“Mr. Worldly-Wiseman is an alien, and Mr. Legality is a cheat; and for his son Civility, not withstanding his simpering looks, he is a hypocrite and can not help thee.” — Evangelist, from Pilgrim’s Progress.
Over at the Witherspoon Institute, Todd Hartch talks about the pride of silence. An associate professor of history at Eastern Kentucky University, Hartch is particularly concerned about professors at secular universities.
“We often stay quiet when we know we should speak, at least in part because we’re concerned about our images,” he writes, noting subjects like abortion and traditional marriage. He says he has literally seen faculty members whisper and close their doors to talk about such things.
He puts it this way:
Isn’t this an odd sort of situation? We conceal what we really believe so that people will think more highly of us than they would if we were honest. In other words, we want them to think well of us for reasons that, in our heart of hearts, we utterly reject. We want our colleagues to esteem us for being conservatives—it’s almost impossible to keep our basic orientation towards politics and morality hidden—who aren’t as “extreme” as the ones they look down upon.
This can happen to all of us, however. Because our friends don’t see us as extreme as Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin, we start to take a little pleasure in how much more nuanced we are. And then we are doubly proud—too proud to speak up in the first place and more proud as we justify our silence. We wouldn’t be comfortable with any Old Testament prophet, either, not because we don’t know the truth but because we don’t want anyone to think about us as, well, that extreme.
Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann called this a spiral of silence. She wondered why the Germans failed to speak out about policies that led to defeat, humiliation and ruin in the 1930s-1940s, and concluded people tend to remain silent when they feel that their views are in the minority. This results, she claimed, from an increasing fear of isolation.
And fear may be part of it. But pride is more likely. And more dangerous. We may not be afraid of what people think about our ideas as much as we care about whether they see us in a certain way. Civil, urbane, and sophisticated.
I’m not comparing Palin to the prophets, by the way. I’m just saying that ordinary conversations about sin and redemption are needed in politics, business, and education—and if we keep silent about things we earnestly believe, then we have deprived our communities of important conversations simply because our neighbors, coworkers or students might associate our ideas with someone else’s style.
When this happens we eventually come to the place where our association with Christ is also hid. His claims and demands are a bit extreme by current standards of tolerance. So we hesitate to give him honor in places where he is dishonored, or praise in places where he is blasphemed. And we hardly ever talk about what he requires.
But if his name is only on our lips at church, this too may be pride. And a deadly one. It’s important that we speak out because understanding sin is the key to understanding grace. Only in darkness do we seek the light.
And yet we often come to the place where we won’t talk about either.
It’s a sad place, to be sure.