On Confidence and Humility: An Insight Into My Christian Dilemma   1 comment

Introduction

Humility and Confidence in our society the two demands seem so very polarized. One from God which is seemingly harder to follow and one from the world which is seemingly easier to follow. Media and propaganda tell us to devalue such a backward characteristic as humility, while God makes promises of striking down the proud. But what are we spiritual seekers and truth seekers supposed to make of this, by the looks of such polarity it is either one or the other. In this post today I will discuss that it does not have to be this way, that it is possible to reconcile the two characteristics back into one virtue that brings us closer to reality. I invite the reader to understand what Humility and Self-Confidence is thought to be and what it really is, to offer a philosophical and psychological understanding of such characteristics, and to even offer my own personal experiences regarding my own struggle to understand these two characteristics.

What Is Humility and What Is Self-Confidence

In order to begin to have a discussion and definition of what I mean by the characteristics of Humility and Self-Confidence we need to begin where everyone begins on the surface, we need to understand and take apart the popular concepts of Humility and Self-Esteem or Self-Confidence:

So to start let us look at the positively reinforced value of Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem. It should seem apparent that our society values, a sense of pride in oneself, and in ones actions in life. Individualism demands of us to have a sense of Self-Worth. However, in our society where things can and usually are taken to extremes, this sense of Self-Esteem is often so overvalued in our society that it becomes blatantly narcissistic leading to other psycho-spiritual ailments like eating disorders, issues regarding performance, superficiality, and the victim mentality. The problem with societal self-esteem is that it more often then not leads to Pride and Vanity. You see the problem with societies notions of self-confidence is largely rooted in the notions of acceptance by your peers, so ones sense of self-confidence is largely rooted to societal approval, which is a rather Vain action. A Pastoral Letter written in the beginning of the new millennium discusses society as it relates to this particular characteristic and it reads:

“It requires a certain strength to recognize how we have distanced ourselves from God. In popular thinking, however, the self-confident or self-assured persons are the strong ones. They are the ones who can make things happen, by ordering and controlling their lives for their own benefit. More than likely you know that spiritual wisdom has always called this pride or arrogance. St. Maximos the Confessor says that pride and arrogance come from two kinds of ignorance, namely ignorance of divine help and human weakness.This attitude is the source of all separation from God. Our society places a high value on self-confidence. Yet, the further we move away from God, the more we need to assert our self-reliance. This is not accidental. There is an inverse correlation between prideful self-assurance and separation and alienation from God.”

But what of society’s popular (mis)conception on Humility? To most of society, humility and meekness is equated with weakness and self-abasement to an absolutely pitiful degree. Humility and Meekness is simple and quiet, quite frankly its boring and it appears not to stimulate anything in our being whether it be our bodies or our emotional and intellectual being. Society thinks that virtues such as these are harmful to our well-being, a society mind you that is bent on consuming a constantly fleeting “feel-good” mentality. Is there a problem with those living in the world who debase themselves to a pitiful degree and who lack confidence in this life? Of course, since ones degree of humility is best reflected by how many people are involved in our lives, can the hermit be more humble then the constant party-goer? Of course he can, but contemporary American society would ask: Who would want to live the life of the hermit? As a Post-Script (P.S.) to this I would certainly say that there are people who live in the midst of the world who could be humble, but it takes a serious commitment to get to that point, largely because, when we live in the world, self-esteem and self-confidence are pre-requisites to worldly success.

Having now discussed the popular notions of both and the connotations they carry, I feel that now we ought to look at how Self-Confidence and Humility are defined properly within the spiritual Christian Tradition. To start let us examine the characteristic of Self-Confidence, and the best place to find the definition rest in Christ’s Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee. We read from the GoArch.Org Website that Self-Confidence is only a problem when,

“Arrogant self-confidence in our own righteousness [couples] with contempt for those whom we consider to be beneath us… This disease of the soul first manifests itself as absolute confidence and trust in the rightness of our own point of view and judgment; it presupposes our personal superiority over others. And this twisted expression of self confidence quickly degenerates into uncritical self-satisfaction and self righteousness, into a kind of mindless self-admiration. It takes endless endless pleasure in the self, and in all that it does.”

So to the Ancient Christian Tradition, it was not confidence in oneself and abilities per se that was the problem, but rather it was once again thinking that we are complete unto ourselves, that we are so right and in being so right others are completely wrong and ought to be looked down upon, because we are both so much better and more right then they. Unfortunately those with the eyes to see and ears to hear know all to well that those who take an unhealthy interest in themselves become uncritical with themselves and never are able to see how they are hurting others around them, such is the case with the Narcissist. In forcing self-confidence, one puts on a mask, and in becoming narcissistic, one encounters great difficulty in taking the mask off.

