The Merriam-Webster dictionary online defines ambition as (a) an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power (b) desire to achieve a particular end. This is viewed as a virtue in much of our culture – certainly in academia. Ambition is also considered a virtue in the church. Perhaps most significantly in the view that “bigger is better.”
But is ambition a virtue? Should it be viewed as a virtue from a Christian perspective?
What role does ambition play in our church? What role should it play?
I’m skeptical. It seems to me that ambition is playing with fire. It is not inherently negative, in fact it is good to have goals and to work for those goals with perseverance. But ambition uses people, destroys relationships, and destroys community. Ambition is intimately coupled with envy, pride, and perhaps greed. We are fully embodied creatures and ambition feeds on our chemistry and biology and it shapes our natural responses, it is addictive.
I’ll go one step further. Ambition, although not always clearly recognized and acknowledged as such, wreaks havoc in the church. Sexual sin, despite the attention payed to it, is of less significance if we consider impact on community and pain caused. The difference in impact is primarily because we recognize sexual sin as sin – there are consequences. In contrast we often value and reward the result of ambition. We brush under the rug or rationalize away its impetus in envy and pride. This is a spiritual problem and a physical problem.
We are, I believe, fully embodied souls. Sin is a product of mind and will, but it is a fully embodied mind. I’ve posted on the embodied nature of sin before and borrow from those posts to start this discussion. This is background and necessary insight into the direction I would like to consider thinking about ambition. And yes, it is related to science.