The Plague of Mental Modesty

By Scott Keith

Group thinkS-resized-600

“We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.”

– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Mental modesty is a plague. Every day I encounter students who are too mentally modest to claim that they actually believe one or another thing is right, for fear that this will imply that they think the antithesis is wrong. I find myself more and more agreeing with Chesterton when he says: “Of course, his view must be the right one, or it is not his view.” What the hell is going on here? We are not, as Chesterton claimed in his day, on the road of mental modesty. Rather, in our day, it is plain to see that we have traveled the road and arrived at some La-La-Land where people do not have the courage of their convictions to stand behind what they truly believe to be the truth.

So, mental modesty truly is a plague. It is a plague because of how immodest it is. A modest person will hold a view, perhaps vehemently, but will be open to the idea that if a particular set of facts were to present themselves, their view would need to be changed. Hence the Apostle Paul, modest because he had already been shown to be incorrect once, can claim in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” This is the most modest of claims. Yet, as Paul writes this he believes that Christ was raised from the dead, and his faith is not in a lie, but based in the truth of the resurrection of Christ.


The modesty that is esteemed in our day claims that indecision is a virtue. Why is it more virtuous to claim universally that truth cannot be known, while judging as arrogant, those who believe that it can? It is a fearful type of arrogance that, because it claims to know nothing, insists that no one else can know anything either. And herein lies the problem with those who are the so-called mentally modest. They are afraid to violate the most trumped up primary virtue of our age, tolerance. The word tolerance seems to make our modern world go round. Modern views of tolerance forbid anyone from claiming that they are more educated, more informed, or better reasoned than another. Rather than seeming too proud to be convinced they might be wrong, “tolerant people” remain – falsely – too humble to ever be convinced that they are right.

Why have we decided to nurture generations of people that are too scared to believe that their view is right

How do we ever expect them to write a well-reasoned argumentative research paper? How do we expect them to become informed voters? How will they raise children? How will they believe in the truth of the Christian claim? In fact, on the whole, they don’t write well, rarely vote, are not particularly interested in becoming parents, and are leaving the church in droves.


Knowing what is “the truth” is a particularly important part of the Christian claim. In order to be saved, it is necessary to know that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. To believe this is true, is both modest and tolerant. It is modest because it excludes the arrogance of works righteousness. It is a tolerant truth because Jesus opens Himself to all people. Furthermore, it is meek to believe that Jesus is the only path to salvation because it places reliance completely on another, Christ.

Believing the claims of Christ to be true is the lack of arrogance. There is nothing arrogant about claiming that I am a poor miserable sinner and in need of Christ alone to save me. If I am too “modest” to know the truth, I will never know Christ. Again, Chesterton nails it: “The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern skeptics are too meek to even claim their inheritance.” Let’s overcome the plague of mental modesty by compassionately claiming that we know the Truth and desire others to know Him as well. From confidence in Christ as the Truth, confidence in other everyday ordinary truths will easily follow.