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No They Can't and Here's Why
James Martin couldn't be more wrong about Humility and Pride.
Still a little bit shocked about how very few Pride flags there are in my neighborhood. Truly truly, it’s strange that a solid decade of rainbows fluttering in the breeze would so quietly disappear. Everyone seems to be busy gardening and flipping houses. Some people still haven’t gotten the memo, though. Among them is James Martin who tweeted out something he wrote last year. It’s ok he says—Godly even—to indulge in pride:
First, it’s important to remember that there are (at least) two kinds of pride. The first is the satisfaction that can come from your own accomplishments. This can turn into vanity, which is something to avoid. That brand of pride says, “Look how great I am!” It’s the opposite of humility, a key virtue in the Christian life. Humility reminds us that we are not the center of the universe and that our lives depend on God. This is the kind of humility Jesus speaks of in the Beatitudes when he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mt. 5:3). So the first kind of pride can be a threat to humility, to discipleship and to the spiritual life overall. But the second kind of pride is a consciousness of one’s own dignity. And that’s closer to what Pride Month is meant to be for the LGBTQ community: a recognition of the human dignity of a group of people who have, for centuries been, treated with contempt, rejection and violence.
Martin, as you can see, stirs together a lot of truths and lies, so that it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. The first problem, we can see, is that he confuses what is good and what is evil. Christians of yesteryear, navigating the dangerous rapids of pride, would have known that what he says here is entirely backward. Satisfaction in some accomplishment is, by the gracious will of God, an offramp from the obsessive regard with which human people, by nature, consider themselves.
Work—meaningful work—which leads to accomplishment produces self-forgetfulness. You get caught up in whatever you’re doing and forget about yourself altogether. It is the common grace of God to give ordinary people momentary relief from the great burden of themselves through the various kinds of work that make life interesting and pleasurable. I think this must be one reason that most kinds of meaningful work have been destroyed, I assume by Satan, who wants you to think about yourself all the live-long day. Don’t for a minute think about someone else, or God, says Satan. Here, fill these Amazon boxes or keep clicking through all these awful forms online for many hours until all you can face at the end of the day is a fake cup of ramen, a Dylan Mulvaney Budlight, and your own misery.
Second, poor in spirit literally means the opposite of what Martin is saying. Poor in spirit is when you look at yourself and your “accomplishments” and discover that not only have you not done anything worthy of God’s approbation, but who you are inside is also wicked and bad. If you had any dignity, you marred it through sin, through enmity, through greed, through sexual immorality, through loving yourself rather than God. Seeing that, and then begging God to have mercy on you, is the poverty of spirit that Jesus is looking for. Seeing that, and turning to face Jesus anyway to ask for mercy, is the sign of God’s blessing.
Also, that last line, about that “group of people” being treated with contempt, rejection, and violence “for centuries” is historically illiterate, if not disingenuous. The l.g.b.t.q.i.a.+ option of group identity has only existed for a few minutes, not centuries. It is also not true that people who wanted to have sex with people they shouldn’t, through the course of Christian history, were treated with “contempt.” If you mean that the church always called them to repent, and that sexual sin was understood to be as soul-destroying as it is, and that people lived as though it was a grave wickedness, and that the people who engaged in it had to endure shame and disapprobation, and that no one lived as though self-love was any good at all, let alone the highest one, well, then, ok, I guess. But I don’t think that’s what Martin means.
And finally, it is spiritual malpractice to tell anyone, especially those who have come to believe that grounding their identity in their sexual proclivities is good and right, that pride isn’t really that dangerous. It is. It’s poisonous. It was the first and most egregious sin, giving birth to all the others. We’ve become so accustomed to the godless idea that we’re supposed to esteem ourselves highly, that our greatest failure is not loving ourselves more, that Christianity of five years ago is now beginning to sound actually wicked, even to many Christians. Martin seems, at least from this article, blissfully unaware that what he’s saying would be anathema to every Christian for centuries, and ought to be now.
I’m not Catholic, as you all know, but if I were, this bit would especially stick in my craw:
Another objection is marking Pride Month during the same month that Catholics celebrate the Month of the Sacred Heart. But, as I see it, the two are complementary, not contradictory. The Sacred Heart teaches us how Jesus loves; Pride Month reminds us whom Jesus invite us to love today. (I address that at greater length here.)
Just saying things doesn’t actually make them true. Celebrating the Sacred Heart of Jesus who emptied himself, taking up his cross, dying, and rising again to redeem those whom sin had destroyed in no way complements contemporary celebrations of sexual immorality. Those two things don’t go together in any way. Unlike Martin, what I’ve just said is undergirded by the Scripture, by Church History, and probably by the portions of the Catholic Catechism that Martin forgets about. I haven’t read it, so I suppose someone could correct me, but it’s hard for me to imagine that the people who wrote the Catholic Catechism would be so entirely deluded about everything.
Anyway, in a fit of nostalgia that comes over me sometimes, I persecuted my children and husband last night by playing some of the songs we used to sing at my boarding school. It was the 80s so there was a lot of synthesizer. But if you can forgive that, what you have is the strange phenomenon of a lot of bible verses, and fairly straightforward Biblical principles, put to singable tunes. A lot of the scripture I know by heart is from singing these songs. One of them I rediscovered last night would make most people today completely freak out. They wouldn’t even be able to imagine a world in which one might sincerely sing or pray this kind of thing. The lyrics are simple, direct, and meant for singing with lots of children of various ages. Here they are:
All of You, None of Me
All of you, none of me
is the heart cry of my soul,
it's what I long for.
Crush my will. Set me free
So I can live above the world
And let my heart soar.
Take your flame and purify.
You must live and I must die.
Fill me now so all may see,
All of you and none of me.
All of you, none of me
As a living sacrifice, I bow before you.
It's my hope, my earnest plea,
to come before your Royal Throne,
Love and adore You.
Help me purge my selfish ways,
Let me live a life of praise
Fill me now so all will see,
All of You and none of me.
I can already hear a whole bunch of objections. Do you really want God to “crush” your will? Do you really want people to see “none” of you? Isn’t that actually very wicked?
Perhaps, but you might remember where it says, somewhere, that “it was the will of God to crush him”—that’s Jesus—so that you might have eternal life. Why did Jesus have to die? Because your will was so wrecked that you were going to die if he didn’t do something. Your soul was so wrecked by pride that God had to actually die to heal and restore you. So yes, your will—you—had to go down into the grave and be raised up by Christ.
When that’s happened to you, when you have been saved and transformed by the blood of Christ, do you really care if anyone “sees” you? Because God has accepted you as his own, you are really eager for everyone around you to see him. That’s the thing you are most desperate for. When you get in the way, through sin and selfishness and pride, of other people finding Jesus, aren’t you crushed? grieved? repentant? Don’t you actually find yourself living a “life of praise” the more the sin is taken away and Christ’s own goodness given to you?
What happens is that you become more of yourself. But also, you don’t really care that much. You are so outward-focused, so desirous of God building his kingdom, that you have forgotten everything else. This is the very antithesis of Martin’s pride masquerading as “dignity.” Pride in who you are doesn’t dignify you, it degrades you, because you rely ever more on your dying self instead of on the one who gives life.
What was it that John the Baptist—the greatest man, according to Jesus, who ever lived—said? He wasn’t worthy even to untie Jesus’ sandal. He wanted to decrease so that Jesus could increase. He went to his own death because he wouldn’t lie about what is good and what is evil. Imagine looking Jesus in the face and trying to explain that what he knows will destroy you is actually really precious and special.
I don’t recommend it. Try humility—true humility—instead. It is the only path to love and life. Have a nice day!
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