Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pride, It's Not Just a Group of Lions

The Catholic Church teaches that pride is a sin. Which doesn't mean that we're taught not to be groups of lions.

That's silly.

'Obviously,' the Church must be against self-esteem.

That's a little closer to the mark, but still not quite what I found in the Catechism.

Mirrors, Vanity, and Seven Deadly Sins

Yesterday I discussed mirrors, vanity, television, MP3 Players, and whether or not furniture is evil. (I'm pretty sure it's not, by the way.)

While finding out what vanity wasn't, I pulled out the list of seven capital sins:
  • Pride
  • Avarice
  • Envy
  • Wrath
  • Lust
  • Gluttony
  • Sloth or acedia
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1866)
Vanity isn't on the list, and there's a reason for that. (November 6, 2010)

I also went to Confession yesterday. That's what most Americans say when we mean the Sacrament of Reconciliation. By coincidence - or maybe not so much - the sin of pride came up when I spoke with the priest.

Pride: A Deadly Sin, and a Whole Lot More

Pride. That's on the list of capital sins, or "deadly sins," as I've heard the list described.

Assumptions, Catholics, Kids and Cults

Since pride leads the list of capital sins, the Catholic Church must be against self-esteem - right?

And we must think that it's wrong for a father to say, "I'm proud of you" to one of his children.

And we must be some kinda cult, breaking people's spirits and all that stuff.


Pride: Self-Respect, Satisfaction, a Group of Lions, and a Verb

So much depends on what a word means.

I speak American English, so I'd be inclined to think of "pride" as "a feeling of self-respect and personal worth." I've also been around the block enough times to know that one word may have quite a few meanings: depending on context, among other things. Let's look at what "pride" means, in today's American English:
"Key: "S:" = Show Synset (semantic) relations, "W:" = Show Word (lexical) relations


  • "S: (n) pride, pridefulness (a feeling of self-respect and personal worth)
  • "S: (n) pride (satisfaction with your (or another's) achievements) 'he takes pride in his son's success'
  • "S: (n) pride (the trait of being spurred on by a dislike of falling below your standards)
  • "S: (n) pride (a group of lions)
  • "S: (n) pride, superbia (unreasonable and inordinate self-esteem (personified as one of the deadly sins))


  • "S: (v) pride, plume, congratulate (be proud of) 'He prides himself on making it into law school'
(Princeton's WordNet)
I've used the word "pride" those ways from time to time: it's that "feeling of self-respect and personal worth," "satisfaction with ... achievements," "a group of lions," and "unreasonable and inordinate self-esteem." To top it off, pride has related meanings when we use it as a verb.

And this, I think, is one reason why we don't have artificial intelligence that can understand natural language - the sort of speech that people use every day. That's another topic.

Pride: A Capital Sin

That "unreasonable and inordinate self-esteem" is pretty close to what I found in the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"PRIDE: One of the seven capital sins. Pride is undue self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God (1866)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary P)
The Catholic Church says that we shouldn't go head-to-head against "God, Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists."1 Doing so is also, in my opinion, a really daft idea.

Princeton's WordNet, a secular online dictionary, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church aren't very far apart on what "pride" means, in one sense. One of the many meanings that Princeton's WordNet associates with that sequence of sounds is "unreasonable and inordinate self-esteem."

The Catechism, which is a more tightly focused resource, defines pride as "undue self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God." "Unreasonable and inordinate" isn't quite exactly the same as "undue" - but it's close.

Do People Matter to the Catholic Church?

Yes, I've heard about the pedophile priests. Moving along.

I've run into folks who think Christianity regards people as vile, worthless, despicable garbage. Some of them say that they're Christians.

That didn't make sense to me, even before my conversion. I was pretty sure that God knew what He was doing - if He doesn't, well that's yet another topic. I also had a hard time believing that God would bother making a creature that was by its nature a rotting pile of worthlessness. It didn't seem 'in character.'

What I like and don't like may be important to me: but what counts is what the Catholic Church teaches. I've made a list of posts, called "What do I Really Feel About [___]." Yet again another topic.

