Friday, February 15, 2013


Pride is the chief sin. It is the sin against the First Commandment, and as every sin is against the First Commandment, every sin is pride. Every sin says to God, "I know what you want, how you say I should live, but I know better; I have a better law." So every sin is making oneself one's own god - pride.

Of course we Christians know pride is bad so we try to avoid out and out pride as much as possible. Which usually means we try to find clever ways to indulge our desire for pride. The parent obsessed with his child's sports, music, or other talent is an example of transferred pride. Or the pastor who dotes on a cherished aspect of his parish.

But the chief example of transferred pride must surely be patriotism. "I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free" is as nonsensical as the rich young man's question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" What does "doing" have to do with "inheriting"? What can pride have to do with the historical accident of being born to certain parents or in a certain locale? Thankful to live in a fabulously wealthy, relatively free nation? Absolutely! But proud to be such? Just a non sequitur.

The fact that the patriotism of the average American Christian is naught but transferred pride is seen in the denials or omissions of what counts as America. We are proud to be Americans where at least we know we are free, a light shining on a hill, home to freedom of religion: all that counts as American. Abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, women in combat, undeclared warfare, the highest incarceration rate in the Western world, rampant fornication, menorahs on the White House lawn: all that doesn't count as American. That is an aberration. That is not really America, not really us.

Just as my sins of anger, lust, greed, etc. are not really me. I am the good person who does the right thing and always tries my best. I'm|We're #1!

I suppose the temptation is the same for Russians, and Germans, and Chinese as well. I just happen to be an American living in the patriotic Midwest, so this is the sort of transferred pride I am most used to. On the left and right coasts I understand that they have an odd corollary: being proud of not being proud of being American, being proud of being a citizen of the world, being proud of the list of things that the Midwest does not count as American.

The otherworldliness of the Christian faith is best seen in St. Paul praying for Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus and encouraging Christians to peaceful obedience to such a wretched man and perverted society for the sake of what blessings God seeks to give through worldly order. In the world, but not of the world: the whole world! Our citizenship is in heaven - eagerly awaiting a Savior from there. That's quite a statement from Paulus civis Romanus ex nativitate! Citizenship in an earthly realm is a tool to be used, not a true status: our citizenship is in heaven. And in that passage from Philippians 3 we should also remember that Savior is also a political word - the first Augustus' title.

Jesus Christ is King, Savior, Lord - Rex, Salvator, Dominus. There is no other. Earth (including America) is a desert drear: heaven is my home.



  1. Oh, say, can you see by the dawn's early light what so *proudly* we hailed . . .

    Hm, I dare say, while I certainly resonate with what you're saying about pride as sin, I'm not quite ready to say we ought to stop singing the national anthem, and certainly not ready to chide other Americans for singing it . . .

    How is "pride" understood in a patriotic sense? Put another way, what sort of patriotism is proper? This is worth carefully exploring.

    1. Brother Francis did much better in the hymn of his included in LSB.

      The sort of patriotism that is appropriate is thankfulness to God for the gifts He gives us in this land and a resolute effort to push one's nation toward godliness and away from sin.


    2. I think a lot of things are just not labelled very precisely. There is a nuanced difference between patriotism and jingoism, just as there is a difference between belonging to the German Family Society and the Ku Klux Klan (ethnic heritage vs. fill-in-the-blank supremacy).

      I've actually been pondering this matter of healthy vs. unhealthy patriotism for a while and will write about it when the muse settles her labor dispute. Love of hearth and home is a natural and healthy thing; "love" of one's country because it is the mightiest and most powerful is actually not love or patriotism at all. G.K. Chesterton had much to say about this, and I think inspired a lot of other Christian thinkers in the 20th century.

      So, what labor union do the muses belong to anyway? And is this about healthcare?

      Also, "pride" is sometimes used in the sense of a healthy appreciation or approval - as in being "proud" of one's children for their accomplishments vs. being "prideful" in the sense of snobbery or contemptuousness toward others.

      Anyway, this is how I see Heath's remarks, and I think they reflect a truth we often do not confront.

    3. I shy away from trying to redeem words like "pride" and "covet." I can't stand the phrase, "I covet your prayers," and I've never liked "I'm so proud of you" for similar reasons. Where is the word covet or pride used in an approving sense in the Scriptures? Same with "sensual" and "transgressive" which have also lately been enrolled in the column of good adjectives in American parlance.

      But that point of English will only be a small portion of your forthcoming piece on patriotism, family, kin, and locale which I look forward to reading. Review Augustine in De Doctrina about "use" versus "enjoy" - I think Chesterton is drawing on that quite a bit. And Chesteron on America's lack of nationhood is a really something to ponder!


