Cutting Off the Nose to Spite the Face

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent

of throwing it at someone else.  In the end, you are the one who gets burned.” 


Egyptian Salafist leaders are reportedly planning to put an end to their nation’s past “cultural idolatry.” Members of the extremist Al-Nour (The Light) party, which won 20% of their country’s recent vote, are developing a proposal to destroy the Great Pyramids at Giza!  According to Arabic media (AINA), prominent Muslim clerics have called for the elimination and/or “cover-up” of Egypt’s non-Islamic heritage. By using the religious method of “concealment,” Salafist leaders plan to use wax to cover-over the perfectly carved steps of the pyramids, long regarded as “symbols of paganism.” In addition to making them appear as unsightly enormous blobs, extremists are proposing legislation to ban tourists from even looking or taking pictures of the ancient mountain-like structures and their adjacent guardian Sphinx.

Over the years, many Egyptian antiquities, regarded as relics of religious infidelity, have been obscured, suppressed, or destroyed. According to Muslim historians, the great Library of Alexandria itself, deemed a repository of pagan knowledge, was burned at the insistence of Salafist command. In March 2001, the Taliban dynamited the 1,500-year-old great Buddhas at Bamian, a UNESCO world heritage site. Its destruction came after repeated assurances that no such action would be taken. More recently, Bahrain Sheikhs, called on Egypt’s new president, Muhammad Morsi, to use modern technology to eliminate the nation’s pyramids. Extremist global communities wait to see if the leader is “pious enough” to destroy the Sphinx, and thereby complete the Islamization that other famous conquerors failed to accomplish.

The Sphinx is a giant “lionesque” statue that guards the pyramids. The famous sculpture presumably depicts the face of Khafre, a famous pagan pharaoh of the 4th Dynasty. Ironically, in its current condition, the Sphinx’s nose is missing. Numerous legends associate the culprit to iconoclastic Christian crusaders, the artillerymen of Napoleon’s French campaign, Arabian tribesmen, or to German war troops. Nevertheless, although a more reasonable theory may suggest that it was merely worn away by millennia of adverse climactic forces, the possibility that extremists did, in fact, come along to “spite” the Sphinx’s face by cutting off its nose, survives.

Whatever the case, history is indeed laden with examples of fanatical leaders who have “cut off” their respective noses by advocating destructive acts. They did so at the expense of their own face – their cultural heritage and/or religious patrimony! Much of the spite that has precipitated such “de-nosing” is unfortunately tied to religious fanaticism, economic upheavals, and/or ethnic bigotry. For now, the Egyptian Sphinx and their prodigious pyramids appear to represent the concentration of such dangerous extremist hatred. Like the Towers that came crashing down upon Manhattan’s busy streets, the ancient symbols of human civilization rising up from scorching desert sands epitomize the focus of a juvenile global intolerance that must be swiftly, yet carefully, addressed before it is too late!

As a popular idiom, “cutting off the nose to spite the face,” may be rightly associated with numerous legends of pious Christian women who intentionally disfigured themselves in order to protect their virginity.  The phrase was later used to describe cultural, architectural, as well needless physical self-destruction. The expression grew to denote a warning against negative reactions based on spite or displeasure. “Cutting off the nose” is now akin to pursuing any response that would damage self more than the object of one’s anger.

The English word “spite” is an abbreviated form of the word “despite,” both of which are nouns of the verb “to despise.” Spite means “a feeling of ill will or malevolence,” which leads to its active meaning of “hindering or preventing the wishes of another.” Spite is a particularly malicious form of hate that very often is as damaging physically or psychologically, to the spiteful person, as to the victim. From a Christian point of view, the entire spiteful person, not just the nose, is cut off, from God.

Love links individuals to God and to one other. It is the antidote of spite and the apex of humanity’s pyramid of truth. Love, grounded in truth, is the “Sphinx” that guards against the “nose-cutting” influence of hatred, intolerance and bigotry. Contrary to populist opinion, truth does not lead to inflexible extremism.  On the contrary, when properly expressed, truth sustains the very nature of genuine love, mutual understanding, and self-less service to others.  However, when the nose of absolute truth is cut off because of arrogance, narrow-mindedness or self-serving desires, it is often done so at the expense of love’s coalescing power!

