Thursday, June 11, 2015

Pride and P.C.

The other night on Late Night with Seth Meyers, comedian Jerry Seinfeld talked about his refusal to speak or do stand-up at colleges any more. It seems colleges have become so politically correct that even family-friendly comics like Seinfeld find it undesirable to work there. (He is not the only one—Chris Rock made a similar announcement in December, saying that kids in college are so preconditioned to become offended by anything that almost any joke is now off-limits.)

Where does this massive shift come from? Just 15 years ago, when I was in college, comedians and speakers were most highly desired when they were unafraid to say anything, no matter how offensive some might find it, as a way of pointing out what was wrong with society and getting us to think. Now, even the Seinfelds of the world no longer feel welcome—and politically, he agrees with those who are offended, just not with the extreme sensitivity to which they get offended!

At the base of it all, actually, is pride. I will come back to these specifics later, but for now a few words about pride and the Christian disciplines of submission and humility.

Pride is, as many throughout the ages have pointed out, the attitude which twists perfectly good things and makes them into sinfulness. In pride, we seek to protect our rights and indeed to get the maximum reputation possible; in other words, every situation is about us—how it makes us feel, how it makes us behave.

Money is a good thing, a God-given thing. But when pride comes into play we want to have more than our neighbor so that our reputation looks great. As a result, pride leads us to greed and mistreatment of others, so that our reputation can continue to grow.

Power is a good thing, God actually gives us great power in the Holy Spirit. But when our pride gets involved, we begin to see power not as a tool to achieve God’s calling for us, and instead see power as something to protect or increase our own reputation.

Food and exercise are good things, which help these meat machines we drag around to work efficiently. But when pride gets involved, your food and exercise routine is no longer about being healthy, but about vanity—making people say good things about you.

Clothing, jobs, vacations—everything follows this same pattern. So things which are in themselves good, are twisted by pride to be about us, and whenever everything is about us the twisting of things into sinfulness is an inevitability.

The Christian response to this is a discipline called submission, which is the process to achieve the virtue called humility. Humility is the virtue and worldview which Jesus so frequently focused on for us; when listing the Beatitudes (“superb blessings”) which God gives to certain people, the humble person is the first priority (Matt 5:3).

Humility is the opposite of pride—and let me state something here. Confidence is not the same thing as pride. Confidence is believing in your ability to achieve something, and as such its opposite is low self-esteem. Pride, however, is the protecting and elevation of our reputation. Humility is pride’s opposite, for humility is the virtue in which we do not see ourselves as the center of a situation; rather, other people and God are the center. The humble man, as Paul says, values all others above himself (Phil 2:3-4).

But how does one achieve humility? Through a discipline known as submission. Jesus called it taking up your cross, and exhibited it throughout His life and career—perhaps most memorably when He washed the feet of the disciples. Submitting each to the other (Eph 5:21) means giving up the rights which you deserve to have.

For example, consider the famous passage in Colossians 3 about submission:  “Wives, submit to your husbands…”, “Children, obey your parents…”, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters…”. Now do not miss something here: in the culture of the day, this would be as meaningless as commanding the sky to be blue. The entire society was patriarchal, built around the Roman idea of pater familias: women had to submit, children had to obey, slaves had to follow commands.

The very fact that Paul gives these commands shows that the people had a choice in the matter, which is shocking in that culture. You see, Paul himself had pointed out that the Gospel freed us of categories—we were all God’s children, not women or men or Jew or Gentile or slave or free any more (Gal 3:28).

But submissiveness occurs when we give up the rights which we deserve to have. Paul was telling those who society had systematically forced into submission that they were freed from society’s demands as believers…and yet, that the healthiest thing for them was to immediately give away these rights as freewill offerings so that they could serve and represent Christ well.

As Americans, we have been generationally trained and beaten into our heads that giving up freedoms and rights is wrong, but really you know it to be true deep down, for you see it in other areas. The rich has a right to keep every dime he ever earned; but it is better if he gives up this right and uses his money to aid those who have none. Your boss has a right to yell at you or fire you for poor performance; but it is better if he or she is kind and leads by inspiration rather than fear. The wife has a right to divorce her husband just because she doesn’t like him anymore; but it is better if she sticks out the oath and commitment which she made.

Submissiveness—giving up our rights willingly—is the antidote to pride. If we give up the rights to our money as our own, then pride cannot twist it into greed. If we give up the right of ambition to have a cool job title with a lot of power, then pride cannot twist us into horrible bosses and employees. Submissiveness seeks the good of others above ourselves--which is why the New Testament tells us that if we have wronged a brother then it is our responsibility to reconcile (Matt 5:23), and if a brother has wronged us then it is our responsibility to reconcile (Matt 18:22). In any scenario, it is "on us" to seek and ensure unity by submissiveness--by giving away our rights and personal desires to another.

In short, let me summarize it this way:  pride aims to protect and enhance our reputations, whereas Christianity tells us to ignore our own reputations, which is only possible when we give away some our rights and submit them over to God instead.

And that gets us to our point today.

Kindness is a good thing, a God-given thing. We as Christians should be so focused on loving and giving honor to each other that it is a competition for us to hold each other up (Rom 12:10).

But, as we stated—pride can twist anything. And in our society, the virtue of kindness has been twisted and expanded to an unbelievable place, because of pride.

You have certainly been offended before—as have I. This is understandable. For when someone insults us or something we have done, it reveals the pride we have: our reputation is harmed. We don’t like someone thinking badly of us. While not a healthy Christian viewpoint, it is at least understandable. What is outrageous is the extreme to which pride has pushed this feeling in the last 10-15 years, to the point that our reputation has become the most important thing to all of us.

Because pride has improperly elevated our reputations in our minds, we find ourselves unbelievably sensitive to any slight, real or imagined. We find ourselves constantly on the lookout for someone stepping out of line in a way that “insults” or “degrades” our reputation: the wrong joke, the wrong word choice, the wrong pronoun, the wrong way to look at someone…we walk around with a “PC radar” on, looking for what is wrong.

Frankly, it seems to me that certain people walk around already offended and are just waiting for a reason to justify it.

We as Christians should be kind—however, we are also called to have integrity and allow our yes to mean yes (Matt 5:37; Jam 5:12).

It is critical that we Christians must not lose the ancient rhythms of our faith in the face of society’s ever-changing rules. From the very beginning, we have been taught that we give up our rights for the sake of all, and as a result we become people of humility—it’s not that we think badly of ourselves, we just don’t think much about ourselves at all.

When we can adopt that attitude, we are not so easily offended, and much more able to balance and speak truth in kindness—not truth without kindness, or kindness without truth, which pride desires.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed, the Bible authors teach us to be humble and kind. And what is truly radical about the Bible's teaching is that it calls those in authority to practice submission also.

    Sadly, there are many groups who have suffered under prideful "authority" in the form of colonization, slavery, genocide, discrimination and other forms of oppression. I speak of women, blacks, Native Americans, disabled people, fat people (who are beginning to reclaim the word "fat" as a succinct, neutral descriptor and not a term of contempt), and even homosexuals, about whom religious folk have told many lies. Should they be told to practice submission while we take refuge in saying "I'm not personally racist, I don't oppress anyone"? No, Jesushe told us to look at ourselves first, to "take the log out of our own eye." And He saved His strongest language for those among His people who continued an oppressive system and refused to lift a finger to relieve their peers. Let us not be guilty of their ways of pride, but practice submission even to changing the systems that raise up some and beat down others.