Success and dignity in Orthodoxy

Scott Adams​: “Dignity and Other Obstacles to Success”.

“After a lifetime of observation, it seems to me that dignity in all its forms can be one of the most pervasive obstacles to success. I assume that is because human dignity is hard to separate from ego, pride, artistic integrity, fear of failure, and a lot of other obstacles that successful people try to avoid. All of those limiting emotions spring from the idea that you are special.


Sometimes life requires that we take jobs below our station until we learn skills, offer apologies even when we are wronged, suck-up to power when necessary, work long hours when we “deserve” some rest, risk embarrassment in front of witnesses, risk failure and humiliation, and get rejected by the people we hope to love. In that sort of game, the player unburdened with human dignity usually wins.”

Ron Mader - What does success look like?,
Ron Mader – What does success look like?,

There’s this general theory that religion restricts liberties. Don’t do this, and don’t do that. Most people, even religious people would consider that religion generally takes some liberties, instead of giving them.

I view things differently – religion actually empowers you to have more liberties. You have a big aim (heaven), but you also have lower aims for that (mostly, serving people and serving God). The thing is, for reaching the lower aims you are in a paradox, as most of the time when you do something to help others you aren’t, at the same time, praising God, and when you praise God you aren’t helping others. You, are told that you should both stand up and sit down. You are not told how to handle this paradox, you have a liberty to pick it.

In my view of religion, you are allowed, and actually suggested to cut corners to reach for a goal. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

Most people, when they ask themselves for their sins, look for the bad deeds they do. In my opinion, they should look much more at the good deeds they haven’t done.

In The Blues Brothers, one character says: “Elwood: We’re on a mission from God.”

They’re ex-cons who do all sorts of bad things to save a monastery. They save it, and they end up in jail.

In The Wolf of Wall Street, the main character takes all sorts of liberties (sins). But when his best friend is in trouble, he has no restraint to help him. There’s actually nothing stopping him from helping his friend. You might argue that the price (doing bad things) is too high for the end result (helping just one person). I view religion more like this – focus on reaching good goals, by doing mostly good things, but, at times, cut corners.

In conclusion, in religion, as I view it:

  • You have the option of choosing between helping others or praising God.
  • You are allowed to cut corners to reach either goal.
  • You should focus on not doing bad things, but not as much as focus on doing good things.

In this view, religion gives more liberties than it takes.

PS, 2015.05.29:

I’m an Orthodox (Eastern Europe), and I agree that the general view is this:
“Most older religions (Judaism, Catholicism, and some Eastern ones I don’t know enough about to name) teach that it is *not* OK to “cut corners” and do something wrong in the service of good goals.”

After some thinking, I realized that the perception is false, and, yet, shared by most people.

To better understand this, you have to see the following – a lot of the “do this” and “do that” things which you are required to do are, actually, contradicting, and forming a paradox. This gives the liberty to pick a path.

You are required, in the Bible, to actually do the impossible. Be gentle and fighting, at the same time. Accept authority and fight it. Give to others, but think of yourself, at the same time. Care for nothing and care for everything. Put restraints on yourself (what you eat, think, feel), and put no restraints at all and be happy. The 10 commandments are, generally, things you are asked to do, and have, generally, no counterpart, but for the ones which refer to people (do not steal, to not kill, and so on) are, most of them, required for civilization (not all, but most of them). For the one which refer to God, you are given a paradox – Love God & Love people, and you are not told which one to pick and how much emphasis to put on one of those. Thus, liberty in even showing the love for God at all.

The cause for which most people don’t see this, is that they take fragments, and fail to see the big picture. Yes, in the Bible it says you should do X. But, someplace else, if you read it carefully, you might find out that you should also do the exact opposite, -X. This gives you liberty, more than it takes it.

My view on why is this system so complicated is the following:
– If you’re a simple person, you will find it hard to understand that you can pretty much do anything, as long as your intent is to either serve God or people. For you, it’s good that you only understand fragments, like “do this and don’t do that”. For you, it’s better to have this system than none whatsoever.
– If you dig deeper, you find liberties. For you, with a more profound understanding, you will find that you should use personal judgement much more than follow rules.

So, you are right when you say that the general view is the one which you state, but I don’t think that’s the correct interpretation. Most people would say what you say, though.

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