Saint Paul addressed this very problem when writing to the Christian leaders of Crete. “Be careful,” he cautioned, “make sure to devote your selves to doing what is good . . . things that are excellent and profitable for everyone” (Titus 3:8-9). The community of Crete was careless, immature and lacked organizational concord. Several members opposed true doctrine, adhering to ungodly principles rather than God’s truth. Others were causing divisions for the purpose of personal gain. All of these actions demonstrated an attitude of pride and callous arrogance. As a responsible leader, Saint Paul had no other recourse but to admonish the people of Crete to be careful and attentive to the mien of a more affectionate Christian posture.

The Greek word used by Saint Paul to express “care” or “attentiveness” emphasizes the exercise of “right thought.” The term actually expresses the idea of making the exercise of thoughtfulness a permanent condition of active thinking. Literally, it means to think intensely about something all of the time by making it a habit of the mind. Without the proper foundational rubrics, however, even careful thought can quickly degenerate into arbitrary, random and self-promoting acts.  In order to promote honest dialogue and conciliar understanding, religious leaders must, therefore, guard against any and all political, ethnic, and selfish authoritarian agendas. While truth is important, it must be used to guard the nose of truth from the dogmatism of spite and the absurdity that results!

U.S. News reports that up to 20% of all college students who acknowledge the Holocaust are unwilling to affirm that the genocide of millions of people was wrong!  One student is quoted as saying that while he dislikes the Nazis, “who is to say they are morally wrong?’”

Articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education assert that some university students are unwilling to oppose large moral horrors, including human sacrifice, ethnic cleansing, and slavery, because they think “no one has the right to criticize the moral views of another group or culture.” According to several national surveys, 3 out of every 4 Americans believe there are not moral absolutes. This may help to explain why over 57 % of surveyed teenagers said that lying was “sometimes necessary.”

Although such relativism is dangerous, Saint Paul correctly cautions against its other extreme – spiritual wrangling. “Avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law,” he insists, “for they are unprofitable and futile (Titus 3:9). He firmly suggests that great care and attention should be given to promote “good works,” conciliar rather than contentious deeds.  Without such core standards, actions can be easily high jacked by propaganda and anger-driven inventions. Unfortunately, instead of urging restraint to those who currently advocate the destruction of the Great Pyramids, many commentators naively suggest that one nation’s religious fanatics are, in fact, another country’s patriots! When the camel of such moral subjectivity gets its nose under the edge of the tent, the canvas of civility and caution are certainly in jeopardy of collapse!

As devotion to truth should not become fanaticism, tolerance must guard against guileless capitulation.  It is the healthy tension between both extremes that produces the fertile process of sincere dialogue, maturity and revelation. The televised news reports concerning the elimination or inconceivable concealment of the famous steps of the Great Pyramids should compel viewers to carefully examine the manner in which our respective cultural, political and religious patrimonies are addressed. Are we not, in fact, sharpening and lifting the very same knife to America’s nose by rejecting the truths upon which our own nation was established?

It is often said that a bulldog’s nose is slanted upward so that it can continue to breathe while using its sharp teeth to hold on to the focus of its desire. Perhaps the contemporary global community should do the same. By holding tightly to love, society can find a way to stand firm to its respective traditions while simultaneously breathing-in the air of understanding through the uplifted nostrils of judicious tolerance.

It is significant that Jesus exhorts his followers to be the “light,” not the “commissars” of the world.  “Let your light so shine before men,” he insisted, “that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:15). Remarkably, wax is central to His command, as honeycomb can be used to either conceal or reveal. While one option leads to the darkness of ignorance, the other, when combined with the fire of faith, has the strength to burn away spite, and thereby provide the Light of Truth!  Great care should, therefore, be given to avoid “waxing” over any and all aspirational steps that leads humanity upward! I can think of no greater “good work” by which to defuse ever-increasing global volatilities!






Dr. Frank Marangos is CEO and Founder of OINOS Educational Consulting. He received a Doctors Degree in Adult Education (Ed.D.) from NOVA Southeastern University (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) and a Doctorate in Ministry and Childhood Education (D.Min.) from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX). He is also a Certified Charitable Estate Planner (FCEP).

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