Dethroning Ourselves: Self-Righteousness

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Skip the B.S.

By Skip Eisiminger

Our holier-than-thou Puritan forefathers disseminated Bible teachings . . . and smallpox.

Our holier-than-thou Puritan forefathers disseminated Bible teachings . . . and smallpox.

“Our son was reminded of the time he and his high school teammates had taken the team bus to play an away game. When the baseballers returned, many were presented with a slip of paper by their star outfielder with all the swear words they had used on the trip and a tally of how often each offending epithet had been used.”Skip Eisiminger

“Thank you kindly, Mr. Bound-for-Hell.”—Spoken by one of the “Ugly Holies” in Fred Chappell’s novel, I Am One of You Forever.

“A halo prevents one/from seeing ‘all that’—/the world beyond/the brim of one’s hat.”—The Wordspinner

Sterling (Skip) EisimingerCLEMSON South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—1/13/2014—I used to enjoy riding my bike through the library parking lot on the way to school. Most mornings, one might observe several professors and deans emerging from their Civics and Tercels with carbon footprints to die for until I showed up on “ZEV”: my zero-emissions vehicle.

I tasted the righteousness of The Elect, but I tried not to let it go to my head. It was a battle, however, and I often felt like Jonathan Edwards, who met people he thought he might befriend “if they were but truly holy.” Unlike Edwards, I kept my opinions of “unholy” colleagues to myself, and it’s well I did, for the fall from a high horse is sudden and sharp.

The Puritans, however, are exhibit No. 1 in my case against the self-righteous. The “puke stockings,” as the objects of Pilgrim wrath called them, had the temerity to watch entire Native-American villages die of smallpox and conclude from that horror that God loved the newcomers best. Of course, they had no way of knowing that their natural immunity was inherited from lucky ancestors, but shouldn’t there have been some humane outreach to the aboriginals by these Christers? To the best of my knowledge, there was very little, despite the benevolence of Squanto and others. When Australians hear of our Puritan origins, they often give thanks for the convicts that Great Britain sent into exile.

In all fairness, I should tell you that many Puritans began life with a strike against them: the names their parents assigned them were often pious signs of salvation or exhortations to seek it. Illustrations of the first category include Grace, Redeemed, The-Work-of-God, Joy-from-Above, Godward, and Renewed. The exhortatory names include Flee-Fornication, Hate-Evil, and Search-the-Scriptures. Surely the best in this genre is the brother of Praise-God Barebones: If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-would-have-been-damned Barebones. His acquaintances nicknamed him Damned Barebones. I can only hope that Damned found his nickname damned hilarious. I know I am amused that his descendants have made the Bible the most shoplifted book in history.

Before going any further, test your knowledge of those I judge. See how many of the following sanctimonious hoity-toits you can identify:

1. The nickname of the obstetrician who stated, “I did such a beautiful job, I had to initial [the patient’s abdomen with a scalpel]”?

2. Percentage of Americans who when anonymously polled say abortion is acceptable if genetic testing shows a fetus will be born with Huntington’s Disease?

3. The 18th-century author who wrote an influential book on child-rearing yet who sent all five of his illegitimate children to be brought up in an orphanage, where it’s very likely they died?

4. The minister who, after railing against prostitution in his pulpit, was arrested more than once for soliciting a prostitute?

5. The candidate for Vice President who resigned from two all-white country clubs because “it’s the right thing to do,” but rejoined both when he failed to win the nomination?

6. The terrorist/nationalist who denounced pornography, but whose computer was found loaded with it after he was killed?

7. The Old Testament prophet who condemned adultery, yet had 700 wives and 300 concubines?

8. The Vice President who denied federal money for museums, but requested and received $8,485 from the Federal Institute of Museum Services for his own?

9. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Atlanta who preached against birth control, abortion, and adultery but used condoms with his mistress?

and

10. The President of the Southern Baptist Convention who preached that “America needs a moral bath” before stating that “God does not hear the prayer of a Jew”?

Answers will be found at the end.

What I call the Apostle Syndrome (AS), not to be confused with Ernest Jones’ “God Complex,” often manifests itself in the young and idealistic. AS is epitomized for me by the nervous fellow in a cafeteria who was trying to make his way to the head of a long line. The front of his T-shirt read, “Don’t disturb me—I’m speaking with Jesus.” The back of his shirt said, “Anointed Hands Tax Service.” Junior wanted a salad with dressing on the side, and he wanted it in a hurry. With each shoulder he tapped, he said, “Excuse me please in Jesus’ name.” Somehow, he felt, the invocation of Jesus was supposed to make line-breaking acceptable. If he really had an emergency, “excuse me please” would have sufficed, but in what emergency is a salad required?

When I told our son of this incident, he was reminded of the time he and his high school teammates had taken the team bus to play an away game. When the baseballers returned, many were presented with a slip of paper by their star outfielder with all the swear words they had used on the trip and a tally of how often each offending epithet had been used.

I’ve long wondered what leads people to pronounce one way straighter and more virtuous before traveling that path. My guess is that Bible precedents lead many to moral conceit. People of one book and often one parent simply don’t know any better. Furthermore, once you have convinced yourself you’re saved, how can you do any wrong? The “frozen chosen” regard their behavior the way Kant regarded the categorical imperative: a model for the world. If God has told them in a vision to refrain from using “fool,” for example, who are The Elect to say otherwise, even if Jesus used the word himself when condemning the foolish?

The consequences of self-righteousness, however, may be destructive. The mother of a friend converted to the Jehovah’s Witnesses after she and her husband had brought up eight children in the Baptist church. As a result, she refused to attend five of her children’s weddings because to do so would be a violation of her new church’s strictures against entering the sanctuaries of Satan. It seems that once you don angel’s wings, you’re not fit for spelunking.

Answers:

1. Allan Zarkin, aka “Dr. Zorro”

2. 95 percent

3. Jean Jacques Rousseau

4. Jimmy Swaggart

5. Jim Wright

6. Osama bin Laden

7. Solomon

8. Dan Quayle

9. Eugene Marino

10. Bailey Smith

About Sterling Eisiminger

Sterling (Skip) Eisiminger was born in Washington D.C. in 1941. The son of an Army officer, he traveled widely but often reluctantly with his family in the United States and Europe. After he finished a master’s degree at Auburn and took a job at Clemson University in 1968, he promised himself that he would put down some deep roots. These roots now reach back through 40 years of red Carolina clay. In 1974, Eisiminger received a Ph. D. from the University of South Carolina, where poet James Dickey “guided” his creative dissertation. His publications include Non-Prescription Medicine (poems), Felix Academicus (personal essays), Omi and the Christmas Candles (a children’s book), and Wordspinner (word games). He is married to the former Ingrid (“Omi”) Barmwater, a native of Germany, and is the proud father of a son, Shane, a daughter, Anja, and grandfather to four grandchildren, Edgar, Sterling, Spencer, and Lena. Author Photo: Ingrid Eisiminger
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2 Responses to Dethroning Ourselves: Self-Righteousness

  1. Anita Sullivan says:

    Thanks for the reminder, Skip. My current struggle against self-righteousness involves the cuts in food stamp money. I just keep coming back dumbly to the mantra “it’s wrong, it’s wrong!”

  2. Skip says:

    Perhaps I don’t understand, Anita, but to me, self-righteousness is the egotism of one who cuts food stamps thinking he’s done the hungry a favor because “Now,” he says, “those parasites can lose some weight.”

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