January 26, 2011
While some people might consider blasphemy the greatest sin –- or greed or racism or lying –- pride is the utmost vice because it is the impetus for all the others, Dr. Bobby Kelly told OBU students.
Kelly, who serves as Ruth Dickinson professor of religion at OBU, spoke during a weekly chapel service on Wednesday, Jan. 26. His topic was “The Great Sin,” following this year’s chapel theme, “Unadorned: A Return to the Simplicity of the Gospel.” The theme is based on the book “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis.
Blasphemy, Kelly explained, is pride because it is an unwillingness to acknowledge God. Greed drives a person to want to be rich or powerful; pride compels the person to want to be richer or more powerful. Racism is driven by pride in oneself; failing to stand up to racism is caused by a fear of losing one’s status. Lying is grounded in an attempt to protect one’s pride.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that humility –- the opposite of pride -– is a false virtue, a sign of frailty and weakness, and a barrier to achieving greatness. Many people today consider pride a virtue and an important component in maturity and well-being, Kelly said.
“As a Christian you perceive pride as a vice,” he said. “As a professional, you might be tempted to view it as a virtue, which is true.”
Kelly said a lack of clarity about the term “pride” causes confusion. It can mean anything from narcissism, or excessive self-love, to healthy self-esteem. Vicious pride –- the pride discussed by C.S. Lewis –- should not be confused with self-respect, Kelly said.
“Self-respect grows out of a sense that we are human beings created in the image of God,” he said, referring to Genesis 1-2.
The problem of vicious pride does not come from a healthy self-esteem, he said, but it arises when a person’s self-worth is derived from a stock portfolio, or from a beauty pageant, or from a title received at work, from a salary earned, or from a house on the “right side” of town.
“Self-esteem must be derived from an honest evaluation of who we are in Christ and the character we display,” Kelly said. “A person of character who is committed to serving others should have a healthy self-esteem. A person who lives to use and abuse others should not.”
Vicious pride should also not be confused with a healthy self-love, Kelly said. In Matthew 22:37-38, Jesus said what is often called The Great Commandment: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” For a person to love others, Kelly said, they must have a healthy love of self.
“I’m not sure how someone filled with self-loathing is able to love anyone else,” Kelly said.
Vicious pride is also not the same as a warm admiration for someone else’s accomplishment, such as a parent being proud of their child, Kelly said. Rather, vicious pride expresses itself in three ways: as vanity, conceit and arrogance.
Kelly said vanity is expressed by a person who cares more about being admired than being admirable, and a vain person craves admirers. Conceit is when pride becomes competitive, and a conceited person needs inferiors. Arrogance or superiority does not need admirers or inferiors – it only needs itself.
Vicious pride leads to the destruction of the individual, the destruction of community and alienation from God, Kelly said. He referred to Proverbs 16:18 (“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall”), Psalm 73:4-20 and Acts 12, which all detail the destruction of an individual due to vicious pride.
OBU students, Lauren Palmer (left), a junior from Oklahoma City, and Jon Livingston, a junior from Bixby, lead the student body in song.
Community consists of people who come together for a common purpose who show mutual concern and care for one another, Kelly said.
“The proud, however, are too focused on themselves to empathize with other people,” he said. “They are too competitive. They place their own desires above what is good for the community and demand their own rights, even if it is to the detriment of others. Before you know it, conflict arises, the resentment builds, and people begin to bite and devour one another until community is destroyed.”
While pride leads to the destruction of self and community, Kelly said the most significant result of pride is alienation from God.
“The greatest problem our world faces is not HIV and AIDS, it’s not hunger, it’s not global warming, it’s not ending poverty or eliminating malaria, it’s not the lack of clean water, it’s not racial reconciliation, it’s not sexual trafficking, it’s not abortion, it’s not peace in the Middle East,” Kelly said. “Although these are issues that grab at the heart of God, there can be no doubt God’s compassion has always been focused on the poor and the oppressed. That’s something noted throughout Scripture.
“But our greatest problem and our greatest need is alienation from God, and at the heart of it is pride.”
Kelly said the hope for this invasive epidemic of pride is humility. The best antidote for pride is to cease comparing oneself to others and to look, instead, to God. The solution to a preoccupation with oneself is to take on the humble mindset of Jesus Christ.
“It seems, ironically, the more we focus on ourselves, the less we find everything we are looking for in life,” he said. “Then what is our hope? It is to pour ourselves out, to empty ourselves of vanity and conceit and arrogance and concern for reputation and boasting, and give ourselves away every day for the Kingdom.”
Kelly challenged students to find someone to serve, someone to think of more highly than self, someone whose needs come before their own needs.
“You’ll find that you’ll get your mind off of yourself,” he said. “You won’t even think about it. You won’t think about ‘my happiness.’ You won’t think about ‘my fulfillment.’ You’ll just be happy, and you’ll be more fulfilled.”