"I love the evil man who knows that he is evil more than the righteous man that knows he is righteous. Of the evil people that consider themselves righteous, however, the following is said: "They do not even turn away at the threshold of the underworld." For they imagine that they are being led to hell in order to redeem the souls there.
-Tales of the Chassidim
"The biggest egomaniacs always see themselves as being modest, along with every other good thing. It's inconceivable to them that they're really shallow and self-centered. That's precisely why they are."
-St. Brian the Godless
The Nature of Pride
One of the things you won’t have any trouble finding Christians to agree with you on is the notion that excessive Pride is a bad thing. In the Christian religion Pride is in fact considered to be one of the “Seven Deadly Sins” along with Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, and Envy.
As well it should be.
And yet do most people, including most Christians, truly understand the nature of Pride, and why it was considered such a Deadly Sin? I would say from my observations of people in general and Christians in particular that they do not.
Here’s what the Bible has to say about it:
“The LORD despises pride; be assured that the proud will be punished.
Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall. It is better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud.”
Proverbs 16:5, 18-19
-Here we can see that to be humble we must relate to the poor and downtrodden and not with the successful and wealthy. Humility and grace are acts of lowering oneself to the level of the least among us, not raising ourselves to the level of the most powerful and wealthy. That way lies pure egotism.
"Anyone who wants to be the first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else."
-This hardly seems to refer to Joel Osteen and the Gospel of Prosperity, does it?
Jesus told this story to some who had great self-confidence and scorned everyone else: "Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a dishonest tax collector. The proud Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: `I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don't sin, I don't commit adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.'
But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, `O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.' I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored."
-This would seem to indicate that the Pride that the Bible describes consists of the type of thoughts and behaviors that serve to put ourselves above others, any others, even the very least among us. Even, and perhaps especially, those that we think are utterly wrong.
Incidentally it should be noted that in this passage Jesus chose to represent the Proud man as a Pharisee. The Pharisees were known to be strictly adherent to the scriptures and laws. They were the "Biblical Literalists" of their day.
Am I a victim of Pride? Most certainly. How do I know that? Because I have looked within myself for it, and have found it. Do I strive to eliminate it? Absolutely, with all my heart and mind. Why? Because I see what it does to others, and I also see that the others involved are always blind to it, and I don’t wish to fall into that trap. Pride is the most deceptive of all sins, or if you prefer, of all negative behavior patterns. It is the proverbial thief in the night. It is stealthy and almost invisible. Oh, it’s easy enough to see in others, but due to our human nature almost impossible to see within ourselves.
Now, as someone that battles with Pride, as we all should, I can also see that many Christians not only do not do battle with it, but actually mistake it for righteousness. They know that Pride is a sin of course, but they mis-define Pride in their minds as merely being too stubborn to believe in God as they do, and not as a general inflation of one’s ego that can happen to anyone, and which can in fact actually be due to one’s belief in God or in anything else for that matter. The problem here is that excessive Pride can form around any worldview that sets one’s self above any other groups. If I am told by my parents and my peer group that I am a member of the Chosen Ones, the Holy People that follow Jesus Christ and that this makes me a good person, and I come to believe that utterly, such “knowledge” on my part will inevitably inflate my ego and lead to excessive Pride on my part. It is not that dissimilar to being told for your whole life that you’re smarter than everybody else. Eventually you’ll come to believe it, even if it’s not true. And because it feeds the ego and because that feels so good, so "right," it’s pretty hard to resist if you don’t know the danger.
So I have to ask a question:
Is the man that knows that he is righteous, truly righteous?
If Pride is a sin, then by definition, he is not.
What of the man that maintains in his mind the attitude that he is not righteous, believes that he is just another sinner as we all are regardless of what we believe, and yet is not even concerned with that but instead simply loves people, all people, and strives to help them to the best of his abilities, regardless of whether he approves of what they believe about God?
If both men happen to be Christians, then which kind of a Christian deserves the name Christian more? And if the first one happens to be a Christian and the second man an atheist, who is in reality closer to God?