In the previous Les Miserables post I touched briefly upon the idea of how people idolise success and confuse it with merit. There was a relevant quote from Victor Hugo that I wanted to include in that post. I did not include it, because it would have made that post too long, so I will include it here.
In passing, we might say that success is a hideous thing. Its false similarity to merit deceives men. To the masses, success has almost the same appearance as supremacy. Success, that pretender to talent, has a dupe–history. Juvenal and Tacitus only reject it. In our day, an almost official philosophy has entered into its service, wears its livery, and waits in its antechamber. Success: That is the theory. Prosperity supposes capacity. Win in the lottery, and you are an able man. The victor is venerated. To be born with a caul is everything. Have luck alone and you will have the rest; be happy, and you will be thought great. Beyond the five or six great exceptions, the wonders of their age, contemporary admiration is nothing but shortsightedness. Gilt is gold. To be a chance comer is no drawback, provided you have improved your chances. The common herd is an old Narcissus, who adores himself and applauds the common. That mighty genius, by which one becomes a Moses, an Aeschylus, a Dante, a Michelangelo, or a Napoleon, the multitude attributes at once and by acclamation to whoever succeeds in his object, whatever it may be. Let a notary rise to be a deputy; let a sham Corneille write Tiridate; let a eunuch come into the possession of a harem; let a military Prudhomme accidentally win the decisive battle of an era; let a pharmacist invent cardboard soles for army shoes and put aside, by selling this cardboard as leather for the army of the Sambre-et-Meuse, four hundred thousand livres in income; let a peddler marry usury and have her bear seven or eight million, of which he is the father and she the mother; let a preacher become a bishop by talking platitudes; let the steward of a good house become so rich that on leaving service he is made Minister of Finance–men call that Genius, just as they call the face of Mousqueton, Beauty, and the bearing of Claude, Majesty. They confuse heaven’s radiant stars with a duck’s footprint left in the mud.
Okay, there are a whole lot of names in the above quote that you probably know nothing of, but I think you get the idea. Society considers that which is successful to be good simply by the mere fact that it is successful, with no question as to whether or not it is actually good. A man could win a billion dollars in the lottery, and he will be held by society in the exact same esteem as a man who earns a billion dollars by hard work and wise, shrewd investment. A man who is appointed to a high position simply by virtue of his social connections is held in the exact same esteem as a man who is eminently qualified for the position by virtue of his own merit. A preacher who builds a church of 300,000 by talking platitudes which have nothing whatsoever to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ is held in the exact same esteem as one who achieves the same results while remaining faithful to the Gospel, if in fact that is possible. And a church which draws a crowd by reinventing itself in such a way as to be pleasing to unbelievers is held in greater esteem than a church which proclaims and lives out the Gospel, but does not pull the numbers.
Those last two examples should have hit home really hard with those of us who are deeply emmeshed in the world of evangelical Protestant-dom. Continue reading “An Interlude: Success and the Gospel–Rethinking Galatians Redux”