Pride - The Root of All Sin II

Pride can manifest itself in many ways. It can also camouflage itself deep within the stratum of legitimate human perspectives, emotions, and grievances. Six forms of these manifestations have been categorized by theologians and biblical commentators.

Author and commentator Pedro Cheung divides these six forms of pride between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ forms. The ‘positive’ forms identified by Cheung are self-exaltation, self-promotion, and self-justification, while the ‘negative’ forms he distinguishes are self-degradation, self-demotion, and self-condemnation. The key factor to all forms of pride though, is that all can be very deceptive. Spread throughout the six major forms of pride, are fifty “fruits” or behavioral qualities of pride identified by speaker, author and church consultant, Brent Detwiler. For the sake of brevity, I will not burden you with all fifty! 

I will continue in this series by looking at self-exaltation. There are a few qualities that seem to stand out for those who exhibit this form of pride.  The fruits of pride that arise from self-exaltation include: the desire to draw attention to oneself (Proverbs 27:2), the desire to talk about oneself and talk over other people, being deceitful and pretentious to make oneself appear better than he or she actually is [particularly about their sin] (Psalm 24:3-4, 26:2-4; Jer.48:10; Prov.26:20-26), the desire to make a name for oneself and be more important than others (Isaiah 14:13-15; James 3:13-16; Romans 12:6), the desire to be overly competitive to the point where the individual is bothered when they’re not on top, and the desire to impress people and grandstand their accomplishments (Luke 10:38-42).

The characteristic with these authors is that they point to the authority of biblical scripture and not merely their own observations.  What is most compelling about the qualities identified is that secular and scientific observations seem to corroborate and confirm what the Bible—and hence, God—has been telling us for several millennia. 

Self-exaltation is the most obvious form of pride in people and can only be noticed when openly expressed, especially in the social arena of competition. Although it is the most glaring manifestation of pride, it too can be tricky for any of us to notice, if we are not careful to observe our carnal nature’s susceptibility to its lure. It is often easy for any of us to criticize beaming athletes like Muhammed Ali, who shouted, “I am the greatest!” when he was a brash, young boxer or when we hear brilliant scientists boast of their intelligence while ignoring the combined efforts of their colleagues. Charismatic politicians that attribute their countries’ success to their own initiatives, or entrepreneurs boasting of their business acumen for their company’s fortune are also prominent targets to castigate.In the world of medicine, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and chief medical advisor to the president of the United States, is quoted as saying, “A lot of what you’re seeing as attacks on me, quite frankly, are attacks on science.”While I am not a doctor or scientist, I can point to other doctors and scientists, such as Doctor Paul Alexander, who made an objective comparison between Fauci and other doctors and found that Doctor Peter McCullough, Doctor Harvey Risch, and Doctor Robert Malone—highly qualified practitioners—who disagreed with Fauci on his COVID policies, got a far higher rating on their expertise and experience treating patients than Fauci and yet did not speak about themselves in such a self-absorbed manner.

“Every time he’s challenged, his immediate response is to attack outwards,” says Tracy. 

Former U.S. president and real estate magnate Donald Trump also comes to mind when observing self-exaltation.   

Psychology professor Jessica Tracy of the University of British Columbia, in her 2016 book, Take Pride: Why the Deadliest Sin Holds the Secret to Human Success, points to Trump as a classic example of this form of pride, citing his defensiveness in the face of criticism. 

“Every time he’s challenged, his immediate response is to attack outwards,” says Tracy. 

She adds that the kind of pride found in people like Trump [in its self-exalting form] can be immensely helpful in attaining power in our society.  Tracy points to hubristic, or self-exalting pride in playing a significant role in both his business and political success.  She affirms that much of his success can be traced (even in his pre-political days) to tactics of intimidation against competitors and detractors, by name-calling, insulting, and implicit or explicit threats of violence.  Such strategies have ensured that those who oppose him either defer or retreat.  “I play to win,” Trump has often said.  Tracy views Americans who voted for Trump, as people who saw him as someone who could use his aggressive, intimidating ploys to get back something they believed was theirs.  In a nation as politically polarized as the U.S., with a Left Wing as equally contentious as their Right Wing, someone like Trump, with his bellicose demeanor, fits quite well in a western culture that gave rise to self-exaltation through the mesmerizing power of television celebrity and advertising. 

Just to be clear, I’m not anti or pro-Trump and this isn’t a political treatise; it’s just an observation of self-exaltation in the often-nasty arena of politics.  

Like many secular psychologists and philosophers, Tracy sees pride as an emotion that humans developed through evolution, solely for the purpose of “feeling good about ourselves.”  She views pride as the reason for our ascent to civilization with technology and the arts, placing us above the Animal Kingdom. She credits pride for our desire to be morally upright.  While she correctly sees hubris or arrogance towards less talented or less capable people as wrong, she—like so many of her ilk—ignores God’s role in giving us morality and ethics.  The sad irony to this well-intentioned postulation is that she thinks we can devise morality on our own because of evolution, denying the premise that God is.  Tracy believes the key to not succumbing to self-exaltation (hubris), but to use pride to achieve success is to accept pride as a part of who we are and to channel that pride for altruistic purposes.  

Again, that runs contrary to the Christian worldview which declares, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves so as to consider anything as having come from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” (2 Cor.3:5). 

While many of us can denounce Ali or Trump for egotism, the inclination for any of us to get defensive or strike back when criticized, or to credit our success to our own abilities or efforts is palpable, given the right circumstances. Our carnal nature is always lurking beneath a veneer of civility, hungry to satiate a sin-sickened ego.   

But is it necessarily always the sin of pride when we boast about ourselves, a favorite sports team, or a political candidate?  Moreover, is pride—particularly the self-exalting variety—something that people are necessarily taught?  

According to a study Tracy did with a former colleague of hers, Rick Robbins of the University of California in Davis, there appears to be a universal pride expression, “that can be recognized from the streets of Davis, California to the savannahs of Burkina Faso, Africa.”   This expression—that has been identified by other psychologists as well—includes a slight smile, head tilted back, chest puffed out, and the hands rested on the hips, or raised in the air. What is even more telling of this posture is that it has even been seen in the congenitally blind –a clear indication that the capacity for this gesture is innate amongst all of humanity since there is no visual, cultural reference for it.

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