The Hurtful Sin of Pride
Attributed to Tennessee Williams, who adopted New Orleans as his home, is a version of this quote, “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” In a similar biased opinion, after journalist Lafcadio Hearn moved from Ohio to New Orleans in the 1870s, he wrote to a friend in Cincinnati: “Times are not good here…But it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio.”
In Ohio’s defense, when I lived in New Orleans I once made Cleveland my vacation spot, and amen, amen, I say to you, my limited availability of airline frequent-flyer miles was purely coincidental in selecting this destination!
In The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy wrote, “My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.” Generally a sense of pride motivates people to like their own city, region, or state over another’s. However, this rather harmless pride can also wound when the comparison is more mean-spirited than playful. For example, during an immigration discussion, President Trump was quoted using an expletive to describe certain countries. Critics rightly insisted we restore pride in America and build ourselves up without insulting others and tearing them down.
It’s natural to take pride in such things as our nation, geographical area, favorite sports team, our children, and our work, but a more insidious pride is our original sin in the Genesis story of the Fall—that is, humanity’s original decision to exist in and for ourselves instead of for God and in God’s grace. Pride is our greatest obstacle to God’s love, for it’s an unhealthy love of ourselves. It isn’t that God won’t forgive the sin of pride; it’s a matter of the proud person being too arrogant to ever pray and seek God’s forgiveness.
Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee in the temple who prayed, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.” But the tax collector didn’t even raise his eyes to heaven and humbly prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:9–14). Pride, then, is willful arrogance that excludes the need for God’s love and damages our love of neighbor through unhealthy comparison. The proud feel unjustifiably great about themselves when they feel superior to others.
By contrast, humble people “recognize the value, competence, and even superiority of others without feeling any less valuable themselves,” wrote Alejandro Trillo in Vices & Virtues. “In their humility, they feel self-assured, confident, and satisfied with themselves.” They aren’t necessarily burdened with an inferiority complex, as Peter Kreeft notes in Back to Virtue: “Humility is thinking less about yourself, not thinking less of yourself.” In other words, humble people aren’t too proud to beg God for mercy. Figuratively speaking, they prefer to live in sackcloth and ashes in New Orleans and surrender to God what is rightfully his—the whole state of Ohio, or even New Jersey!