Pride? The Last Thing We Need More Of

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Pop singers and actors can be reliably counted on to engage in voluminous virtue signaling around Pride Month. One can almost imagine directives going out telling celebrities to promote the LGBTQ ideology.

No surprise then that, for example, Taylor Swift did what she did at a concert recently: Her concerts, she proclaimed, are “a celebratory space” for those “living authentically and beautifully.” She of course also included a straightforward partisan attack on those who are concerned with the moral meltdown of our public institutions. She advised the mostly young girls and women in her audience that they should consider making the following questions central to their decisions about voting: “Are they advocates? Are they allies? Are they protectors of equality? Do I want to vote for them?”

But is Pride Month about “protecting equality”? And what exactly does one advocate in championing pride?

For a very large number of people on the planet, pride isn’t something to celebrate. For those of serious religious belief around the world in many different faith traditions, pride is a part of the human condition that must be effectively combatted and mastered in order to make spiritual advance. Pride means exaggerated self-esteem and satisfaction with oneself, the belief that one is an object of unique importance and perfection that should be recognized and celebrated by others.

As elaborated by Pope Gregory the Great and later by St. Thomas Aquinas, pride or vainglory is among the seven deadly sins, which separate the individual from God and contribute to a multitude of other vices. The central message of Christianity—communicated when God Himself took on mortal form and willingly accepted death by crucifixion—is not pride but humility.

Augustine’s Confessions, one of the most searing documents of a Christian’s journey to the faith, speaks of humility as a core Christian value. And in his letters, Augustine wrote of Christ the physician, working to heal us of the illness of pride: “In that way the first part is humility; the second, humility; the third, humility: and this I would continue to repeat as often as you might ask direction.” The message is omnipresent in Christian scripture: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Much more recently, Josemaría Escrivá made the point in still more dramatic language:

If you really knew yourself, you would rejoice at being despised, and your heart would weep in the face of honors and praise. …

Pride? Why? Before long (maybe years, maybe days) you’ll be a heap of rotting flesh, worms, foul-smelling fluids, your shroud in filthy shreds…and no one on earth will remember you.

Of course, many critics of Christianity caricature Christians and their concern with pride as morally out of step with the world or as being too consumed with something that healthy people do not feel.

These critics show in this that they do not know much about religious history since the critiques of pride extend well beyond Christianity.

The ancient Greeks understood hubris in a comparable way. It was the excessive, arrogant pride that would lead one to devalue traditional authority and rules of conduct set forth by higher powers. The Greeks understood that hubris typically would lead to catastrophe for the sufferer.

And Islam—one of the two biggest modern monotheisms (with Christianity being the other), which between them count nearly half the world’s population—also preaches submission and humility before God as a basic moral requirement for the faithful. The very term Islam means submission, and one finds the instruction to humility throughout the Qur’an. Take, for example, Al-Furqan 25:63: “The true servants of the Most Compassionate [Allah] are those who walk on the earth humbly, and when the foolish address them improperly, they only respond with peace.”

And it’s not just the Christians and the Muslims. Buddhist monks are called to a mendicant life, in which they must humbly beg for their food and other necessities. One of the four major vows they take is a prohibition against prideful claims about their spiritual attainment and degree of enlightenment.

A month celebrating pride is thus directly contrary to much of the world’s religious tradition, both historic and modern. Is it any wonder that there might be questions raised about it by the religious—and especially about its endless celebration and promotion by those in our elite strata?

These people might do well to reflect on what these religious traditions teach about pride and humility. They might also look around American society and culture and honestly ask themselves: Do Americans, of whatever identity, really need more pride than they already have?

In a culture filled to the brim with individuals who ceaselessly and narcissistically promote themselves, particularly given omnipresent social media, is more pride really the needed thing? The evidence of ever-growing rates of mental health problems in younger generations, Americans on medication, unhappiness with the direction of the country, substance abuse, and suicide would seem to indicate that all the pride is not serving us well.

Perhaps what we need is a Humility Month.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)