I know arrogance. As a former Marine fighter pilot, I used to think I was the chosen one. Fearless and indestructible, I never imagined making a mistake. After transitioning to the business world, this mindset continued as I worked with the best and the brightest––always feeling right at home with my “peers.”
I was special. Clearly.
As events unfolded through the years, and as mistakes compounded, I learned that I wasn’t so special. Not even close.
Therefore, I have to ask. Once again we’re about to elect a President. Regarding the two candidates, is arrogance a character trait that demands scrutiny?
Leaving Romney for another day, I’ll focus on President Obama. Is he arrogant and is that necessarily a bad thing? As well, does he believe himself smart enough and knowledgeable enough to solve the problems of America?
Three definitions are in order. Pride from the secular perspective is a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements. Arrogance is unwarranted pride, having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities. Finally, Catholic Catechetical pride is one of the seven capital sins. This pride is undue self–esteem or self–love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God.
For the sake of my discussion, the Catholic definition of pride aligns nicely with arrogance.
So let’s wander through the garden of pride, arrogance and knowledge (sound familiar?) and see what we can discover.
I’m going to start with me. I’m an educated man. I’ve been able to work in a number of fields that require specific knowledge such as science, aviation, business and the arts and since I enjoy reading, I’ve read my fair share.
If I take the world’s population as a data set and I draw a bell-shaped curve as the probability distribution, my accumulated knowledge over my lifetime is most likely a positive two standard deviations from the mean. In other words, I know more than ninety-five percent of the planet.
Sounding a bit arrogant, yes?
However, my bold conclusion is nothing more than a comparison of America’s population to the world and consideration of educational achievement in developing and non-developing countries. I’m not asking for a research grant here so please give me some leeway on this.
Now, if I journey to the Library of Congress––the largest library in the world––and decide to peruse the available resources, it will take the rest of my life. Their website informs me there are 138,313,427 items in the collections.
If a brainiac expert were to talk for one minute on each of these items, it would take her over two and one-half years, 24/7, to show-off her smarts. As for me, and this is a total shot in the dark, my complete knowledge transfer would take less than a day or two. Maybe much less (my brothers think eight minutes is about right). And I would wager that Barack Obama’s knowledge transfer time isn’t exponentially different from mine.
You see, I know a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the world’s depository of knowledge. And so does he. With this in mind, to those that consider themselves a know-it-all, I respectfully suggest they reconsider. The enormity of facts and information related to this planet and beyond is simply Brobdingnagian.
My point? Mr. Obama and I know nothing and most of the planet pales in comparison to us.
So where am I going with this? What is this knowledge, pride and arrogance examination all about?
For a moment, I need to be personal and talk about God.
This morning, I went out for a cappuccino. A grey layer hovered but Starbucks and the adjacent bakery were packed. People were talking, perhaps even communing with one another. For whatever reason, I wondered if these people were going to attend church or temple or participant in some faith tradition this weekend. I wasn’t being judgmental, I was only curious.
For some, religious worship is for special occasions. For others, the Bible, Torah or Koran is all they need. (For our sake here, I won’t address other faiths.) A handful would say they’re busy or antagonistic or lazy so worship will have to wait. For others, church and God are irrelevant. A few would voice neither faith nor disbelief and a small number would clearly state there’s no God. As might be expected, there are other reasons as well for a lack of attendance but I would surmise that most of the reasons were the result of some sort of conviction.
As to the question of God’s existence and whether or not he should be worshipped, people have firmly held beliefs and opinions based on their knowledge. This is key. But is their knowledge limited? And is their conviction warranted? Second, does pride and arrogance get in the way of expanding their knowledge or cementing their conviction? I won’t attempt an answer for those people I encountered this morning. However, here’s what I know about me.
I used to think I was a pretty smart guy and had a lot figured out. I reasoned about God in my own limited way and was comfortable with my conclusions. My obvious pride in rendering a final judgment on God, however, was unwarranted as my efforts in this regard were slack and moronic. Worse, my arrogance prevented me from seeing any of this.
So, I skipped through life as a hotshot atheist––the opposite of Plato’s wise man. (The Greek philosopher talked about being incredibly wise because he was aware of how much he didn’t know.)
As I see it, up until the time I became a Catholic, my entire life had been an engine powered by hubris and not humility. To put it succinctly, my credo had been that I was special, i.e., better and entitled––of course, the corollary of that is you’re not. My hubris, my excessive pride, my arrogance had been nothing more than a form of self-idolatry.
And so it kept me from God.
It made me unwise.
And it generated behavior and consequences that weren’t positive or in my self-interest.
So, with this President (as all Presidents), the stakes are much higher––our collective well-being.
As to whether or not President Obama is arrogant, I don’t think there’s any question. He is. He also thinks he’s smart and knowledgeable enough to execute his duties. As for his relationship with God, it’s not for me to say. Yet some of his actions are certainly in violation of God’s teaching. And is it possible that he’s so blinded by his own “aura” that he makes poor decisions? Are America’s interests somehow jeopardized by his haughty attitude, behavior and leadership?
Yes, they are.
Well enough. Whether the next President is Obama or Romney, I pray for their humility––the virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility thus avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer. And from prayer, good flows.
America will be the better for it.
Perhaps Presidential politics is only for the arrogant. Does it matter?