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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Pride and Humility part 1

In general, pride and humility do oppose each other, but only when applied in the same respect. One can be proud of his success while humble when looking at the path left to travel. Likewise, it seems rational to be proud of one's strengths while being humble about one's weaknesses, but perhaps this should be better called "to be realistic".

Objectivist philosophers, for example, know the virtue of pride and never hesitate to write about it. In his seminal Logical Structure of Objectivism (which, as you probably know, is my morality bible), Kelley has a lot to say on the topic, and on the Christian ethos as well :

The antithesis of self-esteem is guilt: guilt for one’s actions and guilt in oneself as their author. Historically, even as many ethical codes have condemned pride as a “deadly sin,” they have engendered guilt in their adherents by demanding compliance with moral ideals that are incompatible with life and happiness. To sustain a moral ideal that runs contrary to real human needs, these ethics make a virtue of humility, the moral antithesis of pride. Humility is the deprecation, on principle, of one’s own actions, ability and character. In Christian ethics, for example, humility is the principle that encourages the faithful to despise reality and their own lives, and to sacrifice themselves to duty, others, and the Church.

Advocates of humility often characterize pride in terms of vanity and boasting. But objective pride is based in a rational recognition of facts in their proper context, and involves neither vanity nor boasting. Pride does not consist in unmerited admiration for oneself, or for some particular trait — such as physical beauty— out of its proper context. Nor does pride entail the false inflation of one’s worth; that is merely self-deception, which, as we have just seen, is harmful to the self, not a source of self-esteem. In essence, when pride’s critics treat it as vanity or boasting, they characterize a healthy trait in terms of an unhealthy distortion of it. This is rather like attacking those who choose to eat a healthy diet, because some people distort diet control into anorexia.


While I have to differ on the importance of self-esteem - a concept which has been pushed as an educational belief and recently shown invalid by studies on the performance of school children - the meat of the argument remains the same. To be proud is partly to insist on the validity of one's moral compass, and to be humble is to deny it and substitute it for religious absolutism. To be proud is a commitment to protect oneself against mental aggressors, and to rejoice in one's own accomplishments, one's very individuality.

Now, look at Christianity. The concepts here are reversed, right becomes wrong, and true becomes false. This is a constant trait of Christianity, that it must project all that is wrong and false to its opponents while adopting it wholesale. Christian dogma tells us that we must relish our flaws and weaknesses - our ignorance, our servility, our faith - and we must hate our strengths - our critical faculties, our values and desires, our successes.

But this relish must not be seen as pride, as man is fundamentally sinful, corrupt, worthless without salvation, and cannot be proud of anything per se. Indeed, when faced with yet another study about the immorality of religion, believers are fond of saying that they are "not perfect, just saved". No worth can be achieved without salvation, man alone only gropes at truth and can never attain it, in this worldview. Here is what the Bible has to say about pride :

"'If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruit." (Leviticus 26:18-20)
"the joy of the godless lasts but a moment. Though his pride reaches to the heavens and his head touches the clouds, he will perish forever, like his own dung;" (Job 20:5-7)
"He boasts of the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD. In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. His ways are always prosperous;" (Psalm 10:3-5)
"he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride, to preserve his soul from the pit, his life from perishing by the sword." (Job 33:16-18)
"When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom." (Proverbs 11:1-3)
"Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice." (Proverbs 13:10)
"Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18).
"The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride." (Ecclesiastes 7:8)
And so on, and so forth.

So what is the nature of pride in the Bible ? Pride is inherently atheistic or rebellious, and must be rejected as a horrible sin before God judges the prideful man. In this view, to take heed in oneself is to reject the divine authority, and therefore pride is defined as the desire to quarrel, to disgrace oneself, to boast and revile, to be stubborn, to be impatient. Interestingly, in Psalm 10 and Psalm 73 the prideful as described as being healthy, prosperous, having an easy life, and that these positive attributes are the source of their evils. Once again, to be strong is to be wicked.

Go to part 2.

Post a Comment


2 Comments:

At 5/11/2006 11:31 PM, Blogger Jeremy Pierce declaimed...

I think you're just misunderstanding what pride and humility are. Pride is thinking of yourself as better or more important than is true. Humility is recognizing that you're not more important or better than you really are. That's certainly the dominant view among evangelical Christians, and I think it's faithful to how historical Christian philosophers (e.g. Augustine), not to mention biblical authors such as Paul, thought of them.

 
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