When Did Pride Become A Virtue Instead of A Sin?

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2024/02/21/when-did-pride-become-a-virtue-instead-of-a-sin/

For several millennia in Western civilization, pride was considered a sin. In fact, it’s the worst of the seven deadly sins, which are greed, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, sloth, and pride.

There are, of course, different kinds of pride.  We say that we are proud about the accomplishments of our children or grandchildren. We say that we are proud of our team or our school. These are the healthy kinds of pride.

But it is when pride leads us to feel superior to others or to act in arrogant ways that pride becomes the worst vice. Pride leads to every other vice.

According to Christian theology, it was through pride that Lucifer, a fallen angel, rebelled against God and became the Devil. Pride is the complete anti-God state of mind.

God’s disgust with pride is found throughout the New Testament in Jesus’s teaching. For example, Jesus contrasts the behavior of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 8:9-14). The Pharisee in the temple says that he is thankful that he is better than other people, while the tax collector asks God to have mercy on him and forgive his sins. Jesus ends his story by saying that it is the tax collector who went home justified before God, and not the Pharisee. He explains:  “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

This is also a constant theme throughout the Old Testament as well. Here is an example from Proverbs 16:5:  “The Lord detests all the proud at heart. Be sure of this, they will not go unpunished.”

The Greeks didn’t call it pride. They called it hubris. Hubris was seen as excessive pride in one’s abilities which defied or challenged the gods. It was always viewed as a fatal flaw and usually led to tragic outcomes.

When was it, then, that after 2,000 years of Western civilization when pride was viewed as a terrible sin, we Americans started thinking of pride as a virtue?

Wasn’t it during the social revolution of the late 1960s and 1970s?

It seems possible that the turning point came when Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, began to taunt his opponents. One of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, he became famous for calling himself “The Greatest.” And the media ate it up. He was adulated in the press, when he defeated Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight championships in 1964. Another of his famous sayings about this fight was:  “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” People liked him because he was colorful and funny.  Some started emulating his style.  It became cool in the modern culture to brag.

Before Muhammad Ali came on the scene, the image of ideal athlete was a man named Hobey Baker. Born into a wealthy Philadelphia Main Line family, he attended the elite St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, and later became one of Princeton’s greatest athletes. He was an outstanding ice hockey and football player in the years shortly before World War I.

Baker was not only an extraordinary athlete, but he embodied the athletic code of the day, which valued teamwork, sportsmanship, and humility. He shunned the limelight and never wanted to take credit for the team’s victories. The Hobey Baker award is currently given annually to the NCAA ice hockey player who displays a series of qualities including sportsmanship and character. 

So, what characteristics do our national sports heroes display nowadays?  When watching an NFL football game, one is subjected to watching player after player, following a tackle or a catch, and even a mediocre one at that, pounding his chest, as acting as if he is the greatest. In soccer, when a player scores a goal, the first thing that the scorer does is to run to the stands with open arms, seeking adulation.  Where are the players who go first to their teammates to acknowledge their part in the score or the victory? Where are the players who show modesty and humility?

Pride used to be something to avoid. Now it’s something to celebrate.

We see pride flashed all over social media. Think of the “selfie” pictures. At a museum, visitors don’t take photos of the great works of art; they take a selfie with the art in the distant background. Me-me-me.

It is another one of the traits in the ugly world we live in. Far better for us all to remember, as Proverbs 16:18 teaches us, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

A good example is the talented and likable Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers. While playing for Boston College, he developed a habit of taunting defenders after making a big play. That carried over to his otherwise-productive rookie season in the NFL.

With his team down by 10 late in the third quarter during the American Football Conference championship game in January, Flowers caught a pass and made a run after the catch, gaining 54 yards at an important point in the game. Then he shoved his defender to the ground, stood up over him, flexed, and spun the ball on the ground. That drew a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct that backed up his team. Less than a minute later (in game time), Flowers caught a pass over the middle and dived for the end zone – only to have the same defender (L’Jarius Sneed) knock the ball out just before he reached the goal line. The Ravens lost the ball – and eventually the game.

This is a teachable moment and a compelling storyline. Yet the sportswriters during Flowers’s press conference after the game seemed uninterested in it. One asked Flowers if he was frustrated by supposedly one-sided calls by the referees.

There is, however, some good news about what’s happening on some teams in the National Football League. Both Brock Purdy, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, and Patrick Mahomes, quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, went out of their way during the playoffs and the Super Bowl to thank God for their success and the success of their respective teams. Perhaps their example will help turn other players toward sportsmanship and humility and away from taunting and pride.

Pride makes us believe that the rules don’t apply to us and that we are better than others. This fatal flaw is the downfall of individuals and nations. May we see Hobey Bakers reappear on our national scene in sports, in politics, in the arts, and in commerce before tragedy occurs. 


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