Saturday, April 2, 2011

Our subconscious self-righteousness

This morning, I really enjoyed our reading group which is going through Miroslav Volf's Exclusion and Embrace. This post is just about one intriguing issue which came up. Volf begins the chapter, "Exclusion" with comments from Michael Ignatieff about patronising (and self-righteous) European attitudes to ethnic conflicts. [Incidentally, Ignatieff is currently leader of the Liberal Party in Canada].

A 1995 journal article by Ignatieff, The seductiveness of moral disgust  considers the motivations for and failures of Western military interventions, particularly that in Bosnia and Kosovo:
There was a strong element of narcissism buried inside the more obvious motivations leading the West to intervene. We intervened not only to save others but also to save ourselves, or rather an image of ourselves as defenders of universal decencies. We wanted to show that Europe "meant" something, stood for toleration within a peaceable and civilized civil society. This imaginary Europe, this narcissistic image of ourselves, we believed was incarnated in the myth of a multiethnic, multiconfessional Bosnia.
The essay is reprinted in a book, The Warriors Honour: Ethnic war and the modern conscience. The book also contains an essay, "Nationalism and the narcissism of minor difference". Apparently this is an illusion to the claim of Freud that a signature of Narcissism is the amplification of "minor difference".

So what? To me this is just another example of how humans all have an incredibly powerful subconscious force driving us towards self-righteousness. This is what drives the creation, maintenance, and promulgation of religion.

God has placed within us a strong desire to be right and to be in right relationship. But we pervert this desire by trying to establish our own righteousness by self-justification and comparison to others unrighteousness. But the only way we can be right with God and be justified is if we accept his gift of righteousness provided by Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26).

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