Does the Catholic Church thinks individual people are more than a pile of garbage? Looks like:
" 'God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.'218 Man occupies a unique place in creation: (I) he is 'in the image of God'; (II) in his own nature he unites the spiritual and material worlds; (III) he is created 'male and female'; (IV) God established him in his friendship."

"Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons. And he is called by grace to a covenant with his Creator, to offer him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in his stead."
(Catechism, 357)
Bottom line? Individuals are important in the Catholic Church. So are communities and societies. (Catechism 1877-1896, for starters)

Good grief: another topic!2

I've discussed individuals and the Catholic Church before. (August 26, 2010) Remember, though: What I write has the full authority of some guy with a blog.

Pride, Cursing God, and Other Bad Ideas

I did a little checking, to see what might come of "undue self-esteem or self-love," and going into competition with God. The Catechism had a few words to say about pride (the sinful kind), toward the end of this list:
"One can sin against God's love in various ways:

"-indifference neglects or refuses to reflect on divine charity; it fails to consider its prevenient goodness and denies its power.

"-ingratitude fails or refuses to acknowledge divine charity and to return him love for love.

"-lukewarmness is hesitation or negligence in responding to divine love; it can imply refusal to give oneself over to the prompting of charity.

"-acedia or spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God and to be repelled by divine goodness.

"-hatred of God comes from pride. It is contrary to love of God, whose goodness it denies, and whom it presumes to curse as the one who forbids sins and inflicts punishments."
(Catechism, 2094)
Hating God, because He "forbids sins and inflicts punishments." Sounds familiar. Western culture, American culture at any rate, has been preaching a sort of 'if it feels good, do it' approach to life.

That's not the only way that pride (the sinful sort) gets in the way, though:
"Finally, our battle has to confront what we experience as failure in prayer: discouragement during periods of dryness; sadness that, because we have 'great possessions,'15 we have not given all to the Lord; disappointment over not being heard according to our own will; wounded pride, stiffened by the indignity that is ours as sinners; our resistance to the idea that prayer is a free and unmerited gift; and so forth. The conclusion is always the same: what good does it do to pray? To overcome these obstacles, we must battle to gain humility, trust, and perseverance."
(Catechism, 2728)

"Envy represents a form of sadness and therefore a refusal of charity; the baptized person should struggle against it by exercising good will. Envy often comes from pride; the baptized person should train himself to live in humility:
"Would you like to see God glorified by you? Then rejoice in your brother's progress and you will immediately give glory to God. Because his servant could conquer envy by rejoicing in the merits of others, God will be praised.329"
(Catechism, 2540)

Educating the Conscience

Okay: I'll accept the idea that "pride," the sort of "undue self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God," one of the seven capital sins, is a really bad idea. Like I've got a choice. Actually, I do. Free will and all that. I've discussed that before. (October 15, 2010, June 4, 2010, for starters)

So, now that I know about sinful pride I don't have to worry about it any more, right?

"The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart."
(Catechism, 1784)
"A lifelong task." Okay: So I keep learning more about things to avoid, like pride, and traits to cultivate, like these seven virtues:It looks a little overwhelming. Well, nobody said this was going to be easy. Then there's that Matthew 11:29-30 thing. (Catechism, 459)

And that's - yep, another topic.

Related posts:
1 See "Adoration," Catechism glossary, A.

2 Is the Catholic Church for capitalism? Or communism? That's not quite the right question, I think. From the Catechism, again:
"A theory that makes profit the exclusive norm and ultimate end of economic activity is morally unacceptable. The disordered desire for money cannot but produce perverse effects. It is one of the causes of the many conflicts which disturb the social order.204

"A system that 'subordinates the basic rights of individuals and of groups to the collective organization of production' is contrary to human dignity.205 Every practice that reduces persons to nothing more than a means of profit enslaves man, leads to idolizing money, and contributes to the spread of atheism. 'You cannot serve God and mammon.'206

"The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modern times with 'communism' or 'socialism.' She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of 'capitalism,' individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor.207 Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for 'there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market.'208 Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended."
If that sounds "vague," I think it's because the Catholic Church is universal. Really universal. Our general rules are intended to work in any culture, in any time. I've discussed this before:

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.