When Daedalus created wings of feathers and wax for his son, Icarus, he gave them with a caution. Daedalus warned of complacency and pride. Icarus should fly neither too high nor too low. Flying too close to the sea would weigh the wings down with dampness. Too close to the sun and the wax would melt.
The young man’s wings melted and Icarus drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. The word the Greeks used to describe Icarus’ pride is hubris. Hubris describes a foolish pride or a dangerous overconfidence that offends the gods.
The Greeks didn’t invent hubris, they just created the nomenclature. In the Bible, the locus classicus of human arrogance and defiance of God is found in Genesis chapter 11. God commanded humanity to spread out and multiply across the face of the earth. They refused and instead “…said, `Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth (Genesis 11:4).’”
As the story concludes: “That is why it was called Babel [Hebrew for confused]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth (Genesis 11:9).”
Sociologists sometime refer to this human inclination toward hubris as the overconfidence effect. We tend to subscribe to overestimation, over-precision, and over-placement. We misjudge our standing among others, think too highly of the accuracy of our viewpoints, and exaggerate our performance.
The result is often ruinous. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18),” Solomon reminds us.
And there’s no shortage of examples.
Centuries of wisdom – literally since the beginning of human existence – were tossed out with the bathwater in June 2015. In the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, three very intelligent women and six very smart men redefined the cultural and biblical definition of marriage.
Since the beginning of time, every animal species known to man has recognized two genders. We are here today because of this reality. But we, in our wisdom, now recognize 63 different genders (this number varies – Facebook recognizes 51).
The science is in and human life clearly begins at conception. In Utah, an aborted fetus (Latin for baby or offspring) must be given anesthesia prior to the abortion. We warn pregnant mothers of the dangers of smoking and drinking. Murdering a pregnant woman will get you a double homicide indictment around here. Yet there were still 926,200 abortions in our country in 2014 (latest data from the Guttmacher Institute).
Dolly, the most famous sheep in the world, was cloned in 1996. I seem to remember assurances from scientists back then that human cloning wasn’t the objective – it was just genetic research. In January, Chinese scientists used the same technology to create two clones of macaque monkeys – the species which shares 93% of its DNA with humans.
On July 27, 2017, eleven month old Charlie Gard died in London. Born with a rare genetic disorder, he wasn’t given much hope by doctors. But hope was not abandoned – parents thrive on hope. There was an experimental treatment offered by doctors in New York. It was a long shot, but it was a chance. The family raised support from around the globe and expenses were covered, but the London High Court ruled that Charlie could not leave England. In their hubris, they determined that further treatment was futile and would simply prolong his suffering. They refused to let him leave (live?).
In January, Article 2.2 of the Dutch euthanasia law was amended to allow doctors to euthanize patients suffering from dementia without verbal consent (allowing for prior written directives).
Hubris. Foolish pride and dangerous overconfidence in ourselves. We misjudge our standing in the world, we overestimate the accuracy of our viewpoints and knowledge, and we exaggerate our abilities. We’re building towers of Babel.
The issues from the newspaper I have mentioned are what we used to call the “birds and the bees.” These are the basics. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, marry, have children, and one day they die. It is simple enough for a child to understand: Milton Bradley called it “The Game of Life.” Gender, sex, birth, death…they are all aspects of life that are within God’s realm of providence and authority. But in our human wisdom, we have redefined and usurped them all.
When God first encountered this level of hubris at Babel, his judgment was division. He confused human language and we went our separate ways. Many years later in Jerusalem, followers of Jesus gathered for prayer with contrite and repentant hearts in an upper room. That day, on the Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit manifest Himself and reversed the confusion of human language. Peoples gathered from the four corners of the world declared, “…we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues (Acts 2:11)!”
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” Hubris brings judgment and division. Repentance and contrition before Almighty God is our only hope for unity and a reversal of that judgment.