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Point of View: Unuplifting Lifted Words

Wed, 07/14/2021 - 18:55

The Southern Baptists are getting into it over one minister treating another’s words as his own without attribution, the words in this case being self-will, self-glory, self-gratification, self-righteousness, and self-sufficiency, “the five selfs,” all, apparently in the eyes of both pastors, “signifying hostility to God.”

Plagiarizing aside (see sloth, and/or envy, two of the seven deadlies), I’m wondering what these preachers made of this catalogue that I presume is mainly concerned with the sin of pride.

Maybe they had somewhat different takes, or was it all about shamefulness and fear of the Almighty?

As for myself, I would strike self-will and self-sufficiency from the list inasmuch as self-sufficiency seems a worthy goal, one that requires strength of will to attain.

Self-sufficiency got me to thinking of Emerson naturally, and, indeed, I find that he applauds “a sufficient man,” and says elsewhere that “the only sin is limitation. . . . Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”

However, in so saying, he did not propose that we be hostile to God. To the contrary, I think he advocated self-reliance as a means by which we could better connect with ourselves, with others, with Nature — the manifestation of God on Earth in his view — and with the Over-Soul that he thought was the source of our inspiration.

The editor of “The Portable Emerson,” Jeffrey S. Cramer, says, in fact, that Emersonian self-reliance is often mistaken for what Emerson called “stupefying individualism,” which he abhorred.

If I were sermonizing, then, I’d write one on the folly of self-abasement, self-doubt, self-mortification, self-flagellation, and self-loathing, with the idea in mind that in order to help others — the chief aim in life, some would say — you must first help yourself. I don’t think God would view as hostile those trying to improve themselves, as long as they were thinking not so much of self-aggrandizement as they were of service to humanity.

So, I think we must evaluate the words the preachers are plagiarizing, and ask whether they’re worth — no matter who uttered them first — passing on from bully pulpits to what I can only imagine are cowed congregations.


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