But the head
and origin of all sin is the basic sin of Superbia or Pride.
In one way there is so much to say about Pride that one might speak of it
for a week and not have done. Yet in another way, all there is to be said
about it can be said in a single sentence. It is the sin of trying to be as
God. It is the sin which proclaims that Man can produce out of his own
wits, and his own
his own imagination the standards by which he lives: that Man is fitted to
be his own judge. It is Pride which turns man's virtues into deadly sins,
by causing each self-sufficient virtue to issue in its own opposite, and as
a grotesque and horrible travesty of itself. The name under which Pride
walks the world at this moment is the Perfectibility of Man, or the doctrine
of Progress; and its speciality is the making of blueprints for Utopia and
establishing the Kingdom of Man on earth.
devilish strategy of Pride is that it attacks us, not on our weak points,
but on our strong. It is preeminently the sin of the noble mind—that
corruptio optimi which works more evil in the world than all the
deliberate vices. Because we do not recognise pride when we see it, we
stand aghast to see the havoc wrought by the triumphs of human idealism. We
meant well, we thought we were succeeding—an look what has come of our
efforts! There is a proverb which says that the way to hell is paved with
good intentions. We usually take it as referring to intentions that have
been weakly abandoned; but it has a deeper and much subtler meaning. That
road is paved with good intentions strongly and obstinately pursued, until
they become self-sufficing ends in themselves and deified.
with doing good.
God has chance of greater sin
than the man who serves a king.
who serve the greater cause may make the cause serve them,
T.S. Eliot: Murder in the
feared above all things the state of mind they called hubris—the
inflated spirits that come with over-much success. Overweening in men called
forth, they thought, the envy of the gods. Their theology may seem to us a
little unworthy, but with the phenomenon itself and its effects they were
only too well acquainted. Christianity, with a more rational theology,
traces hubris back to the root-sin of Pride, which places man instead
of God at the centre of gravity and so throws the whole structure of
things into the ruin called Judgment. Whenever we say, whether in the
personal, political or social sphere,
I am the
master of my fate,
I am the
captain of my soul
committing the sin of Pride; and the higher the goal at which we aim; the
more far-reaching will be the subsequent disaster. That is why we ought to
distrust all those high ambitions and lofty ideals which make the well-being
of humanity their ultimate end. Man cannot make himself happy by serving
himself-not even when he calls self-service the service of the community;
for "the community" in that context is only an extension of his own ego.
Human happiness is a by-product, thrown off in man's service of God. And
incidentally, let us be very careful how we preach that “Christianity is
necessary for the building of a free and prosperous post-war world.” The
proposition is strictly true, but to put it that way may be misleading, for
it sounds as though we proposed to make God an instrument in the service of
man. But God is nobody's instrument. If we say that the denial of God was
the cause of our present disasters, well and good; it is of the essence of
Pride to suppose that we can do without God.
But it will
not do to let the same sin creep back in a subtler and more virtuous-seeming
form by suggesting that the service of God is necessary as a means to the
service of man. That is a blasphemous hypocrisy, which would end by
degrading God to the status of a heathen fetish, bound to the service of a
tribe, and liable to be dumped head-downwards in the water-butt if He failed
to produce good harvest-weather in return for services rendered.
“Cursed be he
that trusteth in
man,” says Reinhold Niebuhr [Beyond Tragedy] “even if he be pious man
or, perhaps, particularly if he be pious man.” For the besetting temptation
of the pious man is to become the proud man: “He spake this parable unto
certain which trusted in
that they were righteous."