“One of the merits of Christianity at its best is that …”

(© Minerva Studio/Fotolia.com)

(© Minerva Studio/Fotolia.com)

… it reconciles the infinite greatness of man with his infinite littleness. On the one hand man is created in the image of God, and each and every individual is unique as an object of God’s love and concern; on the other, he is as nothing by comparison with his maker. 

If you take away the second consideration, what you get is unlimited self-conceit. The infinite greatness of man, unconstrained by his infinite littleness, gives rise to people with rights but no duties who in effect worship themselves and become metaphysically egotistical. The existential equality before God gives way to a demand for sublunary equality in all respects: an inflammatory demand that in practice can never be satisfied and results in permanent resentment, even by those who, to all external appearances, are among the most fortunate people who ever lived. It is, alas, easier to brook no superiors than to feel one has no inferiors, which is perhaps why we are inclined to think those people rich who have more money than we, but seldom conclude that we are rich because there are many people poorer than we. That is why President Hollande was able to say, in the belief that he was speaking the plain truth, that he did not like the rich. What he meant was that he did not like those richer than he; for, like most of us, he has no vocation for genuine poverty. 

Interesting thoughts—especially coming from an atheist. The author is Theodore Dalrymple, the fine essayist and prolific author of several books, sharing some thoughts about Alexander Boot’s new book, Democracy as a Neocon Trick (RoperPenberthy Publishing Ltd, 2014). I have no thoughts on the book, as I’ve not read it (I’ve read some of Boot’s other writings), but found Dalrymple’s piece thoughtprovoking, as usual. He goes on to make a couple of other points worth mentioning. First:

Unlike the author, I am not a believing Christian; but unlike many democratic enragés, I am prepared to accept that our civilization is largely Christian in inspiration, and that it is difficult (though not impossible) to maintain a proper balance between human self-respect and a proper modesty without a certain kind of religious belief. For many people it is probably impossible; and even many outwardly religious people use their belief to secure purely secular ends by egotistical means. 

Christianity, in other words, holds certain things in place that otherwise would be off balance and out of proportion, as keeping “human self-respect” and “proper modesty” in a proportionate (if sometimes tense) relationship is no small task. An unbridled, fundamentalist atheism can easily end up swollen with pride and lacking any sense of metaphysical, philosophical, or even moral modesty; an unhealthy and fundamentalist religion can quickly turn separatist, oppressive, and violent. Secondly:

“My kingdom is not of this world”: these words are, or should be, pregnant with meaning even for those who do not believe in the divinity of their utterer, for mature reflection should be sufficient to persuade an intelligent man that the permanent condition of mankind is imperfection and discontent, and that therefore a sense of proportion is the greatest of all psychological blessings and attributes. How easy, and superficially gratifying, it is to project the disappointments of one’s own life onto the great screen of the world, the better to evade one’s own responsibility for them and to suppose that there is a political solution to them all: a supposition that professional politicians, of all stripes, are only too eager to encourage.

Indeed. It has long amazed me how certain people—many of them professional politicians (is there any other kind?)—continually argue and assert that they, if given the reins of power, can fix nearly any given problem, especially if they also hold the strings to the purse. Meanwhile, their own personal lives are often a wreck, or at least rather messy, and they eventually reveal themselves to be petty, shallow, selfish, rude, uncouth, prideful, boastful, wreckless, careless, or lecherous. Having demonstrated little or no ability to control themselves or to live virtuously, they exert tremendous effort convincing us that they should be given control of others and placed in an office that must make numerous ethical and moral decisions. But even more astounding, of course, is how many people fall for this same pitch again and again—perhaps, I think, because they themselves harbor the same illusions about themselves.
Read Dalrymple’s entire essay, “The Suffrage of the Insufferable”

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.