Some Are More Equal Than Others

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Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

The danger in treating people as equals is that they might actually start believing it. And to treat them as better than myself—well, that stretches credulity past the breaking point. I don’t mind treating folks with a little faux respect every so often if I have to, but to have them believe they actually deserve it is another thing altogether. I get nauseous just thinking about it.

I also have a problem with the “do nothing out of selfish ambition” thing. For one thing, that covers a lot of ground. Does that mean I can’t eat if I’m hungry? Eating would be done completely for myself. I don’t see how scarfing down a burger and fries would contribute to the welfare of somebody else, unless I scarf it in the knowledge that there are starving kids in India who would be offended if I don’t finish everything on my plate. But eating is only one thing that would fall under the selfish ambition category.

And what about the vain conceit thing? Not only is “vain conceit” redundant, it’s fuzzy too. Both vain and conceit mean to have an excessively high opinion of oneself. But I ask you, what constitutes excessive? What if you really are better than other people? What if you are excessively talented or smart or spiritual? Wouldn’t then an excessive self-admiration be appropriate? If I’m supposed to love my neighbor as myself, wouldn’t it actually be in my neighbor’s interest for me to think I was better than him? More than that, if I was better than other people wouldn’t vain conceit actually be impossible? It seems to me that the best way to avoid vain conceit is to acknowledge that you’re better than other people. How Paul can get this so screwed up is beyond me.

Maybe the only practical thing in this verse is the “in humility consider” part. It doesn’t say that you have to believe that the other people are better than you, only that you’re supposed to consider them better. That’s a huge difference. It means, in effect, that I get credit for humility if I pretend that somebody is better. To avoid them getting ideas, I would make it clear to them that I was only acting like they were better but that I didn’t really believe it. This would get me points with God while at the same time keeping an inferior people in their place where they should be. As long as those people knew they were inferior, I would be willing to treat them like they weren’t. I think that’s fair considering what is being asked of me.

But my personal opinion is that this Bible verse was never meant to be put into actual practice in real life. It is more of a religious idea than a good one. The Bible is filled with religious ideas that aren’t all that great. But those are the breaks.

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