Monday, 30 September 2013

Why pride can be deadly (updated 23 October 2015)

usually we are not this obvious

For most of my life I have been puzzled as to why pride should be regarded by many as a major sin. Recently I started to focus in on this question and have come to believe that it is not just a socially undesirable weakness (e.g. bragging about yourself at a party) but a serious threat to both the individual and society.

 I am not talking about joyful satisfaction in achieving a desired result (e.g. delight in having produced an aesthetically pleasing item of pottery) but the kind of pride which blots out truth, distorts reality. It is a failure to recognise that every attribute possessed by an individual comes ultimately from outside of space and time, as does the entire universe – which is a euphemism for saying we are created in a supernatural realm. As Mick Jagger said: ‘everything I have I owe to God.’

Self love is not the same as pride. Loving yourself is wishing yourself to be good in the eyes of God. This is how we love our enemies - wanting them to be good in the same sense. The proud think they are already OK. They are out of kilter with reality, with truth, and that usually causes something to go wrong.

The most pleasant and philanthropic of people fall prey to this elevated sense of self-worth. It denies truth and shows lack of humility. Why is that so important?  What is so dangerous about people who, deep down, think they owe nothing to the Creator, that they can be their own God, either because they think there is no deity or because they have no union with God or because they invent an imaginary one to suit them.

Consider a bridge. Most would agree that it must be safe, functional and aesthetically pleasing. To bring this about requires recognition of certain laws of physics, a knowledge of ergonomics and some connection to the spiritual aspects of reality. If the people involved start putting their egotistical pride first and fail to show humility then things are guaranteed to go wrong.  The integrity of the design software which calculates stresses and strains may not be checked sufficiently thoroughly because the proud chief architect recommends it and may not like being questioned. The traffic projections of the proud town planner may not be questioned. Or the person controlling costs may have a cost-cutting reputation among his peers which he enjoys and so may quash an attractive design because it would cost 10% more than an uglier alternative, even though the extra cost could easily be met.

Advances in our understanding of the natural world can be held up when a scientist decides that all his abilities come from him and that there is no Creator. I know of two such cases in modern times. First the cosmologist Fred Hoyle refused to believe that the universe had been created from nothing detectable by man, because this would mean the existence of a creator and so clung to his Steady State theory in the face of mounting evidence for what he derisively termed the ‘Big Bang’ theory now accepted by main stream scientists under that very name. Secondly, Richard Dawkins clings to the neo-Darwinist ‘selfish gene’ model of evolution because it fits in with his faith in a godless universe, and refuses to consider the innumerable observations of nature which do not fit the selfish gene model and tries to rubbish all rival theories. In the last few years almost everything about neo-Darwinism has been invalidated yet pride causes neo-Darwinists to cling to  doctrine rather than rewrite the biology textbooks to acknowledge that nature seems likely to be a cognitive learning system with real, not apparent, design the essential feature. They even try to dismiss the quantum computing aspects of nature as a product of chance and the extraordinary life oriented characteristics of our universe as explicable in terms of an infinite number of imaginary, unfalsifiable unicorn universes. If the next generation of scientists swallow this the future of scientific progress, built on the Holy Spirit of Truth, would be bleak.

Even philanthropy can be dangerous if done out of pride rather than humility i.e. in the belief that you are an entity reliant solely on your self and that out of the goodness of your heart you have graciously and magnanimously donated money to help deprived people in another country. Because of your sense of importance you fail to see certain truths, such as the possibility that the money may end up buying weapons for militant Islam or to line the pockets of corrupt locals, or to incite tribal jealousy.


My central point is that for individuals and societies to function harmoniously and to progress both materially and spiritually there has to be a recognition of truth. When people, social groups or organisations or armies or nations lack humility they cannot recognise truth: pride blots it out and all actions become misdirected towards a false reality which can only have dire consequences in the real world, even though done with the best of intentions from a self-centered perspective. 

A prime example of good intentions gone wrong is the attempt to create a Communist state in Russia. The idea of making everyone equal in wealth and in opportunities for education and in receipt of health services was good, even Christian in a practical sense.  However, it was not realistic because it failed to recognise the sinful nature of man and the need of man for a relationship to God. As a result the experiment went horribly wrong. A heavy price was paid for Marx's pride and those who enslaved themselves to his ideology because God was absent from them.

Another case of a well meaning man-made intention  failing because of divorcement from reality - by putting human self-esteem above subjugation to God - was the enactment of a self esteem policy in education over the last two or three decades in much of the west.  Basically, the idea was that by making everyone win at school self esteem would be boosted. This neglects to teach children how to deal with failure, a situation they are bound to encounter later in life, and could be damaging to them as they experience the real world.                     .

 Deregulation of the financial system has had and continues to have dangerous consequences and not only from human greed. Traders and investors lose their grip on reality because they are bloated with pride in their financial shrewdness or prowess. Computer systems are used to trade in fractions of a second to make money and the persons responsible for setting up and authorising such trading technology bask in pride because of short term, market distorting gains and fail to see the consequences of neglecting companies which could make money by doing something  useful. In the long term this means financial chaos, massive unemployment and social collapse.

Unlimited immigration is another example. A large part of the intelligentsia in certain western nations labelled any attempt to control immigration as ‘racist’ and in my own country (UK), at least, public discussion in the media of the inevitable problems this would cause was suppressed. These intellectuals elevated their own sense of fairness over that of God because they lacked the humility to submit themselves to God. There was naive adherence to a man-made doctrine of open borders which led to a huge influx not only of immigrant workers, which undermined wages and made it less necessary for employers to finance training or pay a living wage while at the same time depriving other countries of workers they had trained at great expense. Militant Islam was another consequence. The West now has to spend tens of  billions of dollars   p.a. on maintaining the security of its own citizens, be they native or naturalized.

When pride takes the form of nationalism or ethnic identity it is fairly obvious that this can lead to violence and discrimination. Unfortunately, well meaning policies such as unlimited immigration or communism can also lead to violence as an unintended consequence. Truth must not be neglected and truth cannot be reached without the humility that derives from a belief in our own fallibility as humans created by but not equal to God.

Finally, I read recently why pride is uniquely sinful. To quote C.S.Lewis, from his classic book Mere Christianity: 'Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison....Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind..... Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.'

John Sears

Author of 2077: Knights of Peace

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