  2. The United States was a union of soverign states until the War Between the States when "no way out" was established, this made what was a union into a nation. Now that all power is moving to the federal capital, this is making us an empire. The American South experienced this taste of empire when, under reconstruction, all power was in the hands of radical Republicans in the federal capital. President Cleveland, the first democrate elected since the WBtS, did much to return the South to full citizenship and no longer just an extractive colony of the North.

    But, we're talking about English usages of the words pride and covet. My best memory of the usage of one of these words was watching The Grand Ole Opry on a black and white TV with my Aunt Noni when Minnie Pearl, the lady who never seemed to remember to take the price tag off her new hat, came out on stage at the old Ryman Theater to thunderous applause. Then she'd hollar, "Well, I'm jest s' proud to be hyear" and everybody would laugh knowing that is what she always said before the comedy routine started. She did it in her special way, but it was a common expression all across the South, to let your hosts know how happy you were to be there with them.

    I suspect if we had to translate Minnie Pearl into koine Greek or Hebrew that we might not use the word pride in those languages that means stubborn and unwilling to repent.

    And, I have heard that the really, really first sin, the one made in heaven by Satan was pride in the sense that you pastors would use it. It was not our sin that caused the curse upon Satan and his minions, nor Satan's sin that caused God to curse our part of his good creation.

  3. I'd say you have some points worth thinking about. As for being "proud" to be an American. Yes, I am. But more than pride, I'm very grateful and thankful to God to be a citizen of the United States of America.

    I really don't know what brings out this kind of thinking in you, Heath, but you seem to feel a need to vent on this every six months or so.

    My Grandfather certainly was both very proud and thankful to be a citizen of the USA. He gave everything up he had in Germany, including a very wealthy inheritance in the form of a lucrative fine cultlery factory in the area of Leipzig Germany and the family estate and holdings.

    He made the choice to come here in the 1920s and give it all up to pursue the woman he loved, and married here. He was basically kicked out of the family, at that point.

    He was particularly grateful to be out of Germany by the time the Nazis came to power and very grateful he did not suffer the same fate his father, mother, brothers and sisters suffered when their misplaced hopes in Hitler were crushed by the Soviet troops that rolled through their area, killing, raping and sending his father and brothers off to Siberia where he never heard from them again.

    So, proud to be an American? Yes. Grateful? Indeed.

    1. In this case I'm mostly interested in the language aspect on this one: the Bible doesn't paint "pride" of any sort in a good light. How did we come to accept a "sin-word" in a positive sense? Is that a good idea?

      Secondarily, I'm interested in the concept of pride in patriotism. In what sense should a German be "proud" of being a German or a Mexican proud of being Mexican? I honestly don't get it. How can you be proud of something that is handed to you, that you did not earn? I can see the argument that your grandfather would have to say he was proud of being an American: he earned his status as an American. But why should I be proud of being an American? I was just born here.

      And thirdly, this is a recurring pastoral issue (maybe every six months - I haven't been keeping track!). There are many aspects to this but chiefly I'd assign it to apathy among Christian people (clergy and lay) about all sorts of evils America perpetrates (legal murder, homosexual marriage, supporting foreign governments that persecute Christians, etc.) all while being "proud" of an alternative list of Americanisms. I find this selectivity an interesting insight into the human condition - and particular our ability to self-examine - and one that pertains directly to my preaching and teaching. For example, I've never heard anyone say, "I'm proud to be an American because our freedom of religion, but I am ashamed to be an American because we kill so many unborn babies every year."


    2. We are proud to be Americans where at least we know we are free, a light shining on a hill, home to freedom of religion: all that counts as American. Abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, women in combat, undeclared warfare, the highest incarceration rate in the Western world, rampant fornication, menorahs on the White House lawn: all that doesn't count as American. That is an aberration. That is not really America, not really us. -- Fr. Curtis

      I think you've hit on it. In order for Pride to have first (and full) sway, Denial must be seated at its right hand.

      It's rather telling that in the Durants' Age of Faith, Denial never made it into its top seven miscues. I suppose Peter's slip was beyond comprehension.

      On the other hand, the Devil didn't open his salvo with an appeal to dignity, "You really deserve better than this, or at least deserve the latest frilly leggings from Paris." No. He pick-axed the brain, first, with "Did God really say...?" The authority of the Word was challenged.

      You lose your Light, you lose your way; whatever your affective state happens to be. That emotional state could be prideful (in the face of serpents), or fearful (in the face of maidens). But a denial of God's guidance and the goodness of His intentions certainly helps with the stumbling in the dark.

      Your (unworthy) servant,
      Herr Doktor


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