Sunday, 29 September 2013

The temptation of Pride

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The sin of Pride is considered the worst sin from a Christian perspective - but it is hard for secular moderns (or indeed, those of other religions) to understand why Pride should be the worst thing (or even why it should be considered bad at all).

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Choosing not to obey God is a realistic possibility for humans - because we have free will - we are 'autonomous agents'.  

Therefore it is a perfectly coherent possibility to choose not to obey God, if the price of eternal misery is accepted. 

('Hell' can be regarded as the condition of those people who have chosen to reject God.) 

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This, indeed, is the particular temptation of Pride - it is tempting because we really can reject God and His creation. 

We puny humans really can do this - and the possibility of successful defiance in the face of incomprehensibly vast power may be intoxicating, may become the sole focus of life.

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But there is a cost.

The cost of defying God is to be dedicated to the opposite of creation - which is to be dedicated to destruction, lies, inversions of truth - and misery.

(In other words: dedicated to evil - which is the destruction of good.) 

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Why choose misery? Because the miserable Prideful soul rejoices in the fact that he stands against God - really can refuse to worship, love, obey, cooperate with God - really can refuse to bend the knee to God...

(The Prideful man sees love and harmony and worship of God as disgusting subservience, voluntary enslavement and abasement; cowering before power.)

To the damned, self-damned, soul - Pride in standing alone and unbowed against the creator of the universe, and malicious delight in all corruptions, failures and sufferings of creation, is more than sufficient compensation for eternal resentment, misery and isolation.


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And the impossibility of utter destruction of all good (since the evil man is himself created, hence partly good) is the source of that ineradicable resentment so characteristic of evil. Since souls are immortal, there is no escape from this resentment - for the Pride-consumed Man the very existence of his own soul is a source of permanent torment. 

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How do we know the self-damned Prideful man is wrong?

Because of love. If it wasn't because of love then perhaps there would be something to say for the defiance of Pride - but Pride is a rejection of the possibility of love. 

Pride is defeated, ultimately, by choosing to love God and his creation -  love is the reason to obey God, perhaps the only good reason.

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But to choose Love is a choice, a real choice. We could - instead - choose Pride. And this choice has vast and ramifying consequences.

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10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post. CS Lewis' I think wrote about the pleasures of hell "dark inhuman"

Rev 14:11 "And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image"

alexi de sadesky said...

"To the damned, self-damned, soul - Pride in standing alone and unbowed against the creator of the universe, and malicious delight in all corruptions, failures and sufferings of creation, is more than sufficient compensation for eternal resentment, misery and isolation."

Wow! That is shaking.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ads - From this kind of description it is possible to understand why Satan - despite awareness of the consequences, rejected salvation.

Adam G. said...

Everything comes from God and has a proper use, even pride.

I have felt that same delight in perversion when resisting a natural temptation or a social pressure to do something. Only there the thing that is being perverted ought to be perverted.

Humility isn't the opposite of Pride (the sin), its the corrected and moderated version. It bears the same relation to Pride that Courage bears to Rashness.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG - Sounds deep. I'll need to think about that...

Ugh said...

Great insight. There is real clarity for the believer in this post. Yet, I think of my older brother, an atheist, a highly successful (business) self-made man, a loving father and husband and a genuinely good person. His rejection of God is simply pride "worship of God as disgusting subservience, voluntary enslavement and abasement; cowering before power." But I realize now that way back he substituted God with my Father whom he hated and he has never let it go.

The Crow said...

Humility is simply knowing one's place within the natural order. One need not display it, or speak of it.

Arakawa said...

'His rejection of God is simply pride "worship of God as disgusting subservience, voluntary enslavement and abasement; cowering before power."'

There are indeed conflicting understandings of cowering before Power vs. bowing down before Love. And perhaps only the latter can be a response of genuine, heartfelt shame and then repentance. ("Repenting" before a being of mere Power is merely a prudential change of strategy in response to an overwhelming threat.)

Of course, with regards to current liberal religious fashion that "God is Love; therefore all will be forgiven; therefore all is permitted", that is more a case of trampling on love than bowing before it.

The whole basic property of Love is that it is unconditional and self-giving, to the extent that the person who receives it can abuse the gift, to everyone's detriment. Which comes back to the idea of the post that the person who chooses Pride does get something for their choice, even if that something is quite horrible.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

I think little in this post is true.

The proud man like Spartacus the rebel is not the man who cannot love, and the humble man like Winston Smith at the end of 1984 is not the man of great love.

To submit to betrayal and destruction, both morally and physically, and not only individually and in one life but collectively and forever, is not meritorious; to refuse that demand, which is now the demand of Christianity for some populations, is not abominable.

This is not only a practical matter. The foundation stone of Albert Camus' "absurdism" is a naked appeal to human pride. Nothing that is supposed to follow from the supreme sin of pride then follows, only a call for piecemeal, non-revolutionary improvements in mankind's condition. Pride is what makes rebellion possible, and that is good.

"When he rebels, a man identifies himself with other men and so surpasses himself, and from this point of view human solidarity is metaphysical."

The pride of slaves who don't want to die as slaves is hateful to their enemies; that's all there is to the "sin" of pride.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TDT - Pride is THE sin for Christians, but pretty much ONLY for Christians - it is one of the things that makes Christianity different from anything else.