Monday, May 13, 2019

The biggest sin?

I was engrossed in my book when a voice spoke from behind me, "You cannot stop a man who knows he is right and keeps-a-coming? What rubbish."

If you read books, you will know that rush of anger which sweeps through you when someone trashes your favorite author's words. The same thing rushed through my veins but, unfortunately, all I could manage was to bleat, "Why do you say so?"

"Of course, you believe it. You are the sort who would believe a Hitler is a saint if he had a way with words or a sense of humor or both. 'Where there is the gift of the gab, there can be no sin' is how your pea-sized brain thinks."

"What's with the insults? Why don't you just explain why you think it is rubbish?"

"Oh! I am sure that, in the story, that heroic dude is really in the right and you can jump in your seat with excitement as he keeps-a-coming, without any guilt. In real life, though...tell me, how often have you KNOWN that you are in the right? And how often have you really been in the wrong when you thought you KNEW you were right?"

These are generally vexing questions for me. I mean, perhaps there are people who archive every single second of their lives in their minds and can readily retrieve data as necessary. In fact, I am sure most people can do it, as witness the readiness with which they can recollect every single time I messed up in life. But, I...a sieve is no competition to my memory, the way everything just seems to slither off and vanish into the dark unknown.

"See. How difficult it is to even remember when you were last sure that you were right?"

Well, my problem was just that it was difficult to remember. But why admit to more incapacity than the guy was granting me?

"Looks like you have some redeeming qualities, after all", he continued. "Otherwise, you would be sure you are in the right...oh, in maybe your ideas of what one can eat, or what way people should dress, or how it is righteous to clamor for freedom of expression in one thing and silence it in another or whatever."

" people should not have opinions? Is that what you mean?"

"Opinions...they are fine. If you only had an opinion about dietary practices, you would not lynch someone for differing with you. AND will even feel furious at someone who does."

"So, what's your point, then?"

"A man who knows he is right and keeps-a-coming? THAT's a self-righteous man. A man who thinks he is fighting for truth and justice. On the side of the angels, against the evil whelps of Satan. THAT's a man who will say anything, do anything and not even feel remorse. For if what he is fighting for is right, anything he does in the process is righteous, isn't it?"

"You mean...somewhat like the Crusades? Like, supposedly, the Crusaders were immune to sin, even if they pillaged and raped, as long as they were fighting to reclaim Jerusalem?"

"Ah!" he said approvingly. "You probably do have a brain, much though I have doubted its existence so far. Yes! Every religious war - crusades, jihad, call it what you will - is fought by tapping into that vein of self-righteousness which exists in every human. There is nothing like it to convert an ordinary human being into a monster from the pits of Hell. Especially if you can also encourage him to think of those who oppose him as imps of Satan."

"But in ordinary life..."

"Hmmm! What made you, the other day, yell rudely at that chap who dropped a bit of plastic on the pavement? Self righteousness. In the normal course, you would have said the same thing politely."

See what I mean? These chaps can just pull out things like this. And I...

He went on, in a musing tone.

"I suppose it is the biggest sin, this self righteousness. All the other ones...when you sin, you know you are doing wrong, your conscience probably keeps nagging you. There is a possibility that you will change. This, though. When you KNOW you are right, you keep-a-coming. You do things that you would never do otherwise. Your conscience falls in line right behind your every action, and you feel a glow of satisfaction at the end of it. There is no redemption because you do not even think that you need to be redeemed."

"Ah! I get it! So, THAT's why people started saying 'Greed is good' and all that. Convert the sins themselves into righteousness and..."

He looked at me in shocked wonder. "Well! Well! Well! You are positively scintillating today."

"Anyway, you cannot blame me of self righteousness. My ideas are ratified by most people on my timeline..."

"Just as I thought you were halfway human. You live in an echo chamber, which parrots the ideas of whichever leaders, and trot along behind, bleating 'Baa! Baa!", and think you are not being self-righteous."

I cleared my throat to put in an 'Objection, your honor!' but he just steamrollered on.

"If you refuse to consider the possibility that you may be wrong, and refuse to even hear any argument against your views, you are self-righteous. If you think that the pursuit of what you feel is right absolves you of all normal human considerations - be it politeness or respect for life or whatever, you are self-righteous. And, if you are self-righteous, you have the seeds of the same sin in you that made the Nazis what they were."

"Say, why do you keep insulting me?"

"Because I am RIGHT!"

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