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The Reactionary Utopian – Classic
April 7, 2010

Smirking at Virtue
by Joseph Sobran
fitzgerald griffin foundation

[Why the world hates good people.]

DUNN LORING, VA —One sin you don’t hear much about is envy: the hatred of the good for being good. Yet it’s one of the most basic human temptations, making its first recorded appearance near the beginning of the book of Genesis, when Cain hates — and kills — his brother Abel for being favored by the Lord.

This kind of envy is not to be confused with coveting another’s possessions. Mere jealousy of wealth can be assuaged by acquiring wealth. But envy arises from the humiliation of moral inferiority. It makes you want to denigrate or even destroy the person you feel is better than you. Usually it takes the form of detraction and slander, but it can even go to Cain’s extreme.

Since you can’t explain envy in economic terms, it has gone off the moral map in recent times. Unlike greed, lust, and gluttony, it’s a spiritual sin that baffles materialist analysis.

But most of the human race has always been well aware of envy. Literature bears witness to it in such deadly villains as Shakespeare’s Iago, Milton’s Satan, and Melville’s Claggart (in Billy Budd). They have nothing to gain by their hatred; they get their satisfaction by making those they hate suffer. Envy craves its perverse revenge on virtue and innocence.

When Princess Diana and Mother Teresa died within a week, there was far more media criticism of the merciful nun than of the swinging princess. ABC’s commentators on Mother Teresa’s funeral included the leftist Christopher Hitchens, who has written a book attacking her with the smirking title “The Missionary Position.” (He has also called her “the hellbat” and “hell’s angel.”) Newsweek carried an essay by the feminist Germaine Greer denigrating her indefatigable works of charity. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a similar essay by a liberal Catholic.

Spiritual goodness humiliates us sinners precisely by reminding us how short we fall. Sometimes we are tempted to hate others just for trying to practice virtues we’ve given up on.

A huge Washington rally of the Promise Keepers provoked an amazing volume of negative comment. Here are men who, far from claiming to be saints, confess their sins and amend their lives. In an age whose chief social problem is irresponsible males who desert their children (thus breeding another generation of even more irresponsible males), you’d think this movement would be beyond controversy.

Think of it: people actually blaming themselves! Admitting failure and guilt! Making no claims of victimhood! Asking nothing of others! Taking no government money! Committing themselves to take care of the women and children who need them!

Naturally they were denounced by feminists like Patricia Ireland of the National Organization for Women as “sexist,” “patriarchal,” and “right-wing.” Such feminists (whose views are always solicited by the media) have been silent about the problem of deserting males — the chief problem millions of ordinary American women have to live with.

Who is really interested in solving that problem — the Promise Keepers or NOW? Since Promise Keepers was founded for the express purpose of dealing with it, the answer is obvious.

Even the Washington Post tried to embarrass the group with a story about a dozen or so men wearing Promise Keepers buttons who stopped in a strip joint the Friday night before the rally. Apparently the Post thinks such behavior by a handful of jerks discredits the million or so other men who came to town for the event.

Or maybe the point of the story was simply to smirk. The smirk says: “We are superior to these gauche people, aren’t we?” The Post didn’t put the guys in the strip joint on the spot; it called a Promise Keepers official for comment, as if the organization were answerable for the conduct of everyone in attendance at a huge, free public gathering.

Since the media have done their part to glamorize the kind of behavior the Promise Keepers renounce, a lot of media people must feel secretly shamed by the earnest effort of ordinary men to grow up, however belatedly, without the help of sophisticated journalists. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

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Copyright © 2010 by Joe Sobran and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.A version of this column was published by the Universal Press Syndicate on October 7, 1997.

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