Smugness

“Habitual voluntary sins” and faults:  One passage from the Magnificat reflection for yesterday, Sunday, October 27th, by Father Léonce de Grandmaison, S.J., struck home:

Our intellect is frivolous, incapable of prolonged attention.  It judges too quickly, too severely; it is superficial, narrow.  “No one has any sense except us and our friends.”

IMG_6374aFlannery O’Connor called smugness the “Great Catholic Sin.”  I’ll take it further and say that it’s the Great Human Sin.  “No one has any sense except us and our friends” – is this not the way we all judge the world around us?  And yet we’re so positively certain that those other folks are wrong, just plain wrong, about some things.

I find myself growing complaisant spiritually, and in some regards, intellectually.  Intertwined in this complacency is smugness – the unconscious assumption that I’ve reached the pinnacle of perfection from which I can safely judge myself and the world around me.   I am the mean; others are the extreme.

Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of thy cataracts;
all thy waves and thy billows
have gone over me.

- Psalm 42:7

“NO POOPY DIAPER!”  is an oft-heard refrain in our home.

As if our three-year-old’s denial of it changes the fact of its existence.

Objective reality exists.  A poopy diaper is not simply a construct of the mind; it has a reality outside my or my three-year-old’s subjective experience.   Denying the existence of said diaper does not change the fact of its reality.

I wonder if one of the more pernicious effects of moral and intellectual relativism is the smugness present among those of us reacting against relativism.   Just because I believe in objective truth – and because I adhere, with faith, to the Creed – does not mean that my judgment is perfect.  I still have much to learn, and much of what I think (consciously or not) is full of error still in need of correction.

Our Lord’s warning about the prayer of Pharisee versus the prayer of the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) brings this to light.  Of course the Pharisee possesses a deep knowledge of truth.  He’s a student of God’s objective reality, shown forth in the Scriptures.  And it’s true that he hasn’t committed such and such sin.

But he’s smug about it.

Humility, I’ve heard said, is knowing the truth:  God is God, and I am not.  Pride would claim everything good as its own doing; false humility refuses to acknowledge the good that it does, by God’s grace, possess.

The Pharisee’s smugness robs him of justification before God.  The Deep calling unto deep cannot draw us into union with Himself when we set ourselves up as the arbitrator of what makes sense and what is true and false.

Image Credit: Morguefile (cc)

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2 thoughts on “Smugness

  1. Yes. This is a great post. I recently quoted Fulton Sheen on my blog, and it was about something along these lines…. even with a splendid education, we can become smug that we are “educated”– but what does that mean? Especially if we move on and just say ” I already know enough… I’m done.” I hear you on this post. And yes, I think it can be a *serious* sin, and definitely one I’m guilty of in particular.

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