Pride: The Source of All Evil

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

There is no doubt that most readers have heard the aphorism: 'money is the root of all evils.’ This apothegm is actually a popularization of St. Paul's instruction to St. Timothy (1Tim 6: 10): “For the love of money is a root of all of evils. . . .” Of course, there is much wisdom in this teaching. However, we must consider that there is a vice that precedes and nourishes this 'root' of money, and all the other vices as well. St. Hesychios the Priest writes: ". . . the crown of all these, pride." (Philokalia I). St. John Cassian (Philokalia I) suggests the reason. He says “. . . it acts like some harsh tyrant who has gained control of a great city . . . . as a result regard[s] himself as equal to God." Such people, says the prophet Isaiah (14: 14), say to themselves "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High."

There is agreement among world religions on the deleterious nature of pride. The Hindu scripture states: "Those who know truly are free from pride and deceit (Bhagavad-Gita 13:7)." In the Koran it is written (Surah 96: 6-8): "Nay, but man doth transgress all bounds, In that he looketh upon himself as self-sufficient. Verily, to thy Lord is the return (of all)." In the Buddhist tradition we read: "Free from . . . overbearing pride, principled, trained, a 'last-body': he's what I call a Brahmin [the elite]. (Dhammapada, 26).”

We must be careful not to confuse pride, a spiritual illness, with healthy self-esteem, a psychological strength. Spiritually, pride is self-aggrandizement, self-glory, self-worship, self-love and vanity (vainglory) at the expense of attributing our talents and successes to God. As King Solomon informs us: "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Pv 16: 18)." As our Eastern Church Father St. Mark the Ascetic tells us: “. . . it is because of them that wrath, anger, war, murder and all other evils have such power over mankind (Philokalia I).” Psychologically, pride is akin to narcissism. The Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders, IV-TR of the American Psychiatric Association (2000) describes narcissistic self-esteem as "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy. . . ." On the other hand, as a psychological strength, developmental psychologists define self-esteem "as being true to [the] real self (Cole and Cole 1996, The Development of Children)." Psychologically, healthy self-esteem leaves room for God.

In terms of content, there in no inherent contradiction between the psychological definitions cited above and the spiritual reality. Narcissism - what the Church Fathers are really talking about - is clearly a lack of spiritual balance, and is thus a spiritual illness, "Healthy self-esteem" is reality-based as a simple acknowledgment of our strengths and weaknesses as humans. By understanding this we can place self-esteem in a divine perspective. "Yet not I, but the grace of God which was in me (1 Cor15:10)."

Date posted: April 8, 2011