However, when arrogance is removed from self-confidence and when we become more aware of the mistakes we make in life. then Self-Confidence is no longer a problem, in fact it is in its more natural state, because we know what we are capable of and see no need to look down and act condescendingly towards others. In fact, Self-Confidence is an inherent part of our humanity, we are gifted with Free Will and as such, we are gifted with responsibility for our actions, the individual who is not able to take responsibility for their actions is also not a person with self-confidence. Let us keep in mind that when God Created Man He made him in His Image and Likeness. Let us keep in mind that when God condescended into the form of a man and died a horrible death for our sakes, He would not have done this unless He thought we were worth the pain!

Having now discussed Self-Confidence in light of the Ancient Christian Tradition, let us move on to what Humility is. At the root of what people in society think humility is today, they would equate it with something as extreme as self-hatred and an internally directed despair. However this is not how the early Christians understood it. Again quoting from the GoArch.Org commentary to the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, we see that Humility is exhibited in the Publican and the commentary reads,

“The Publican is admittedly burdened by a host of sins. But he is acutely aware of his sinfulness and spiritual poverty… His prayer is a request, a plea actually, that is filled with contrition. And this contrition, this acknowledgment and confession of personal imperfection, is nothing less than the very cornerstone of the entire spiritual life.”

The individual who is Arrogantly Self-Confident cannot be critical of himself, cannot see or will not admit how he has done wrong to himself and those around him. The man who is humble knows and cares about how many times he has fallen short and is all to aware of his need to take responsibility for the condition of his life and the life of those around him. Humility is what Checks Self-Confidence not destroys it.

Does humility cause you to hate yourself? No, what causes you to hate yourself is your guilt of doing wrong, for example you accidentally say something rude about someone but just as you are saying it that person is right behind you, don’t you feel like you could kick yourself? I know I would.

Does humility cause you to despair? Only insofar that you do not correct what wrongs you are aware that you have done, so if you keep talking badly about people behind their backs and get found out again and again, the odds are no one will be your friend and you will feel alone and feel despair because of that. Humility was a virtue to help you renew your mind so that you might live more genuinely and be transformed and uplift others around you.

The Golden Mean of Both

I usually like to refer to Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics to make my point on Virtue and Vice. The Golden Mean again is that middle ground between two extremes which are seen as vices, on one hand is excess and on the other is lack. In the case of True Self-Confidence, or Self-Confidence removed from the Pharisee side of the Parable, Aristotle calls this Courage. Courage to Aristotle is a Virtue but Courage is the middle ground between Lack of Courage or Cowardly/Fearful/Dependency which is a hyper-emphasis on safety and sheltered living at the expense of Freedom on one hand with the Excess of Courage or Rashness/Boastfulness which is a false projected, exaggerated and bloated image of ones strength and abilities on the other hand.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Aristotle he believed that the sense of shame is something bad and ought to be looked down upon, but with the Christian tradition, the awareness of ones wrongs in the face of God leads to shame and can either lead to further sense of despair and alienation or the hopeful end of Repentance itself. Therefore, if we were to use The Golden Mean principle in relation to Humility I would say that, Humility consciously practiced is the balance between the two extremes between Excess of Humility which could be Self-Pity if not a straight up Victim Mentality which is a spiritual danger on one hand and Lack of Humility which I would describe more so as Aristotle’s “Magnanimous” Virtue. I have a video from PresbyterGeorge’s YouTube Channel for further discussion on the Excess of Humility or self-pity and the Victim Mentality:

However in light of further Christian Theology, one must be sure to never follow a False Humility which would mean, deprecating one’s own sanctity, gifts, talents, and accomplishments for the sake of receiving praise or adulation from others. After all Christ tells us very clearly that when fast we make it look like we are not fasting. Fasting is often a sign of humility itself, so we are told not to position our humility in a manner in which we would seek praise from people around us. True Humility then has the following characteristics: Submitting to God and legitimate authority. Recognizing virtues and talents that others possess, particularly those that surpass one’s own, and giving due honor and, when required, obedience. Recognizing the limits of one’s talents, ability, or authority; and, not reaching for what is beyond one’s grasp. As a Post-Modern side note, I would add that any legitimate authority which abuses it’s authority one ought not submit to entirely if one feels tied to that authority however (i.e. The Church in light of its Scandals) one ought to sharpen their conscience and determine what actions are truly righteous and which are wicked and have confidence/courage necessary to say, “NO!”

Personal Experience

This particular conflict has been at the root of my own story of growing up. Elsewhere I had written that,

“My ego was underdeveloped because, I feared what would happen to me if I stepped out of line if I wanted something of my own, but in my disconnection to God, I would never know if God would approve or not. So to conclude I was a fearful, timid, and obedient individual at the outset of my journey and by virtue of lack of experience I was naïve and ignorant as well, due to several events in my life throughout the first half of high school however I became increasingly angry at myself for being this way and sought to change.”

