Is honor a bad thing?
John, a friend of mine, texts me Bible verses fairly frequently, and occasionally a quote or thought. He sent me a quote a couple of days ago. Here it is.
The Decline of the Secular University, C. John Sommerville writes, “An ethical system based on honor is a self-regarding ethic, while one based in charity is an other-regarding ethic… With honor goes a concentration on pride rather than humility, dominance rather than service, courage rather than peaceableness, glory rather than modesty, loyalty rather than respect for all, generosity to one’s friends rather than equality.” John then asked if I agree or disagree. Here are my thoughts.
In the above quote, clearly Sommerville is not talking about honor, as it is defined. Honor defined is usually something similar to, “honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions: a man of honor,” (Dictionary.com). What Sommerville is referring to is a life based on honor. That is, I think, a life in which honor is the central tenet of one’s existence. Kind of, to borrow a Star Trek reference, a Klingon approach to life.
My first thought about the quote is that I see what Sommerville is driving at. But I don’t entirely agree with him. The opposite of honor is dishonor, and no one would prefer a life that is based on that. So, right away we can disregard honor’s opposite as an appropriate lifestyle. However, Sommerville is not advocating a life based on the opposite of honor.
Broken down, Sommerville seems to be defining honor as “Concentration on pride, dominance, courage, glory, loyalty, and generosity to one’s friends.” I think Sommerville’s point is that he is advocating a life that is based on something superior to honor, a life based on “humility, service, peaceableness, modesty, respect for all, and equality.”
Ok, now look at each word individually. Pride. Dominance. Courage. Glory. Loyalty. Generosity to friends. Humility. Service. Peaceableness. Modesty. Respect for all. Equality. I realize that a couple of those words or concepts have negative connotations, such as pride and dominance. But in a proper context, each word or concept is a positive, and I think, a Godly concept. I know I’m going to catch some flak for that, especially for pride and dominance. However, on these two words, let’s look at a couple of thoughts.
If I am an architect and I design a truly beautiful building, is it a “Godly” thing to denigrate it, to say it is nothing? That is what many Christian sources would espouse. Of course we should give God the glory, but is it “ungodly” or “un-Christian” to be pleased with a work well done? Think of a Christian singing artist. Should they not be pleased with the beautiful songs they write, produce, sing?
And dominance. How many times did God command the Israelites to completely dominate their enemies? Think of Paul in his epistle to the Galatians. Clearly he was asserting his dominance over the false teachers that had crept in. So, in certain circumstances, dominance is a good thing.
Conversely, under the proper circumstance, each and every one of the words Sommerville used can be a negative. I will show what I mean with just a couple of the words above.
Peaceableness is a good thing, right? But what happens when a madman breaks into your home at 3:00 in the morning and charges you with a butcher knife held high. Is it a morally superior, or a more Christian position to be at that moment and whatever the cost, peaceable? I think that argument silly, at best. Further, look at the New Testament. There are several instances of soldiers being saved, or Christians, or whatever. How sensible is it to expect a soldier to be peaceable, no matter the situation? Or a policeman. Perhaps someone would argue that yes, no matter what, the soldier or policeman would be taking a morally superior, or more Christian, approach to shun violence no matter what the situation may be. Until it is someone dear to that person that a terrorist is about to behead. Or their loved one that a maniac is about to mutilate. I think that any sane person would want a soldier or policeman, even if a Christian, to use whatever force necessary to save their loved one.
What about service, that’s a good thing, right? Sure is, but should we always be in attitude of service, no matter what? We provide service to our children when they are born. They are helpless and cannot survive without a caregiver providing for all intents and purposes, unlimited service. We do this because it is what they need, and because we love them. But at some point it becomes our task to train them as well as care for them. And as time goes on, if we have done our jobs as parents, we serve them less and train them more, until the day that they “leave the nest” and strike out on their own. But what if we “served” them their entire lives? What if we never told them “no,” but provided them their every whim, their every desire? Service would cease to be a good thing, and at some point, a bad thing.
Finally, go to any Bible concordance and look at “honor.” There are probably dozens of references using that word.
My point here has been that each thing is neither always good nor always bad. What is important, I think, is the attitude of our hearts. Do I have a heart centered on Christ? Or do I have a heart that is centered on (fill in the blank, using any of the words in the Sommerville quote). I think that anytime my heart is not focused on Christ, I have missed the mark. I cannot focus on pride or humility. I cannot focus on dominance or service. I must focus on Christ, and Christ alone. I do not think that the Christian life and a life of honor are mutually exclusive. But anything that takes our focus off Christ has become an idol, and therefore, evil.
I’m going to go out on a limb, here. I am asking for comment on this. My arguments make sense to me, but that isn’t the end of the matter. I am asking for you to comment on this and give arguments, with or against me. I look forward to reading your thoughts.