Monday, March 14, 2011

What A Braggart!

When it comes to bravery, Beowulf makes the Top 10 list for all time. Who’s read Beowulf? This guy takes on a terrifying monster with his bare hands. He dives into an evil lake full of monsters, just one sword in his hands. He even goes after a dragon, all by himself. John McClane is a tough cookie, but I don’t see him intentionally taking of his armor to face a bad guy.

Beowulf was proud of himself for all that. And he wasn’t afraid to share it. More than once he boasted about his exploits, and spared no flattery for himself. Just listen to the guy.

“Time and again, foul things attacked me, / lurking and stalking, but I lashed out, / gave as good as I got with my sword. / My flesh was not for feasting on, / there would be no monsters gnawing and gloating / over their banquet at the bottom of the sea. / Instead, in the morning, mangled and sleeping / the sleep of the sword, they slopped and floated / like the oceans leavings.”

“I had done him no wrong, yet the raging demon / wanted to cram me and many another / into this bag- but it was not to be / once I got to my feet in a blind fury. / It would take too long to tell how I repaid / the terror of the land for every life he took.”

“I marched ahead of him, always there / at the front of the line; and I shall always fight like that / for as long as I live, as long as this sword / shall last, which has stood me in good stead / late and soon, ever since I killed / Dayraven the Frank in front of the two armies.”

What a braggart. Seriously. I can pull up a couple other parts from Beowulf where he milks his adventures for all they’re worth. He boasts in front of envious rivals, foreign kings, and his own people. He holds nothing back when telling his stories. Modesty doesn’t seem to have been a big priority in the Geats’ kindergarten.

Can you imagine what would happen if someone bragged like that today? We’ve come a long way since the time of the Geats. Or at least the ideal of them in Beowulf.

I’m thinking of that captain who crash-landed his plane safely in the Hudson River. I bet he wouldn’t be half the hero he is today if he told the media, “The plane tossed and turned like a drunken bird, but I had a keen mind and firm hands, and I had no trouble keeping my people safe, as I made my perfect landing. Yeah, I’m just that awesome.”

He might have gotten the same rep that Charlie Sheen has right now, but he would have no respect in the long run. Correct me if I’m wrong, please.

I find that curious, now that I think about it. How bad would it be, in the long run, to tell stories like that about ourselves? I hope you, the reader, can name at least one proud thing in your life. Not just any proud thing, mind you. I speak of the big ones. The ones that bring tears to your eyes. The ones that hurt, where you bled for something that was worth bleeding for, and you endured pain for something that was worth the pain, and you kept on moving for something that kept you going, even though you didn’t want to take another step.

And when you got whatever it was you were striving for, you felt it. You felt a surge of pride. I’ve felt it before. I made it through a 13-hour dance marathon. When it finally ended, my heart was on fire. I wanted to share my victory with everyone. I wound up feeling awkward about it later. Would Beowulf have felt awkward? I doubt that. I seriously wonder if bragging isn’t such a bad thing, in moderation.

Ponder me that. If you had just torn the arm off of a huge, man-eating fiend, and a crowd gathered around, waiting for you to say something… what would you say? What if you had the guts to yell, “I did it!” What if you threw out your chest, flexed your muscles, and told everyone how that foul Grendel never stood a chance against you?

St. Paul said to boast only that you serve the Lord; I know that. I could see this kind of bragging falling under that rule. If you did something difficult and noble for God, and you glow with triumph, couldn’t you vent it a little? What kind of a human always smiles quietly and lets someone else take the cake?  

* = The translation I quoted is by Seamus Heaney. My English professor tells me it's not that great.


  1. Isn't pride a sin? Oh wait, that's right religion let's you sin all you want as long as you say you're sorry.

  2. Thanks for reading! Pride is not necessarily a sin. Excessive pride is a sin for sure. It's difficult to draw the line between the two.

    Which religion do you refer to? I am a Roman Catholic. We believe that you can obtain forgiveness for your sins, BUT with the understanding that you are going to do everything you can to stop sinning. The Catholic Church does not give you license to sin, period.

    I cannot give you a precise answer for any other religion you may be thinking of.

  3. This explains pride pretty well. Better than what I would be able to write. If you are confused, this might clear some things up:

    Hope this helps :)

  4. I can think of a few politicians that would make Beowulf look like a piker.
    As for anonymous 2's link, that does deal with the Christian view, but anonymous 1 (same person or different?) was refering to religion in general which could include anything from Islam to Judaism to Buddhism to Ba'hai. & not all of them treat pride the same way.

  5. @Anonymous2: Thanks for the link. It provides some perspective, though I still think a LITTLE bit of swagger isn't a bad thing.

    @Al: I hadn't even thought of politicians. They do what they gotta do to be in office, which I bet gets tough if they care about humility.

  6. Sean: Don't feed the trolls.

    Being a newly Christianized fictitious character I think that Beowulf gets a pass on this one.

    I think you meant to write "off" instead of "of" in your first paragraph.

