9/11 to suggest that the terrorist attack may have been America’s punishment for her sins.

The idea that sins could bring harmful effects was obviously unthinkable to modern Americans, because the suggestion triggered such a storm of criticism that Falwell and Robertson had to apologize.  From the perspective of 17th-century Protestantism, the apology and retraction were inexcusable, because the Bible states clearly, explicitly and emphatically that sins will be punished:  “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18);  “The Lord will destroy the house of the proud” (Prov. 15:25);  “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished” (Prov. 16:5)  “. . . the proud that are cursed” (Psalm 119:21).

The Biblical quotations do, however, reveal a serious problem with the observation made by Falwell and Robertson:  they did not mention the possibility that pride might have been the sin that caused America’s punishment.  This oversight highlights a second large change in Christianity:  the details of pride that were necessary to detect this sin in oneself and others — and thus to avoid it — have disappeared from modern religion.  Worse yet, not only has traditional Christian pride disappeared, but many of the attitudeas and behaviors that used to be parts of this sin have in the modern world turned into the “psychological virtue” of self-esteem.  Astonishingly, influential religious leaders widely regarded as conservative Christians, such as Charles Dobson, have not opposed this change.  To the contrary, they have eagerly embraced self-esteem and consider it a beneficial, fully Christian personality trait.

Devil’s Flaw  The change in pride’s position in Christian morality points to yet another important idea of 17th-century English Protestantism that has been lost:  if believing in the existence of God and the truth of the Bible were enough to make a person Christian, then there would be nothing wrong with the devil.  In fact, the devil illustrates pride’s position in 17th-century Christian morality:  Lucifer was very wise, he knew everything.  He was also very intelligent, he could devise clever temptations to get people to fall into sin.  Lucifer was also a firm believer.  After all, he had been to heaven and had been thrown down from there by God Himself, an experience that certainly convinced Satan of God’s existence.  Yet, in spite of his wisdom, intelligence and unshaking belief, Lucifer was still the devil and the ultimate evil.

Satan’s “case study” shows how central pride was to 17th-century Christians:  being truly religios absolutely required the conversion-produced mortification of this sin.  Lucifer had not experienced the grace-effected change in personality, and, as a result, his unmortified pride negated all of his good characteristics making him the devil.  Indeed, pride and envy turned wisdom and intelligence into negative qualities, because Satan’s knowledge and cleverness enabled him to be more effectively evil.

By the standards of early modern Christianity, the loss of pride and humility from modern religion are thus very serious flaws indeed — not to mention the recent change in pride’s status from sin to virtue.  These changes in religious morals mean that the condemnation noted by Falwell and Robertson is not limited to the groups they mentioned.  The Bible’s unequivocal and very emphatic threat to punish pride extends to a large majority of those people who in today’s America regard themselves as pious Christians.  The group drawing down God’s punishment very probably includes Falwell and Robertson, since the public statements of the latter in particular are difficult to reconcile with true Christian humility, forgiveness and love of one’s enemies.  After all, the Bible does not describe Christ teaching his followers to say: “If [Chavez] thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it.”  For English theologians, this statement would have raised an obvious question:  who is the character in the Bible who speaks like that?

As we may recall, English theologians supported the Bible’s threats to punish pride with abundant observations about this sin producing disastrous effects through an entirely secular causality.  We may also recall that many of the old “case studies” of pride’s harmful effects described with remarkable accuracy the thoughts and actions of the Bush administration.  Fortunately, English writers also offered a way out of this situation, because 17th-century observers kew well that the prince of darkness often camouflaged as an angel of light.  To overcome this danger, English theologians taught Christians to detect pride, so they could notice the hypocrisy and stop following the false prophet.  One can only hope that modern American “christians” realize whom they are following before it is too late.

[1]I thank Sean Perrone and James Steadman for their helpful suggestions.  For a more detailed discussion of pride and humility in early modern English Protestantism, see Kari Konkola ‘Meek Imperialists:  Humility in 17th Century England’, Trinity Journal in print.  This article has been prepublished at  http://www.tiu.edu/divinity/trinityjournal/?  A detailed discussion of the disappearance of humility from modern thinking about morality can be found in Kari Konkola, ‘Have We Lost Humility?’ Humanitas, Vol. XVIII, Nos. 1 and 2, 2005, 187-205.   http://www.nhinet.org/18-1&2.htm

[2]The first sentence comes from Peter de la Primayde, The French Academie, (London, 1618), 898.  The second comes from Richard Sibbes, The Soules’ Conflict with it­selfe And Victory over itselfe by Faith, (London, 1615), 231.

