On Honor

QUESTION TEN (quoting me) “In announcing that there is a standard that applies to both and applies to all, you have found a point of agreement with me, who am much concerned with questions of honor and courtesy.”
I’m concerned with courtesy, but I’d like to hear you talk more about what exactly “honor” means. I usually use it as a formal synonym of “respect,” but I get the feeling you have a different definition in mind.

Honor is a simple yet complex thing, like love. On the one hand, it is the applause and admiration of one’s peers for some job well done or words well spoken; on the other hand, it is not the applause at all, but the worthiness of the deed itself to earn that applause in a more perfect world, regardless of whether the world pays that obligation. Sad experience shows credit and fame often lodge where least deserved.

In particular, the honor given for virtue is called honor, particularly for manly and military virtues, and other applause and accolades are for lesser things. Indeed, it is rare these days to hear the word used in this lesser sense. Occasionally one hears, for example, of an academy award “honoring” a film maker of filthy reputation not for his tiny virtue but for his large artistic talent, which, no matter how large, is a lesser thing.

Military honors are granted for pagan virtues, such as prudence, temperance, justice and courage, but courage first and foremost. A great-souled pagan possessed of such virtues often displays them even in lesser things, such as the forms of his speech and manner, so that honor, by something like the distributive property, is a word used to describe these surrounding paraphernalia of virtues: honesty in speech more than other things, but also the fear and respect one’s speech and manner impress on others, or with what degree of gravity they address you, in formal rather than informal terms. Like many pagan things, honor in that sense is vanity.

the Christian sense of honor is grants particular accolades to those who display the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love. So in addition to heroes we admire for their strength and prudence in the face of the enemy on earth, we applaud and canonize those souls who display charity and grace to unearthly enemies. There is no pagan equivalent to a statue to Mother Theresa of Calcutta. The pagan can and should admire Socrates because he was wise, but the Christian also admires Saint Francis of Assissi or Saint Simon Stylites because they were foolish.

In the chivalrous or Christian sense honor is very nearly opposite the pagan sense, for the Christian gentleman treats all men in whom the image of God is found, such as old women, beggars, lunatics and thieves, as worthy of respect for the sake of Him whose image we revere.

In Christian nations the standard (alas, often violated) says that even felons led to the hangman are treated with respect and slain with the same dignity as a king at a coronation: the jeers and taunts and tortures and display of corpses afterward which is the characteristic mark of pagan executions are here absent. Think of the contrast between offering a man a last meal or last cigarette before snapping his neck instantly in a noose, and burying the body with a prayer and gravestone, versus the slow death by exposure and strangulation of the crucifixion, the Persian method of tying a man between two boats until his own excretion attracted insects to eat him, or the displays of corpses heads or hands on public walls. Contrast it with the  practice of the Spartans throwing unwanted children down the cleft called the Apothetae, or with what goes on in an abortuary like that of Kermit Gosnell and so many others.

I am not here contrasting Christian kindness with pagan cruelty. God knows Christian princes have been cruel enough to each other, and invented fiendish tortures. I am here saying that pagans have no reason in their world view to treat their weak or sick with dignity and respect, much less felons and criminals and unwanted children.  Their sense of honor is restricted to the classical virtues, of which courage is the foremost and temperance or chastity next. They honor brave men and chaste women.

I am saying even if they fall short of it, the Christian sense of honor, which is called chivalry, treats with reverence the widows and orphans and the poor and the sick, and those people for whom the world has no use, such as unwanted babies in the womb – which the world, in a spasm of scientific illiteracy and moral insanity, does not even recognize as human.

Postchristians have a tendency to honor certain minorities, that is, members of mascot groups known for being poor or weak or downtrodden, with chivalrous tenderness, and to grant honors even to members of the minority who are not poor or weak or downtrodden. Anyone not in the correct group, however, is treated with dishonor and contempt. So, for example, a black woman, even if she is the First Lady of the greatest nation in history, and has never been downtrodden in her life nor any of her ancestors for six generations, is awarded honor for her membership in a downtrodden group. But if that same black woman were a child in the womb, she is not even recognized as Postchristians as human, nor given a Christian burial if butchered in the womb by an abortionist.

Honor is closely tied to honesty. In something as frivolous as a philosophical debate between a chance met acquaintance, honor consists of answering any questions put honestly and with utmost humility. A man without honor is one who answers questions only to score points or “count coup” against his foe, whom he seeks to humiliate rather than to persuade.