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Priggishness

This passage from “Acedia & Me” reminds me of blogs, talk radio, and the faddishness of social justice in certain pockets of American Christianity.

Though we may think ourselves far too liberated to be considered prigs, the writer Marilynne Robinson insists that this is exactly what we have become. She points out that the polarized tenor of our social discourse epitomizes the dictionary definition of priggishness, as “marked by overvaluing oneself or one’s ideas, habits, notions, by precise…adherence to them, and by small disparagement of others.” It may be easy to profess not to believe in sin, but it is hard not to believe in sinners, so we embrace the comfortable notion that at least they are other people. “I’m a good person, but God hates homosexuals.” “I’m a good person, but God condemns homophobes.” “I’m a good person, but the homeless are irresponsible bums.” “I’m a good person, but those who denigrate the homeless are evil.” “Good people like me support our president.” “Good people like me oppose the president.” The loud litany of self-aggrandizement that reverberates through out culture convinces me that, for all of our presumed psychological sophistication, we remain at a primitive stage in our capacity to understand the reality of sin…

In the fourteenth century, Chaucer warned that “a great heart is needed against acedia, lest it swallow up the soul.” But in a priggish culture such as ours, this magnanimity of spirit is precisely what we lack, and if we persist in denying any truth but our own, the danger to society is that our perspective will remain so narrow and self-serving that we lost the ability to effect meaningful change. Robinson wonders, in fact, whether we have made such a fetish of social concern and criticism that we have eroded our belief that genuine reform is possible. Anger over injustice may inflame us, but that’s a double-edged sword. If our indignation feels too good, it will attach to our arrogance and pride and leave us ranting in a void.

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