Pride and Prejudice, the Jane Austen work circa 1813, is a popular novel that has been made in to several movies, television programs and been the subject of college courses. It is the story of manners and customs that divided a period in England between classes of people. While the theme has a good moral story, (a book should not be judged by its cover), the treatment of real pride and real prejudice is not so benign.
Pride and prejudice can be thought of as the two sides of a coin; imagine pride as “heads” and prejudice as “tails.” Pride drives a person’s ego to the top of the hill, and prejudice steps on others to get to the top of that same hill. When pride and prejudice combine, they are worse than ill-mannered, they are combustible. And this is exactly why God literally hates all forms of pride, which Sacred Scripture also describes in terms like “proud, haughty, selfish and arrogant.” Pride is not of God. Pride was the cause of Lucifer’s fall from grace, when he boasted his five “I will’s” that would place him above God. Pride was the cause of the fall of Adam and Eve, who placed their will – even to eat a bit of illegal fruit – above God’s single law. Jesus decried the arrogance of the Pharisees and Sadducees, leaving praise only for the humble, such as John the Baptist, the Roman centurion, and the Syrophoenician woman.
America has never lacked a continual supply of pride and prejudice. In the name of pride and prejudice, the early colonists subjugated native Americans and profited by enslaving Africans. In the name of pride and prejudice, American “nativists” engaged in hostile acts against Catholic immigrants. Historically speaking, the proud cry for “Americanism” violently oppressed all those who did not fit into a specific mold. It is the ugly side of American history that is still perpetuated today.
With over 330 million people in America, arrogance permeates the fabric of our country like a smell that no detergent can cover. We think, or at least tell ourselves, that we have “progressed,” but that assumption is doubtful. History has taught us nothing new about pride and human nature. Though some historical tides of prejudice have turned, there is even more arrogant self-assertion today that divides us further apart. Pride and prejudice, once a market cornered by predominantly white protestant settlers, has become a public free-for-all as movements supporting everything from gender identity to racial equality demonstrate in the name of pride. Women call men “toxic” and men call women names I cannot print. There’s white pride and black pride, and gay pride; there is simply too much intoxicating pride being passed around our people. Whether pride is steeped in some sense of egotistical superiority, or the desire to be treated with respect; there is no place for pride within Christianity. Pride is not the answer; it’s the problem.
Perhaps the most damaging impact of pride in America is how Christian influence has waned in our country, and not among non-believers, but among Christians. As an historian, I have never considered America to be a “Christian” nation, yet I do agree that for many centuries Christianity had a major influence in shaping our country. Have good things been accomplished in the name of our faith? Yes. Have bad things been done in that same name? Yes. And this is part of the problem, for we are not to be wells that produce both “sweet and salt” water (James 3:11). We are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt. 5:13-14), and the walking and talking images of Jesus Christ. Yet, with Christianity a major influencer for over 250 years we have failed to act as a nation according to God’s will. Instead of blurting out “God Bless America!” like pharisaical automatons, we should be begging, “God have mercy on us!” like the tax collector in the temple, who beat his chest, unable to even look up from his simple prayer.
James 4:6 reminds us that, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
We should not look to the government or some agency outside the Church to right the wrongs that pride and prejudice embellish. We are to be examples, an active and living presence, in our home, with our neighbors, in our places of work and school. Humility and selflessness begin with each of us, from the inside out.