Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The futility of pride

I laugh at myself more than I laugh at anyone else. The sin of
pride most often begins with taking yourself too seriously.
One day I say, "I'm sick and tired of 'argument by meme'." The next day I produce one of my own or find a different one to continue the pointless trade-off.
Really, it's not so much that memes are simple; rather, it's that they often encapsulate, in a few choice words, the creator's failure to understand the other person's position. At minimum. At maximum, they often betray poor education, poor reasoning and poor wit as well.
The other day, a friend who works for eBay posted a meme in rainbow colors which had this admonition:
Which led me to ask, "Was I wondering?" There's really nothing more pompously asinine than to chide people for asking a question that's crossed nobody's mind. If sexuality is not a choice, then by right I should be no more proud of being straight than of having brown eyes or a hairline that has not merely retreated but fled the battlefield in a rout. No one wonders why there's not a "straight pride" movement ... but there may very well need to be something of a "Christian pride" movement in the not-too-distant future. Although it would have to be called something else, because "Christian pride" is an oxymoron.

Not to mention that the admonition is more than a touch dishonest. Humility, which is the opposite of pride, accepts persecution as a consequence of sin or error, while pride rejects it. Once you assert that condition X is nothing to be ashamed of, then celebration of X is not only a natural consequent but the most positive manner of flipping the bird at your persecutors. Saint Patrick's Day parades, along with all the drunken, green-festooned raucousness that surrounds every March 17th, arose in America for almost the exact same reason — to assert against the bigotry of the surrounding WASPs that there's nothing wrong with being Irish.

Chesterton remarked once that, if the Christian is worse than the non-Christian in any sense, it's only because it is the Christian's duty to be better; the non-Christian may be satisfied merely to be a good man, but the Christian is obliged to strive for sainthood. But if it's true that, as the late Jewish author Harry Kemelman once said, the object of Judaism is to make man whole rather than holy, the Christian's response is that man can't become whole without becoming holy, that he can find completion in nothing less than sanctification. Once we recognize that, then we realize that self-satisfaction — a form of pride — is not a virtue but a vice.

Because one of the paradoxes of Christianity is that the saint is so unself-conscious that he doesn't recognize his own sanctity. If anything, the saint never forgets he is but one surrender away from breaking friendship with God. "Lord," St. Philip Neri used to pray, "watch over me always, especially today, or I shall betray you like Judas." Thomas Aquinas' pre-Eucharistic prayer asserts, "I come sick to the doctor of life, unclean to the fountain of mercy, blind to the radiance of eternal light, and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth." And the soon-to-be-canonized John Paul II went to Confession weekly to the end of his life.

Freedom from persecution is an agreeable goal, to the extent to which we agree as to what really
counts as "persecution". But we must come to a disconnect when the gay person says to the straight Christian, "I'm as good as you!" For if the straight Christian really gets the gospel message (too many don't), his only response can be, "I'm afraid there's not much pride to be found in your equality with me, for I am a sinner." Indeed, Gay Pride exists to deny that gay sex is a sin, even going so far as to create a gay-positive interpretation of Scripture.

Pride refuses to admit failings, weaknesses, errors, limitations. Pride is not confidence but arrogance; it's the difference between not being afraid of mistakes and not admitting of mistakes. Pride is taking yourself too seriously. In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, it isn't the Pharisee proud of his rectitude that goes home justified but rather the tax collector who beats his breast saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" "For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:10-14).

"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). If you don't get repentance, then you really don't get forgiveness of sins. Literally. You have to own your sins, acknowledge them for what they are, before Christ can take them from you.