As a child growing up, I was caught between the tension of a God-image who punishes people who go out of line and my own desire to do what I wanted to with my own life. While most people my age would have used this as an excuse to denounce God and believe He isn’t real, I didn’t, I still believed in God, but as I got older I became all too aware that it was the God-Image that needed to change. Nonetheless, the turning point for me came when I was reading a book called, “The Inner Journey: Views of the Christian Tradition” and in it somewhere I came to a statement very much related to my issue, but the theologian made it clear that, confidence and a sense of dignity in oneself was a necessity largely because, it is the devil himself who loves to pray off of those who lack a real and grounded sense of dignity and confidence.

You see when I was in my adolescent years searching for God, I was enmeshed in Gnosticism, because it was this religion that allowed me to rebel against the “God-Image” that refused me to be confident in myself, so I was rebelling against what I believed was The Demiurge, the evil and manipulative God. However, as I got closer to more Orthodox Christianity, I realized that the demiurge was just the devil himself, the god of this world who is the author of evil and falsehood. I began to understand then that God wanted to me to be confident and to know what my abilities and talents are in this life, and that the devil himself wanted me to think it was God who wanted me to be stuck in an infantile and ignorant state regarding what I was capable of doing or at the very least to “aid” in my being aware and use my abilities and talents to wage war against God: Expressed through Gnostic Thought.

Upon being ever-faithful to my desire to want to know God however, I became aware of my abilities and talents and was not about to merely turn on God who I wanted to know. By being faithful to God in my investigation of the depths of the True Faith itself I became all to aware of how God sought to raise me up and transform and fulfill my confidence into something both humble and real, rather then something exaggerated and forced.

Probably the next biggest discovery pertaining to this issue I had made was that in the Bible, Moses is called the meekest of all men. However, at that time, I thought meekness was associated with weakness! How can a man who is called upon God to free an entire peoples from Pharaoh, who performs many signs and wonders, and lead people in a desert for a long time possibly be considered weak? Well upon closer investigation and contemplation over this apparent contradiction, I learned that Meekness is NOT Weakness! Rather Meekness is about, not flaunting your own personal power. To top this, Moses who was a humble and meek man was only able to accomplish this largely because his will was in cooperation with the Divine Will, and it is clear that those who are in alignment with That Will tend to do many powerful things. However, in order to make this possible, one must be empty of himself, humble himself and submit his talents and abilities over to God Himself.

Conclusion

Therefore to conclude today’s discussion: (1) Self-Confidence is not the problem, but a natural inclination in Humanity, it only becomes a problem when one allows ones self-confidence and esteem become arrogant and condescending toward others and God. (2) Humility is not self-depreciation, self-pity or self-hate let alone despair and the Victim Mentality, rather Humility is the ability to become aware of ones mistakes, admit those mistakes, and turn from them. (3) Moses and the Son of God Himself were called Humble and Meek men. If meekness was weakness and if humility was about self-hate and despair, God would not have had used them the way that He had, they could have very well killed themselves or just be a nobody to history. (4) Therefore, if I had to summarize the new understanding and show the inherent compatibility between Humility and Self-Confidence I would literally bring the two words together under one phrase: “Humble Confidence” and in this one does not boast of, but one knows their own personal power in an experiential and intimate manner. In being humble and grateful, one recognizes that these talents and abilities are gifts of God to be used to be enjoyed but most of all to glorify the One True God. I conclude with some wisdom from an excerpt from Volume 1 of the Philokalia:

“It is more serious to lose hope than to sin. The traitor Judas was a defeatist,
inexperienced in spiritual warfare; as a result he was reduced to despair by the
enemy’s onslaught, and he went and hanged himself. Peter, on the other hand,
was a firm rock: although brought down by a terrible fall, yet because of his
experience in spiritual warfare he was not broken by despair, but leaping up he
shed bitter tears from a contrite and humiliated heart. And as soon as our enemy
saw them, he recoiled as if his eyes had been burnt by searing flames, and he
took to flight howling and lamenting.” – St. John of Karpathos: Texts for the Monks in India: #85

If one sins, at least through humility one may repent and continue the spiritual warfare. However if one gives up hope, if one despairs, then there is no hope for repentance and will return back to living in an illusory world, through self-pity and the Victim Mentality. But where is life to be had in always feeling sorry for yourself and manipulating others to feel sorry for you as well? This is not life it is death while in the land of the living. Therefore, never give up hope, never despair and even if you sin, you maybe able to turn from such spiritual death and have life again because, God Loves His Creation and was willing to condescend to our level and become like you so that you may partake in the divine life itself.

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  1. Pingback: Happy Thanksgiving! « Reality and Illusions

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