Monday 30 December 2013

Which is the dominant sin in a person - Pride or Despair? (the external-objective versus internal-subjective view)


Pride is the primary and worst of Christian sins, therefore we tend to guard against Pride but also tend to be ready to diagnose it in others.

Indeed, it is much easier to perceive Pride in others than in oneself - and this is often a major blind-spot.

(Hence Jesus's parable of the mote and the beam in the eye, in the New Testament).


But Despair (i.e. hope-less-ness - therefore denial of the Truth of the Christian Good News) is also a 'major sin' - and it may be that Despair is the most characteristic modern sin.

Certainly, modern society looks most like a society in which people are frantically trying to stave-off Despair by sensation-seeking, powerful stimuli such as sex, distraction, intoxication...

But, unlike Pride, and in this respect the opposite of Pride, it is easier to discern Despair in onself than in other people.


So the basic situation is that we tend to over-diagnose Pride and under diagnose Despair in other people.

Yet for me personally, I know that the fight against Despair has been a very big thing in my life; and I also know that this has been the case for several of the people whose biographies I have read most deeply: for example the Inkling Charles Williams.

Another example would be the philosopher Wittgenstein.


My point is that what primarily motivates a person, and perhaps leads to their obvious sinfulness, their errors - may be Despair and the fight against Despair - rather than Pride-full-ness.

And when this is the truth of the situation, it is likely that there will be a profound misunderstanding.


A person prone to Despair may be in a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment struggle to keep-going, keep-motivated; and may seek stimulus and distraction like a drug addict seeks a fix - and this will lead him into all manner of sins and wickedness - and then to compound the sin by defending and justifying his actions.


Yet, seeing the sins and wickedness, another person might well ascribe them to Pride - indeed is more likely to ascribe them to Pride; but they would be wrong.

And the Despairing man may conceal the root of his behaviour, since Despair is a feeble and weak thing - and anyway, if he does admit to his Despair, he will very likely be ignored or disbelieved; or else Despair will not be given the primary role which in fact it has in his Life.

Because those who are not so prone to Despair simply cannot understand or believe its primary and shaping role in some lives.


I recognize marriage and family as the only potentially effective antidote to Despair - yet utterly precarious in this mortal world; and I believe that that this fact has not merely personal but cosmic significance. Charles Williams knew that only his wife, his marriage, could shield him from Despair - Wittgenstein (as a mostly-celibate homosexual) tragically never experienced this. 



Gyan said...

Do married men never commit suicide?

It is the Word of God that saves men, even by splitting them from their wives and families, as explicitly told by Christ Himself.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gyan - "Do married men never commit suicide?"

A silly comment.

Do you know anything about suicide and its causes? I do. Suicide is all-but irrelevant to the point I am making, as I expect you realize.

OBVIOUSLY being married is not the answer to all life's problems. Who could possibly believe or argue that?

Disagree and argue your points by all means, please do; but don't be insulting.

George said...

I drew the same understanding of fundamental despair from Schopenhauer. As in, life being essentially meaningless and the best we can hope for being escape from poverty and illness.

You are certainly objectively right in criticizing modern life for the essentiality of despair. Almost humorously, the total meaninglessness of life is the drive for progress - escape from any form of discomfort - because everything is empty and thus any experience of non-pleasure or non-entertainment is to suffer.

It seems many highly-intelligent men who fully explored the status-quo and its total meaningless considered suicide as the only rational choice (where intelligence > will?), until discovering that life is not meaningless through religion.

George said...

it appears that modernity can lead-no-where but to an Idiocracy type situation. The more intelligent you are, the more you see through temporary pleasures to the meaninglessness, and so lower birth-rate, suicide, etc.

While Christianity provides the intelligent with meaning behind a large family, and the suffering and self-sacrifice involved. The less-intelligent it-just-happens until environmental constraints because of the over dominance of sexual will and lack of foresight.

So civilization can't exist without religion.

Luqman said...

Certainly pride. Nihilism is a stream in which one cleanses oneself of preconception. I believe your own current position came from Nihilistic `Despair`. Can it truly be a sin? I dont agree, I think it is a necessary step to take to emerge fully. First reject everything, then accept what is right.

Or I should just read the article again :D

Wonder said...

I think there is a kind of hope involved in seeing Despair as the prevailing sin, as if people are more than they are. It is an idealistic projection.

By contrast, despair is rarer, and has greater spiritual value, for it can lead to seeing truth.

In experiencing despair one can come to a deep and profound realization of the primacy of suffering in the world. This has deep implications which are hard to overstate.

So I can't see Despair as a sin even remotely akin to Pride. Pride in its full form is seeing oneself as God. This is the basis of modernity.

If there is something to be gained from that it is only in the fall from it.

Acd said...

It doesn't seem at all likely that most people in the modern West will be able to achieve this kind of happiness through marriage due to brokenness in men and brokenness in women. Even if one does "wake up" is it really despair if it's the reality that demand outstrips supply?

Gyan said...

Well, I responded to your overly strong statement that "I recognize marriage and family as the only potentially effective antidote to Despair".
Isn't it the Divine Word that sustains man?. Isn't that the antidote to Despair?

Suicide is the action a hopeless man takes. A climax of Despair, as it were

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gyan - "Isn't it the Divine Word that sustains man?. Isn't that the antidote to Despair?"

Yes, of course - as I must have said hundreds of times on this blog alone. But if that was *all* there was to it, then there would be no problem.


@Wonder - You have misunderstood the posting.


@Acd - You are talking sociology. I am not.


@L - " I believe your own current position came from Nihilistic `Despair`."

No - the opposite.

Arakawa said...

In a certain sense, Pride and Despair are dependent on one another. That Pride eventually leads to Despair is obvious; but Despair indeed can be seen as a form of Pride, believing that there is no way out and thus exalting one's own understanding of the situation over trust in the works of God.

Or concluding that there is no way out due to a prideful insistence that God should arrange to solve things one way and not another -- and then under those constraints, there indeed would be no way out.

Unlike more severe forms of Pride, though, Despair is (often, not always) easy (by God, not by us) to refute, since it's rooted on a particular wrong understanding of visible circumstances....

SFG said...

They say narcissists have fragile egos, so it's entirely possible the two could coexist--pride covering despair.

It's certainly true marriage, etc. and family life in general probably do decrease depression--increased despair could be a side-product of our atomized society.

Personally without a more stable career (details excluded--this is the Internet after all) I'm reluctant to open myself to the alimony risk. But that's not healthy on a societal scale (or likely even on a personal one).