Easter- the time of re-birth of the “Savior” and Passover- the time where Moses delivered his people from bondage have a common thread- a rebellion against the status quo by those most down trodden and the faith that God protects the least among us. In one story a presumptive King of Egypt gives up his crown to lead his fellow Israelites out of human bondage- he must become a slave himself in order to be a true leader. In the second story- a mere son of a carpenter born in a barn stall, through his compassion for humanity, becomes the essence of a sacrifice and in doing so is venerated as a King of Kings. These are stories of men who are venerated, not because they feel that they know God better than the rest or that they are better than other men. Conversely their stories tell us that as a man understands his insignificance, his humility and that he alone does not hold the answers, this is in fact when he becomes the most noble of men and has the closest relationship with nature (or God if you prefer).
What is the lesson here? It is one that goes back to the beginning of time- to the revelation of the great Greek tragic flaw. Hubris- that state of being where man believes that he has more power than the gods- is the oldest story of human kind. It is the story of the serpent in the Garden at the time of Creation and it is the story of every Greek heroic and Roman myth where mankind loses his perspective of his place in the world.
We lose our prospective in a myriad of ways. The most callous is the belief that our way- is the right way. If God exists- would it only be a select few vainglorious men who would know the path to “Heaven”, “Salvation”, “Nirvana”? Would it be so easy as to say- “My way is right and anything else is wrong and that which is wrong is dangerous and therefore evil?” It seems to me that this is hubris- arrogance of the first order. One group knows the truth and all the others are heathens? Who said “we” are right and “they” wrong? Who said that the West is right and the Islamic East is wrong? Who can know for sure that we are on God’s side and the other side is Evil.
Can evil inspires action? Yes- look at Hitler. But does that mean that those opposing that brand of Evil are therefore on God’s side? Let’s look at the Catholic Church during World War II. Was the Catholic Church’s benign neglect of the Holocaust good or evil? Is indifference good? Can evil inspire inaction? Elie Weisel said that the opposite of faith is not heresy, but is indifference. When a church paves a roadway for HIV on a continent besieged by the AIDS pandemic by its intransigence on dogmatic issues like birth control- that is worse than indifference- it is immorality.
What about the fight in the Middle East. I have often said that this mayhem is really nothing more than a big family brawl between the descendants of Abraham – and at its essence that is true. The situation in the Middle East is rife with ethnic and tribal strife that is nearly as old as civilization itself. There is Sunni and Shi’a hatred, there is Christian and Muslim hatred and there is Jewish and Muslim hatred.
From where does most of this hatred emenate? From lack of understanding. The fear of what is different leads to villifying that which is different by believing that “my way” is the right way and “their way” is wrong. If some validity exists in “their way” maybe “my way” isn’t the solice and complete comfort I seek in childish ignorance. Isn’t this hubris? We dare to say that we know what is the “right way” because we seek comfort in our myopic world view because it is safe. Considering other points of view is immediately threatening- but in the long run much more rewarding. Sadly we rarely get to the long run.
Unfortunately the current Bush administration has used neo-conservative hubris as the basis for its foreign policy. We know what’s best for the Middle East and we need to plop down an “American-style” democracy there- because we know it will be beacon of hope that is needed in this dark and heathen world.
It’s no wonder that our greatest ally in the Iraqi Folly has been Great Britain. During the period of the Empire (which still haunts all of the United Kingdom’s world affairs much like the Tsarist despotism that haunts Russian leadership), Britain was an unapologetic progenitor of hubris. Just think of the quaint old Raj notion in India of “man-bat” (The British Raj was the mother and the father of the Indian people- the protector). And of course just look at the damage that was done when colonial European powers drew boundary lines in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. They did a bang up job.
So this country plods along in its assumption that our way of life and our belief systsm is the best for all people regardless of their culture, their history and their experience. We know what’s best for the rest of the world. I’d ask us all to ponder one question before we decide to play god. Isn’t the only super power in the world equivalent to a King and didn’t Moses revolt against the King of his time- the Pharaoh and didn’t Christ revel in the life of the common man – not the powerful?
Are we the Pharaohs and Pharisee’s of the 21st century?
Hubris is at play in more than just world politics. It is at play in the stewardship of the world itself. We have played God with the resources of the world to make a “better” life for ourselves- and in doing so we are on the brink of destroying it. The apple we picked in the garden is getting rotten and we don’t seem to care- or at least many in power don’t seem to care.
Hubris is at play in the politics of fear in this country- where one can vilify gays and lesbians as evil and undeserving of equal rights. Some religious leaders seem to feel that they know what meaning God has in the words of the Bible- all of which were penned by fallible men- a book that teaches archaic laws for a desert nomadic tribe living thousands of years ago regarding the selling of one’s daughters into slavery, touching a pig’s skin or working on the Sabbath. Why select two obscure passages about man lying down with man and not the passage about stoning a man who is working on the Sabbath? Who told Mr. Falwell or Mr. Robertson that they are the ones that know how to interpret these scriptures and that others- who do not weave hate into the teachings of the Bible- are wrong? Mr. Falwell and Mr. Roberston are guilty of hubris and manipulation.
Is it God’s purpose to see an ancient church like the Anglican Communion split simply because the American Church embraces and loves homosexuals and dares to place them in places of leadership? Or are the African conservatives (and the Americans that wish to join them) in the church guilty of hubris to “know” that His intention isn’t love but instead is condemnation? Is that what we have learned?
The Greeks had it right- all ills of the world seem to spring from this one sin- the greatest of Greek tragic flaws. Hubris in classical Greek ethical and thought is the overweening presumption suggesting impious disregard of the limits governing human action in an orderly universe. It is the sin to which the great and gifted are most susceptible, and in Greek mythology it is usually the hero’s tragic flaw. Has their been any one “successful” in their worldly ambitions that did not ultimately succumb to hubris?
In Ancient Greece hubris referred to actions taken in order to shame the victim, thereby making oneself seem superior. Have we learned anything from the Greeks, from Moses or from Christ?