[3]The first definition comes from Robert Parsons, A Booke of Christian Exercise, Edmund Bunny, ed. (London, 1615), 335.  The second comes from Richard Allestree, The Whole Duty of Man,  (London, 1663), 145.

[4]Richard Baxter, Directions against Pride, and for Hu­mility in William Orme ed., The Practical Works of The Rev. Richard Baxter, (London: James Duncan, 1830), III, 16.

[5]The first sentence comes from Richard Baxter, Directions and Per­suasions to a Sound Conversion, in William Orme ed., The Practical Works of The Rev. Richard Baxter, (London: James Duncan, 1830), VIII, 61.  The second comes from Ed­ward Pelling, A Practical Discourse upon Humility, (London, 1694), 5.

[6]Richard Allestree, The Whole Duty of Man,  (London, 1663), 137.

[7]Anon. The Danger of Pride and Ambition, (London, 1685), fol A3-A4.

[8]Richard Burroughs, The Rare Jewell of Christian Contentment, (London, 1685), 147.  The connection between discontentment and the char­acter and ac­tions of the devil was pointed out so often that every religious person in early modern Eng­land must have known it.  Thomas Watson, The Art of Divine Con­tentment, (London, 1682), 17: “The Angels in Heaven had not learned [contentment]: Though their estate  was very glo­rious, yet thery were still soaring aloft and aimed at something higher . . . they kept not their estate, because they were not contented with their estate.”  Richard Allestree, The Art of Contentment, (Oxford, 1675), 188:  “Lu­cifer was happy enough in his original state, yet could not think himself so because he was not like the most high.”

[9]Anthony Horneck, The Happy Ascetic, (London, 1651), 48-50.

[10]Edward Pelling, A Practical Discourse upon Humility, (London, 1694), 19 – 20.

[11]Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, tr. by Walter Kaufman and R. J. Hollingade, ed. by W. Kaufman. (New York:  Random House, 1967), 465, (Aph. 870)  Italics are in the original.

[12]William Fenner, The Soul’s Looking Glasse, (Cambridge, 1640), 309 ff.

[13]For a quantitative analysis of the spread of text-based Protestantism, see Kari Konkola, ‘“People of the Book”: The Production of Theological Texts in Early Modern England’ The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 94:1 (March 2000).

[14]Niall Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (New York: Basic Books, 2003), 245 ff.

[15]The first two paragraphs comes from Joseph Hall, Characters of Vertues And Vices, (London, 1608), pp. 133-139. The third paragraph comes from pp. 71 ff. The capitalization is in the original.

[16]Henry Smith, The Sermons of Master Henrie Smith, (London, 1597), 30-31.  Smith’s advice came in the con­text of eliminating people from consideration as a spouse, an activity which he saw as similar to detecting a hypocrite.

[17]Richard Brathwait, The En­glish Gentleman; and the English Gentlewoman, (London, 1641), 31.  Daniel Dyke described the “trial by promotion” in job applicants: “many, while they are in petition of some office, or in expectation of some profit or preferment, how witty, how wily are they in the dissembling of their greedy, grip­ing, cruel, ambitious, avarious, and other vitious dispo­sitions, which might make a rub in their way? There are not so many, nor so cunning devises for the hiding of natural infirmities of the body . . . as in such cases the deceitful heart will find out for the hiding of the unnatural deformities of the soul. But let once their de­sires be granted, then they show themselves . . . Why? was he not proud before? yes, in his very wishes he was proud, but then pride was locked up, and imprisoned; now his desire being satisfied, it would walke abroad and play rakes.” Daniel Dyke, The Mystery of Selfe-Deceiving: or, A Discourse and Discovery of the Deceitfulness of Mans Heart, (London, 1614), 18.

[18]Dyke, ibid., 329.

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