  7. Patrick I'm not a troll, I just find Judeo-Christian religious organizations contradict themselves all the time. The pride being a sin, but pride being acceptable is one. The idea of forgiveness for sins is not a contradiction. I just find it to be a recruitment tool in which it detracts from any true morality. You say it's wrong, but if you do it and you're sorry it's okay.

  8. Anonymous, I can tell you the Catholic Church has been making mistakes since day one of its inception. Crusades and the Avignon Papacy are prime examples.

    I must protest the charge that forgiveness for sins is a mere recruitment tool. It is essential to my faith. People screw up. When they're shooting for an ideal as high as the one Catholics shoot for, they screw up a lot. That's the whole reason we have Confession.

    It is NOT okay to sin and say sorry. It is not okay to sin, period. But humans are weak. When they fail, Catholics believe that the ritual (we call it a sacrament because we find it holy) of Confession removes the negative impact of those mistakes on the human soul. Forgiveness from God is not a safety net, but a heart surgery. It gives us a clean slate so we can become better people than we were before.

    If someone uses Confession with the intention, "I can bang this chick and then go to Confession" then the Confession won't work. There must be sincere remorse for the sin, and resolve not to do it again.

    Does that help?

  9. Yes it did help as a matter of fact. It helped show why exactly confession is flawed. People as you say are flawed and are going to sin, and of course sinning is wrong. A sincere confession then clears the slate, and a sincere confession is one in which as you put it someone resolves not to do it again.

    However people are weak and flawed. Therefore by their very nature they are bound to do it again. So what do they do? The same thing they did before, ask forgiveness.

    This then leads me to the assertion that it is a recruitment tool. The church teaches you that everyone sins, and sinning is wrong. If you sin you will burn in Hell for all eternity. Then they continue to say, but if you're really really sorry god will forgive you and you won't spend eternity in the fire pits of Hell.

    The reason that it is such an abhorrent technique is that it is done to children. Confirmation is done at a young age, where the church manipulates the children to join so they won't spend eternity suffering.

  10. Anonymous, it seems as if you have made a claim that you need to provide evidence for before proceeding to your next point. You say that "pride being acceptable" and rejected simultaneously is a contradiction, yet you provide no example to show us what you mean.

  11. Anon:
    The idea that the sacrament of confession is a recruitment tool is absurd. Many Protestants say that they dislike the idea of confession and would be embarrassed to tell their sins to a priest. And even if it is a recruitment tool it is one mandated by Christ. "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained." If you don't believe in Jesus in the first place, (which you clearly do not) than complaining about confession is silly.

  12. Petros my point about pride is simply that this blog is encouraging pride, yet pride is a sin. So it is the idea that sinning is acceptable that is the contradiction I am referring too. I don't really understand what you want by evidence.

    Patrick I'm not sure what the Protestant thing has to do with anything, but alright that's cool. Jesus mandating confession does absolutely nothing to disprove my claims. So he mandated it, that doesn't mean it isn't used as a recruiting tool. Also, not to sound overly cynical and offensive Jesus was trying recruit people. Now do not think for one second that because I reject Christ's divinity that I don't believe he was a powerful person. Who did have good intentions. So I ask why then are my complaints absurd. You give no reason other than Protestants and Jesus, which does absolutely nothing. To further elaborate my point that it is a recruitment tool; the sacraments are in whole used to recruit people. Now just because it is used that way, doesn't necessarily mean it was intended to be. Just that it is. This behavior is like a virus. It infects children, and creates a viscous circle.

  13. Patrick, you jumped the gun. Please be a little more careful how you use words like "absurd" in a debate like this.

    Anonymous, these charges are serious, and I mean to respond to them in full. I would be a coward and betraying my own faith if I did any less. I have many projects today and tomorrow to which I am committed. I will have a response to you by the end of the week. My apologies for the delay. This debate vitally important for everyone involved.

    And I know Petros personally. By evidence, he seems to seek a specific example of your ideas about pride and sin being acceptable. Thanks for bearing with us.

  14. Sean, I want you at your best so take your time, and I wouldn't take any less of a response from you.

    Petros, maybe I wasn't clear enough. Pride is a sin, a very serious sin. Mainly related to Lucifer's hubris. Now this blog is encouraging pride toward service of god and showing that pride. Now pride is pride. It is still a sin. I wasn't saying that sinning is acceptable. Rather that this blog is encouraging a sin, and that is then acceptable within this context. That is where I find the contradiction.

  15. Pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins

    Pride was lucifer's sins. Pride places the sinner above God and God's Mercy. that is why pride is a cardinal sin.

    All the other sins follow from Pride

    Greed: I am better than everyone else I deserve everything
    Lust: I deserve all the pleasure I can get
    Anger: how dare you disagree with me. No one gets to disagree with me.
    Gluttony: I can have as much as I want how I want it when I want it
    Envy: no one can have anything that I don't have
    Sloth: I am so much better than you I won't left a finger, you must do everything for me.

    " Pride " isnever acceptable

    I think what you are thinking of as pride is when you feel good about something that you've done or that you are proud of yourself, or something. That isn't pride as much as that is estimation.