“But what we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place.”
Thus was G.K. Chesterton’s diagnosis in Orthodoxy, and it’s an odd one to be sure. For all of our letterboard worthy sayings about humility, we really don’t have a humble culture to start, much less one where humility seems to be in the wrong place. (Side note, “Stay humble,” is an odd saying – have you ever met a human who really needed to STAY humble? I’ve only met ones who need to humble themselves, self included)
But following Chesterton’s train of thought for a little bit longer is illuminating:
“Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason.”
Oh. Wow. Isn’t that blunt truth?
If we pull the curtains back and stare a little deeper into the darkest parts of society, we will recognize that humility lives in a home that we should have never let it move into. It now dwells in our convictions.
We were designed to humble ourselves, to recognize our fallibility and neediness, to turn to One who is greater, and to deeply hold onto the truths and convictions that carry us. Instead, we now put deep faith in ourselves, our glory, and our ability, and we hold loosely to convictions. (And we loosen our grip even more when speaking them to others, as our wishy-washy disclaimers like, “That’s just what I think,” or, “Whatever works for you,” convey.)
Chesterton’s conclusion of where this road will lead is accurate:
“We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern skeptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance.”
This out-of-sorts humility is spiritually dangerous. Believing in self above all and holding firm to nothing will lead to our downfall. We must humble ourselves and hold deeply to well-rooted beliefs if we want to grow or see this world change. If we refuse to do so, we will lose anyone who is made strong through deep and guiding conviction as we gain those who have no foundation outside of their thoughts about their own self.