“There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty of themselves.” What is the vice that C.S. Lewis is talking about here? It is the vice of pride.
Pride is something that I’ve been increasingly interested in as I’ve grown older. Both because it is somewhat complicated, I believe there are both positive and negative aspects to pride, and because pride seems to be one of those things that is commonplace, but as Lewis says, not often identified in ourselves. I’m not even convinced that the bulk of Christians realize their pride all too often.
For whatever reason pride is something that we fail to take very seriously today. Earlier Christians warned of Pride as being the most deadly of the seven deadly sins and the sin which all the others sprung from. Yet, today pride seems to hold a much lower place on the list of sins we care about. As Lewis has stated, we don’t like it when we see it in others, or have been hurt by the pride of others, but that doesn’t necessarily cause us to turn from it ourselves.
So what exactly is pride? Well as I said earlier there is a positive and a negative aspect to pride. On the positive side, which this post is not so much about, it can be a feeling of accomplishment either in yourself or those around you. You can be proud of yourself for cleaning the house or proud of your kids if they did well on a test or behaved well in a trying situation. These are positive examples of pride.
The negative side of pride has been defined by a number of people over the years. Dante, the author of the Divine Comedy, wrote that pride was “love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for ones neighbor.” Personally, I like this definition, but I might include apathy and indifference to ones neighbor as well. Pride, in my mind, doesn’t always take an active route. It can manifest in animosity, but it can equally manifest itself in simply not caring about what anyone else thinks beyond yourself or a particular group you may identify with.
I also think that for the Christian, it also takes another dimension. It is about our interactions with God. We can place ourselves over God, in which we simply mold God into a form that is appealing to us. We can show contempt for God maybe by believing we could do a better job with this world than God’s doing. Or we simply show apathy by disconnecting God from having any meaningful impact on our lives at all.
It is sometimes easy to point to a particular group, whether in the church or outside of it, and treat them like they are the source of pride, but the truth is it’s more complicated than that. I’ve certainly run into pride in the church. I’ve heard statements from the pulpit that indicate that if you don’t believe what we do, you don’t have a place here. I’ve seen people make power plays because they believed they were right and were going to use all the power they could muster to get their way no matter what.
I’ve also seen the stories of pride in other churches. Places where saving the pastor’s or church’s reputation was often more important than looking into claims of abuse. Pastor’s whose ego seemed to eclipse the mission of the church they claimed to espouse. It’s there, and we’d be blind and foolish to say that it isn’t.
Yet I’ve also run across pride outside the church as well. There are people with no organized religion who are just as willing to dismiss you if you don’t believe as you do. I’ve seen people who question all authority, at all times, thinking that somehow they’re the only accurate authority.
The point I’m trying to make here is that pride isn’t a product of religion or even a product of a secular culture, it seems to be something that is in us all. It is ultimately even in me. It is ultimately the “vice of which no man in the world is free.” What I would like to see though is that it is a vice we call out a little more, particularly in the church.
Instead of embracing pride so thoroughly, like we seem to do in some corners anyway, it would be nice to see a bit more humility. Of course, humility seems to be something that is much more difficult to define than pride. That’s what I’ll explore a bit next week.