Don’t be proud

Dr. Ben Toh recently posted an article about pride. He asked some questions about pride and on his blog gave some questions to help someone determine what a proud person looks like and feels. Having thought and prayed about it for a while. I feel like I might be able to add my conclusions about humanities most ingrained sin.

Pride has traditionally be viewed as the worst of the sins. St. Augustine attributed nearly all other vices to pride. Pride, as he says, is the sin of loving yourself more than God. It manifests as contempt for others, shows itself as competition between others, and poisons everything it touches. People much closer to God than I could ever hope to be, have reserved no insults or denouncements for this sin. They have offered it no disguise. In short, the church has always held that if we could rid the world of pride, we would have no need for a second coming.

There are two things that often go unnoticed about pride. First, it is easily disguised and therefore hard to correct. If someone speaks of how he has sacrificed much for God or his family, is he seeking praise? Or is he simply proclaiming how he is thankful he could be so lucky to give to God? Pride, being closest to our Adversary, mirrors the temptation that Eve fell to. The second thing that is often unnoticed is that the Church and Christianity in general have often been at odds with the World in its view on if pride is even a sin to begin with. It is hard to find a non-Christian who agrees with violence, greed, or adultery (even if they might find excuses for them). But if you find someone who sees pride as an issue, you have found a Christian. In fact, when a non-Christian even addresses it as an issue and says “He is arrogant.” The issue is usually because his own pride, his own ego feels threatened. But he never thinks that should he actually be better than the guy he criticized that bragging or pride would be his reward for his own abilities.

Pride manifests as an arms race. The idea present in the proud person is that he needs to be better than other people. People can usually discern if they are lustful, violent, envious, but rarely will they discover they are proud. Pride is so close to people, so ingrained in people that they cannot see it easily. For this reason hardest all of all sins to correct. A preacher preaching against pride will therefore find himself talking to an empty room. Everyone in the audience finds his neighbor guilty but never themselves.  The only method I have learned to tell how proud I am is ask myself how offended I am when I (or my accomplishments) go unnoticed. You may even ask how mad are you when your status is left unrecognized? The madder you get, chances are the prouder you are.

A few final things I will leave you with. First, I am not at all suggesting that we cannot find enjoyment in life. It is not proud to find a sunset enjoyable, or to take delight in a walk, or even to feel happiness while on a date. We should be like children, who find enjoyment in things meant to be enjoyed, but never enjoy yourself for the sake of yourself. We are not a proper item of worship. Second, being proud of your child, or feeling proud of a job well done is a different use or the word. Here the admiration is felt because you are giving approval to something outside yourself. Nor is it pride to suppose that one cannot feel good about being a servant of Christ (or doing good deeds). The bible says clearly “Well done my good and faithful servant…Come and share your master’s happiness.” But in that moment, we must resist the urge to feel that is was by my own goodness but rather the goodness of Christ. St. Augustine in Confessions ponders the same question, how can you know if it is pride or if it is really given to God?:

“I cannot pretend that I am not pleased by praise…But I have to admit that not only does admiration increase my pleasure, but that adverse criticism diminishes it. When this symptom disturbs me, self- justification worms its way into me, of a kind which you know, my God.”

But his answer is to be pleased, not with yourself- but with the love of others.

“Your will is that we should love not only you but our neighbor. Often when I am pleased to be praised by someone whose understanding is good, my pleasure lies in my neighbor’s progress or promise of it… But once again how can I know whether that is my reaction because I do not want my admirer to hold a view of me different from my own? Truth, in you, I know I see that if I am to be praised be not on my own account but the account of my neighbor.”

Admiration spoils fast, if it is not given to God is becomes poisonous. The final thing I should mention is regarding a bad definition of pride. It is pure fiction to suppose that pride means disagreeing with church authority, or anyone else for that matter. I am unsure how such an unreasonable definition can be held without bursting into laughter. Neither good sense, the bible, church tradition, nor anything else has ever had this definition. Not to say that disobedience is good, I am simply saying that to call it pride is to misdiagnose the patient. When it comes down to it there are really only two types of people, those who are proud and know it- and those who are proud and do not know it.



One comment

  1. I posted this on Facebook two years ago:

    “The natural life in each of us is something self-centered, something that wants to be petted and admired, to take advantage of other lives, to exploit the whole universe.” ~ C. S. Lewis.