Friday, September 9, 2011
“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”~Bible (Proverbs)
When I was a little girl in Catholic school, I never understood why pride was a sin. Not only were we instructed that it was a sin, but one of the Seven Deadly Sins! But at the same time, we encouraged to be proud of ourselves, our school and our country. I never understood this discrepancy and eventually just settled on the conclusion that pride wasn’t really a sin and the writers of the bible somehow got it wrong. It was a very different time and place when the bible was written after all.
On September 11, 2001 I was in Washington D.C. and it was the first time in my life that I felt truly threatened. The reality of imminent danger and friends dying was soul wrenching. I kept thinking, this must be what so much of the world feels like every day of their lives. They grow up with this sense on insecurity and danger. In the midst of all those thoughts, there was a very distinct moment when all the childhood religious lessons that I never understood suddenly made perfect sense. Yes, of course pride can be a sin.
Having a healthy dose of self-esteem is not a sin, nor is rooting for the home team. Pride in itself is not sinful but it becomes sinful when left unchecked by humility. The Catholic Church considers the Seven Deadly Sins to be capital sins, meaning that they are not necessarily major (mortal) or minor (venial) but that they are the root of all major and minor sins. So pride could become a minor sin if we insult a neighbor because of our bragging about a fancy new car. National pride becomes a mortal sin when it leads to violence, including war.
Dante's definition of pride was "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbor." Sadly, since 9/11, there are some Americans who now openly show contempt for all Muslims, brown people or white people who dare to question America’s complicity in others’ disdain for us. These Americans are an embarrassment to me and probably anyone else who would bother to read this blog. But are we then not heading down that same path of having contempt for our neighbors? We may know that our attitudes are more loving and enlightened but we should pause before we assume that we are better than them. It’s not to say that we should let racist and xenophobic behavior go unchallenged but without humility in our own hearts, we are participants in an endless cycle of sinful pride.
Weather we have contempt in our hearts for racists or terrorists, recognizing that contempt is good jumping off point for the practice of loving your enemy. Loving an enemy is a lot easier said than done. But if you call yourself a Christian or if you consider yourself a spiritual person, it is a practice that we can not ignore. Where does the inability to love an enemy come from? I’m pretty sure it comes from pride.
This weekend when we feel pride, let it be the kind of pride that engenders gratitude. We might be grateful for friends and neighbors who came together to help one another. We should be proud that we live in a country where most of us still believe in “liberty and justice for all.” Let there be pride that we as human beings are ultimately good, caring and loving. And let us be humble with the knowledge that there are still so many suffering, in this county and on this planet.
Image from The Situationist. Check out the link for another take on pride from a psychologist's point of view.