Good Friday and the Problem of Self-Pity

 

Definition of self-pity

: pity for oneself especially: a self-indulgent dwelling on one’s own sorrows or misfortunes

Evening Melancholy I 1896 – by Edvard Munch

The philosophy of Epicureanism posited by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) a few centuries before the birth of Christ offered mankind self-pity with license. Per Epicurus, there was no God or the gods were uninvolved with men and there was no life after death. So, mankind had to make the best of the atoms he was dealt. Man was to do so by avoiding pain and seeking pleasure in the company of like-minded friends. Self-pity could be dealt with in intimate and safe surroundings.

Prior to Epicurus, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and sophist[i] Protagoras (490 BC – c. 420 BC) postulated “Man is the measure of all things.” There were no Universal truths for Protagoras. As Epicurus would later teach, everything to be believed was to come through the senses. Protagoras’ atheism adopted moral relativism as a way to give meaning to a life of self-pity: “What’s true for me may not be true for you…”; “Anything goes…If it feels good, do it” until you die.

“Concerning the gods, I have no means of knowing whether they exist or not, nor of what sort they may be, because of the obscurity of the subject, and the brevity of human life.” – Protagoras

The Stoics[ii], around the same time as Epicurus, posited a grim fatalist outlook. Considering themselves cogs in life’s machinery their response was to lead a virtuous life in spite of “it all”. Materialism and passions were of no interest to them. “No Fear” and apathy towards life’s randomness were the attitudes they wore on their shoulder to appear non-self-pitying. They also advocated for suicide, the ultimate self-pity.

I cite these two Greek philosophers and the Stoic philosophy, because, as it seems to me, the ideals posited by them summarize all of the ensuing humanist philosophies: man is the measure of all things; there is nothing transcendent only naturalistic causes; man operates as a product of animal organism within different cultures; man must create his own meaning; man is logos.

Evident today in modern man’s worldview are philosophies espoused centuries ago. Strains or genealogies of man-as-logos thought has been passed down from the Garden through generations. I recognize the dehumanizing philosophies, those that elevate man to be the center of the universe and also entice him to live in servility to his bodily functions. There is no doubt in my mind that modern man is influenced by these self-pitying based philosophies. Our current politics, especially the politics of the Progressive Element, highlight their invasiveness into modern thought. Below, a recent campaign appeal to self-pity for votes (and a humanist version of Jesus’ “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”):

To anyone who has ever felt different or unloved or not good enough-this is a moment to show you that you matter to all of us. Keep believing in yourself, we love you. Change is coming.

@PeteButtigieg

Around the first century Epicureanism and Stoicism were evident in Greek, Roman and Pagan life. These philosophies gave words to what was inherent in man from his days in the Garden. During the first century these philosophies were already fused with pantheism and the zeal to worship pagan deities. Pagan sacrifices were offered to placate the angry gods posited by philosophers and the temple priests. Such offerings to the angry gods were meant to ensure that the self-pity-self-logos applecart was not overturned. Into that self-reflecting age came a Reflection of Heaven.

During the first century the Apostle Paul wrote “when the fulness of time arrived, God sent his son, born of a woman” to redeem those kept in “slavery” under the “elements of the world” Gal (4:3-4). The self-pitying responses to life were given notice.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, a church embedded with Epicurean thought, about the Israelite’s desert plight. The Israelites displeased God with their self-pitying Epicurean ways:

The people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to play. – 1 Cor. 10:7

The self-pity (“God doesn’t care.”; ‘We’re all going to die.”) the Israelites had in Egypt they brought with them into the desert. Their self-pity became a pattern of living: idolatry, immorality, testing God and grumbling.

Epicurus taught of a shared life with friends. Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi about a shared life in the King. He taught a different way of thinking, one not of self-pity, but one centered on the Logos and other-centered. Paul taught about a partnership in the spirit, about fixing your mind on the Messiah, about never acting out of selfish ambition and, about looking “after each other’s best interests, not your own”.

Stoics taught a grim fatalist apathy towards life’s hardships, that one must muddle through bravely without hope. Jesus taught “Blessed are the poor in spirit. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” There was no after life for a stoic. Jesus said, “There is plenty of room to live in my father’s house. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and welcome you into My presence, so that you also may be where I am.

Paul’s epistles explain more: Jesus knew what he had to do to rescue men from self-pity and its consequent self-destruction. He would deny himself and empty himself of all pleasure -glory in the company of his father-and take on the incomprehensible pain of the world. He didn’t blame fate or others for his coming crucifixion. There was no posturing stoicism against unknown odds or self-indulgent dwelling on one’s own sorrows or misfortunes when Jesus asked “My father, if it’s possible –please, please let this cup go away from me! But… not what I want, but what you want.” Love for the father and for his creation was his motivation and his life’s meaning and, his means to bring humankind into the same intimacy he enjoyed with the father.

I have given them the glory which you have given to me, so that they may be one, just as we are one. – John 17: 22

Protagoras taught “Man is the measure of all things.” Paul wrote that King Jesus was the measure of all things.

This is how you should think among yourselves – with the mind that you have because of you belong to the Messiah, Jesus:

Who, though in God’s form, did not

Regard his equality with God

As something to exploit

 

Instead, he emptied himself,

And received the form of a slave,

Being born in the likeness of humans.

And then, having human appearance,

He humbled himself, and became

Obedient even to death,

 

Yes, even the death of the cross.

And so God has greatly exalted him,

And to him in his favor has given

The name which is over all names:

That now at the name of Jesus

That every knee within heaven shall bow—

On earth, too, and under the earth;

And every tongue shall confess

That Jesus, Messiah, is Lord,

To the glory of God, the father.

-Early Christian hymn recorded in Philippians 2

 

 

Both Protagoras and Epicurus taught that death was the end. For them and for many since, there would be no thought of resurrection, only the dust bin of history containing once self-pitying lives lived seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.

Even though first century Judaism (and freaked-out King Herod) was abuzz with talk about the resurrection of the dead, Mary and Martha, (in bouts of self-pity?) appear to have thought that their brother’s death was the end of life as they knew it.

“Master,” said Martha to Jesus, “if only you’d been here! Then my brother wouldn’t have died!

“Master!” Mary said. If only you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!”

The Resurrection and the Life would have none of this talk. And, he would deal with self-pity.

 

 

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On my dining room table there is a fragrant pot of lilies. The fragrance….is not the smell of death but of resurrection…

 

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[i] The philosophical school of Sophists did not deal in truth, logic, beauty or the transcendent. As Pluralists their teaching was a mix of philosophy, politics, opportunism and entrepreneurship. They were pragmatists who offered their life-counseling services for fee. They were self-help gurus.

 

[ii] Stoics taught that there is no universal truth, that what could be learned was through the senses and experience. The Divinity they believed in was the Logos, or mind. According to the pantheistic Stoics, we all breathed in pneuma, the air of the soul of the universe, the Oversoul. They avoided passion and worldly pleasures and thought the ascetic life ideal. Pleasure was not considered good and pain was not considered evil. Virtue is good and vice evil. Life deals cards, deal with it. Their philosophy can be summed as follows: “Everything happens for the best, and you can usually expect the worst.”; “c’est la vie!”