“self-righteous: having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior”.
The expression “self-righteous” (in Italian, rather, the expression “sanctimonious”was used) is generally referred to those people who think themselves superior, or morally better, than the average folk out there.
In the past, the expression was normally referred to people who were, in fact, pious, though certainly imperfect at least in the appreciation of those criticising them.
Why was it so? Very obviously, because there were universally accepted rules of right and wrong, and an all-dominating Christian ethics, which made it easy for everyone to have the same moral coordinates and the same rules of conduct, though people might have varied in the way they managed to keep to them.
This has changed in the last two or three generations but, interestingly, the vocabulary has not kept pace with the changed thinking.
In modern times, you will find an awful lot of people – and the more superficial they are, the more easily they will have this trait) who are “characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior”.
No, they aren’t the old rosary-counters Francis despises so much. On the contrary, they are their enemies. people, that is, who have made an entire system of cosmic right and wrong for themselves, and think this home-made potpourri of banality and stupidity the non plus ultra of human wisdom.
What is this, if not the very embodiment of self-righteousness in its stupidest, most arrogant form?
Clealry, the idiots continuously spitting such epithets cannot think straight – or cannot think at all -; because if they did, they would clearly see that the shortcoming they reproach in the others is present in them in a vastly bigger scale.
We live in an age of self-righteousness like no age before ours has ever seen; an age in which countless people think, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, that they actually can decide what is right and what is wrong. But they don’t call this self-righteousness. They call, absurdly, “self-righteousness” the submission of others to a system of rules these others have not made, and humbly accept as vastly superior to themselves. A system of rules that is not easy for anyone – not for those who propose it, either – and requires from its supporters the same sacrifices as from all others.
It is nonsensical, and paradoxical. It is as if Stalin would accuse his enemies of being “totalitarian”, or Hitler his of being “antisemitic”.
There can be, by definition, no more self-righteous person than the one who claims a god-like ability to decide about the right and wrong of absolutely everything and anything for himself. But do they see it? Oh no.
When they say “self-righteous”, they always mean you.