Friday, February 28, 2014

Pride (The Queen Mother)

~~  "Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense."  --C.S. Lewis  ~~

Ready to dig into some good, old-fashioned Pride just in time for Lent?  I had to present something on it before I begin the soon-to-come enumerated Seven Capital Vices (deadly sins).  This discussion will not be exhaustive-- or even particularly thorough.  I'll keep it short, because we have so much more to cover with the deadly seven that spring forth from this one.

This topic has turned out to be quite a bit bigger than I had imagined.  The more I read and the more I think on it, the more all-encompassing it appears.  Pride affects us in so many ways that are not always immediately intuitive; and it has a way of leading us down paths that Prudence would not approve of.  The great and venerable Augustine said that upon looking into it carefully, he finds that, according to God's law, Pride is a very different sin from other vices.  As I mentioned in my previous essay on Sin, the deepest thinkers of the Old World did not list Pride among the "Big Seven."  In fact, Gregory the Great reiterated what the bible says: that Pride is the beginning-- even the fertilizer and incubator-- of all sin (and vice).

~~  "Pride, the queen of vices, when it has vanquished and captured the heart, forthwith delivers it into the hands of its lieutenants, the seven principal vices, that they may despoil it and produce vices of all kinds." --St Gregory the Great  ~~

Probably the most interesting thing to me is that whether you approach this from a religious or secular perspective, it changes very little.  Honest cogitation on the subject will lead one to conclude that pride is not a healthy thing for us human types.  Take what St Gregory said above: Pride takes over the heart and soon it brings us to think and do things that are simply not good for us.  The religious side says that the main "sin" of Pride is that it fatally separates us from God by insinuating that we don't need Him and that He is not the real source of all good.  The secular side could easily agree-- if not with the exact sentiment about Almighty God, then certainly with the notion that Pride makes us think we are more than we are, and does not give proper credit to the real source of whatever it is we are proud about.

Let's take a few thoughts from the bible.  As you might imagine, the Good Book has a great deal to say about Pride... here are some verses I thought worth sharing in this discussion.

~~  "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom." --Proverbs 11:2  ~~

~~  "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."  --Proverbs 16:18  ~~

~~  “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  --James, 4:6  ~~

(Side note: the Letter of James has become one of my very favorites in the bible.  I highly recommend reading and meditating on it.)

As a personal experiment, try thinking of some time(s) in your life where things went badly... maybe it even seemed like fate or the universe or God Himself was acting against you.  Can you find such a time?  I definitely can.  Now, try to do an honest assessment of your frame of mind at and before this bad time.  Were you practicing humility and honestly willing to admit that you were not as good as you thought?  In other words, do those three above verses ring true to you?  I will say, unequivocally, that they do for me.  Furthermore, I can say that the reverse is also true.  On those few occasions where I can honestly say I was being truly humble with an open and honest heart, very good things happened for me... not necessarily winning lotteries-- more of a "how I feel about myself and how others feel about me" sort of thing.

Now, here are a few other thoughts-- non-biblical, but still perhaps considered "religious" because of their perspective and/or author.

~~  “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you're looking down, you can't see something that's above you.”  --C.S. Lewis   ~~

~~  "It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels."  --Saint Augustine  ~~

Who could argue with any of those?  We can see a pattern developing here: Pride devours the best part of us.  It literally blinds us to the truth because while in its throes, one can't see anything but oneself; and that is perhaps the thing most destructive about Pride.  The immediate and highly troublesome effect of this inner-focus is often self-delusion.  Maybe one reason Pride is the Big-Cheese of sins/vices is because so many of the other ones at least look outward (e.g., Envy at someone else, Gluttony at something else, Anger at someone or something else, etc.).  Not Pride, though... no, this one looks only inward before giving birth to all those others because of that arrested awareness.

