Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On Imagining Oneself to be Important & the Desiring of Statues

The River Raisin, Monroe County

John Dickson, in Humilitas: A Lost Key to Life, Love, and Leadership, does a nice job explaining the honor-shame culture of ancient Rome. Since Americans so value prosperity and happiness as the greatest things, it is hard for to see there was a culture that most desired to be honored, and least desired to be shamed. Dickson writes:

"Uppermost in a father’s mind in the ancient world was not whether his son would be happy (in the modern sense) or make money or live morally, but whether the boy would bring honour to the family, especially to his father, and to himself." (Kindle Locations 791-793)

Consider Aristotle's vain description of "honor":

“Honour and reputation are among the pleasantest things, through each person’s imagining that he has the qualities of an important person; and all the more so when others say so...

And what is honour? Honor is a sign of a reputation for doing good, and benefactors, above all, are justly honored, although one with the potential of doing good is also honored … The components of honor are sacrifices made for the benefactor after death, memorial inscriptions in verse or prose, receipt of special awards, grants of land, front seats at festivals, burial at the public expense, statues, free food in the state dining room … [and on the list goes]." (From Aristotle's Rhetoric, cited in Dickson, Kindle Locations 806-808)

In a society that valued honor so highly, humility would not be cool. Because "the word humilitas and its Greek equivalent tapeinos usually carried the negative meaning of “being put low". It was an undignified inability or refusal to establish your merit." (Dickson, Kindle Locations 836-837) Roman "honor" bathed in ocean of good old-fashioned "pride."

As Jesus-followers we are freed from the slavery of self-exaltation. God renders us unable to establish our own merit. Upon such acknowledged inability God lavishes his grace. (See here.)