Radical Humility: Forgetting Oneself as a Path to Flourishing
Play • 41 min

Philosopher Kent Dunnington exposes the radical roots of Christian humility, exploring the centrality of humility to Christian ethics, the goal of humility in eliminating one’s own self-concern, why humility remains so appealing and so appalling, and how to respond to the abuse and weaponizing of humility to oppress. Interview with Evan Rosa.

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About Kent Dunnington

Kent Dunnington is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Biola University in La Mirada, CA. He teaches and writes in the areas of virtue ethics and theological ethics. Other research interests include addiction and criminal justice, inspired by his experiences teaching in prison. He is author Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice and Humility, Pride, and Christian Virtue Theory. He also contributed an essay entitled "How to Be Humble" to The Joy of Humility: The Beginning and End of the Virtues.

Show Notes

  • What’s so gripping about humility?
  • Radical, entire sanctification and radical expressions of Christianity
  • Thinking about the virtues
  • Virtues as a way of thinking about Christian influence on culture
  • What makes humility a lightening rod?
  • Self-regard, human weakness and need
  • Humility: Mark of failure, or a trait that marks right relationship with God?
  • How human anthropology and human flourishing influences your views of humility
  • Pagan perspectives on humility
  • You’d expect that humility would lose its appeal, but many contemporary thinkers continue to laud it
  • Humility as pro-social, promoting horizontal relationships
  • Augustinian humility: Humility as central for vertical relationship with God and the gateway to Christian orientation toward the world
  • Love and humility: The love of God is an offense to pagan sensibilities.
  • Jesus’s humility as Jesus’s weakness
  • "We often forget just how deep Jesus’s weakness went… it’s almost like Jesus doesn’t have a self apart from the will of the Father."
  • "The striking thing about Jesus is that he seems to be free of this whole project of having a self that could be identified over and against someone else."
  • Definition of radical humility: no-concern about status and entitlements (cf., Roberts and Wood)
  • Humility as a balancing act between excessive pride and excessive servility
  • The radical humility of desert mothers and fathers—“they weren’t concerned with defining it, they were concerned with living it."
  • Abba Macarius and the Unwed Mother—“I discovered I had a wife."
  • Humiliation and serious critiques of humility as a cover for patriarchy and lauding servility and denigration
  • Clarifying the horizontal scope of radical humility: Desert mothers and fathers took on radical humility for themselves, not as a guide for leading others.
  • “If you’re someone who thinks Jesus’s life is the shape of the good life, then it becomes a pressing question: How far am I willing to go? Am I really willing to give up myself in love of other people?"
  • “Do I really believe that selfless love is the shape of a good human life?"
  • Resisting the temptation to repackage a safer humility
  • “Pretty much anytime you find yourself espousing the virtue of humility to someone else, you’re on the wrong track."
  • “I don’t think we have to be humble, but we can be. It’s a frightening invitation, but if it’s true it’s incredible that we could be freed from our concern to make ourselves significant enough to merit love."
  • Christianity and power
  • "I’m wary of turning humility into a virtue that can be leveraged for social gain. I still think of it primarily in terms of something that helps find our way into being creatures."
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