 ~~  "The walls of pride are high and wide, Can’t see over to the other side."  --Bob Dylan  ~~

The good news is that there is hope for us all.  Humility and proper attribution are quite effective means to counter the Pride drug.  Whether you give credit the the Almighty or to other people (or, if you are really on it, to both), that is a big part of the cure.  I don't think humility comes very easy to most people-- something in our nature.  There are, of course, those who are overly humble; which can become almost annoying to some people.  That doesn't seem to be the right answer... too much of a good thing, and all that.

No, to get the thing right, we have to rely on honesty.  Sometimes brutal self-honesty.  Easy enough to practice, much harder to ingrain as habit.  We just have to ask ourselves if we really and truly should get the credit for this or that.  If the answer is an immediate yes, then the next question should be "Really?  Want to dig a little deeper into that?"  Odds are that you will find something in there that shows you how much you owe to someone else.  Even if you do not find something like that, keep looking and you will see how many not-so-great things you have in there to counter that big, shiny Pride badge.  

~~  "If you see any thing in yourself which may make you proud, look a little further, and you will find enough to make you humble."  --Wellins Calcott  ~~

For me, it is finally getting to be something of a habit to give thanks to God for all things-- especially those things I ostensibly do myself.  I also try very, very hard to always remind myself of how much other people are to thank for my many blessings.  You may have seen this fairly famous passage from the great John Donne:

"All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness....No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

I find inherent truth in that-- and because I find truth, I also find a big helping of true humility in it.  In spite of what my Pride chip would have me think, I am not an island.  The best of me is what I can find in others... and maybe what they can help find in me.  I believe strongly that God calls on each of us to be, as my brilliant daughter often says, the best version of ourselves.  That means being able to be honest enough to fix and improve things we call out in "brutal" self-assessments.  An important caveat to this self-assessment process is that you can look too deeply-- almost wallowing in it-- and hence find yourself, ironically, even more laden with Pride issues than before.  A lot of very smart people (including our new Pope) have said that the best way to "find" yourself is to look to others and stop the endless (and ultimately selfish) soul-searching.

Now, this is not some Utopian/Collectivist indictment on individuality.  Quite the opposite, actually.  It is just the simple truth that we are social animals, so to speak, and we very clearly make one another better and worse.  There is nothing quite so fulfilling to me than to collaborate with someone else on a meaningful project; or than having someone else teach me something.  It is very liberating to embrace the idea that it is all of our job to make one another better... to help one another become that best version.

~~  "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens his friend."  --Proverbs 27:17  ~~

Knowing this... really knowing this is a very big help in the war against Pride.  It makes us want to help, and it allows us to accept being helped.  Setting aside oneself long enough to see someone else... long enough to see God's hand at work in all things... this is powerful, powerful medicine.

Well, then, we've found the answer to the scourge of Pride, haven't we?  1) Start with true humility, aka, brutal self-honesty by admitting we are not nearly as good as we thought (or maybe even said).  2) Look to Almighty God and then to others to see how He and they make us better.  3) Rinse.  4) Repeat (several times a day).

Simply said- but pretty hard to do consistently (but, as General Petraeus said, "hard is not hopeless").  Perhaps it would help to think of it as the spiritual/emotional version of losing weight: gotta avoid the bad stuff (me, me, me) and hit that treadmill every day (God and others)... even (especially) when we feel too tired and weak to do it.  Put in those metaphorical miles and drop that metaphorical cupcake and the weight will come off.

As we progress through the seven vices in the coming weeks, we'll look to see how Pride is related where possible.  Amazing to see how the sins/vices are closely related, and how one begets another... just as we saw in the Virtues.

Let's close with a few more quotes.  These were too good to pass on, so I hope you enjoy.

~~  "To be proud of Knowledge, is to blind with Light; to be proud of Virtue, is to poison yourself with the antidote.  --Benjamin Franklin  ~~

~~  "Pride is a vice, which pride itself inclines every man to find in others, and to overlook in himself."  --Samuel Johnson  ~~

~~  "There is this paradox in pride - it makes some men ridiculous, but prevents others from becoming so."  --Charles Caleb Colton  ~~

Coming soon--  Pride's first offspring:  Vainglory.

God bless!


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