The Seven Deadly Sins: #7 Pride

This is going to be easy. I don’t rate pride too highly on the list of sins. My Mum and Dad always told me to be proud of my work, my appearance and everything I do. I know I make mistakes, but I always try to get it right. When we watch sportsmen and women we hear them say that they have pride in the badge of their team. Gay Pride were the words that launched a global social change.

Pride is good, and I was worried if there was going to be anything to say.

But before I finished I wanted to show off and get everything right. You know, show some pride in my work. I knew that the much-used proverb, Pride comes before a fall is misquoted and so I went on an internet search to correct misconceptions and educate everyone.

To clear up the proverb misquote, the actual quote from the bible is, Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18 to be precise, and in the King James Version) or in a more modern English Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall, and that was meant to be the end of biblical references.

Not so. While reading, religion got me. To Christians, pride is the biggest of all sins and this is just a summary of what I found:

  • Pride was the first sin committed.
  • Pride was the sin of Lucifer.
  • Pride was the root of the Original Sin committed by Adam and Eve.

Even St. Augustine had something to say: “It was Pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”

Among my friends I have many serial sinners but none from the clergy and as an atheist I am not the right person to provide a religious perspective. I know nothing about ‘submission to God’ but pride clearly agitates those with belief.

So, why is there such a difference in our 21st Century secular perspective on pride?

I suspect that there has been a language drift and meanings have changed. Pride has been downgraded. When pride goes too far and becomes vanity or hubris, it is getting a bit edgy and if that drifts into narcissism we may be closer to understanding the problem.

Maybe the sin is hubris or narcissism?

Let’s revert to my usual staring place, Wikipedia: Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes….The American Psychiatric Association has listed the classification narcissistic personality disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since 1968, drawing on the historical concept of megalomania…. Narcissism is also considered a social or cultural problem.

We are all on the spectrum of something but there is clear evidence that narcissism is becoming more prevalent. You won’t need me to point out the increase in the ‘selfie’. There are times when I wonder if I am the one at fault that I don’t have an electronic vault of self-photographs monitoring every moment of every day. Advertising is always asking me if I have a beach fit body and if not, then there is a gym to join, a slimming plan to follow, or a surgical procedure that sucks, nips, or tucks the bits that have got out of shape. And of course, I am prone to a touch of vanity. I think in an earlier piece I have said that if I won the lottery then high on the list of early spends would be a hair transplant.

If narcissism was confined to the selfie I wouldn’t much care, but it isn’t. There are pathological symptoms which are also becoming more prevalent in our behaviour. I’ll leave you to arrange your own research of the 1% of our population who are diagnosed with full narcissistic personality disorder, but the symptoms are there for us all to see.

Consumerism is generally good if it means that we can all have much more than we had in the past, but it comes with a cost. Consumerism is not just changing how we consume it is fundamentally changing who we are. The ‘me, me, me, me, me’ culture is all around us and self-absorption and self-admiration are no longer seen as abnormal. We want to talk about ourselves, and crave likes and follows on social media to validate our status.

We use our stories on social media to enhance and brag about our lives. Here, see me in Istanbul this week or Croatia on a yacht the week before and off to New York next month. We pretend to be far more than we are.

Of course, as we make up our lives, dress like the Kardashians (possibly a family of narcissists) and are self-absorbed our ability to empathise and understand anyone else is diminished. We end up using other people without even considering their needs. We use others for what they can do for us. It is ‘me, me, me’ first.

And, you know what, all of the above are among the main markers of a narcissistic personality.

I am not a hero and I have been drawn into the web although I do have a grounding experience. It was when I was a teenager. I was at a party, believed I was good looking but knew I was athletically fit. I was a sportsman. I met a girl in the darkened corners and we started to talk. As you will see that was not a euphemism. We were sitting on the floor, leaning against a wall. After 15 minutes of my best chat she stood and turned to me and said, ‘since we met, maybe a quarter of an hour ago, you have probably used the word ‘I’ over 30 times. Not once have you asked me anything, you know nothing about me. You need to get rid of your ego.’ It hurt but it was a lesson.

The narcissist doesn’t feel empathy for anyone else’s feelings. It is social oblivion. The narcissist cannot sustain any meaningful relationships and so in the end they lose. I have met one or two people who are towards the far end of the narcissism spectrum. I found it more depressing than most experiences. I was being used, my needs and concerns were not understood. I didn’t feel any empathy. Finally, it was an unrewarding and empty experience for both of us.

An effective society only works when we all can see the world through our neighbour and partner’s eyes. Until we realise that we are all orbiting souls, circling around each other and not the Sun at the centre of a made-up universe, then the future is bleak.

I now understand why pride is such a significant sin.

Let me leave it to others to have the final word.

Hubris is the gateway through which all other sin enters the mortal soul. Pride is the most dangerous of sins, because it blinds our understanding, and unless something finally makes us realize the truth, we are liable to go on, day after day, in a spiritual self-delusion, imagining our acts to be good and virtuous when certain habits actually may be vicious. When we are blinded by pride, we do not consider our talents and abilities as God’s gifts to us, but attribute our good qualities to ourselves, with the right to use them as we see fit. (