Deadly Sin #1
Okay, when I title this post "Deadly Sin #1", it's not that I'm aware of any particular numbering system ordering the seven deadly sins. The whole concept of the "seven deadly sins" isn't really a part of Mormon theology anyway; I think it's more of a Catholic thing, and maybe some flavors of Protestantism. Still, though, if there's one of the supposed "seven deadly sins" that gets emphasized above all others, and that may be most important, it's pride.
Pride, after all, is what's said to have led to the fall of Lucifer himself. And it gets special place of honor in LDS teachings as a theme of the Book of Mormon. There's a cycle, supposedly, as the Nephites are faithful in God and become prosperous, then in their prosperity become proud and forget God, then are punished and brought low, then become humble and righteous and regain faith in God, rinse and repeat. But those are just a few examples. What brought this to my mind was in church last Sunday, when the Sunday School lesson went over the story of King Saul, and stressed again that the main thing leading to his downfall was pride.
As in the description of the Book of Mormon cycle, humility is often linked with faith in God. To devote oneself to God, to be righteous and keep His commandments, is to be humble, and to be free of pride.
Except...it really isn't. Pride, I think, is one of the biggest reasons people are attracted to religions in the first place.
This manifests on several levels. First, there's the desire to believe that humanity is special. People don't like believing that they're just the result of natural processes, that the meaning of their lives is what they make of it, that they're not a part of any grand plan, and weren't created for any higher purpose. No, they prefer--understandably, but unfortunately--to think that they're children of God, that they are beings far greater than mere animals, put here as part of a grand design, and destined to return to their divine Father after death. And then they tell themselves that by submitting themselves to God they're being humble. No. Just the opposite. Insisting that they have this supremely powerful being looking after them, that they have this sublime destiny and meaning, is about as prideful as you can get.
That's one level. Then there's the level of moral superiority. This is more blatant in some sects than others; the Calvinistic belief that only a few are arbitrarily chosen for salvation is maybe an extreme example. Still, most Christians seem to think--whether or not they actually say so explicitly--that they're better than those of other religions, including other Christian denominations. In the LDS church, for example, people may claim just the opposite, saying that of course there are good people in every religion. But when it comes right down to it, it becomes pretty clear that's not what they really think--or rather, while they may think there are good people in every religion, it's obvious they don't think they're good enough. After all, if they were really good enough, if they were really faithful and open to the spirit, well, they'd have prayed to God and received confirmation through the Holy Ghost of the truth of the gospel, and they'd have followed up on it and been baptized. We, the members of the church, we've done that; we've had the faith and the humility to follow God's plan. If others don't--well, that just shows their weakness. Again, this isn't something that's explicitly said (not often, anyway), but it's definitely an attitude that's there, among most of the church's members, if not all. And it's a pretty prideful attitude. We're better than them. They didn't earn their salvation, which means don't deserve to be saved. We are the chosen people. Huzzah.
Then, among the modern ID crowd, there's another level, the level of intellectual pride, in which they smarmily put down "evolutionists" as dupes, liars, and/or morons. But there are others who are much better at discussing that than I am.
Then there are the appeals to individual matters of pride, not just the pride of church membership as a whole. This came into play in my case, for example, in the matter of the patriarchal blessing. A patriarchal blessing, for those unfamiliar with the concept, is a special pronouncement of guidance and alleged prophecy given to a specific member of the church by a priesthood official known as a patriarch. Patriarchal blessings are supposedly inspired documents, with the patriarchs speaking words given them by God. In addition to making predictions about the recipient's future prospects (predictions always contingent--if sometimes tacitly so--on the recipient's remaining in all ways faithful to the church and to his ecclesiastical duties, which makes for a convenient excuse if the predictions don't come true), and stating what tribe of Israel he belongs to, the patriarchal blessing also often tells what the recipient supposedly did in the pre-existence--as a premortal spirit before coming to Earth. My own blessing says (paraphrasing heavily, since I don't have it in front of me at the moment and don't remember offhand where I have a copy of it to refer to) that I was among those who labored most mightily to convince my fellow premortal spirits to choose God's plan. Now, that's something that it seems one can easily be proud of, and I have to admit that was something that was in my mind when I was trying to come to terms with my disbelief in the church. But--if the church isn't true--that means my patriarchal blessing wasn't really inspired, and I didn't really play this great, special role in the premortal life...did I really want to dismiss that? Well, I finally admitted to myself that it wasn't a matter of wanting to dismiss it; it was a matter of owning up to the fact there was no good reason to believe it--and just so I could tell myself I was this important being in my premortal existence really wasn't a good reason. So although I eventually managed to accept that it was just pride holding me back, still there was that temptation. I doubt I'm the only person who was tempted by similar inducements.
In fact, I know I'm not, because I have a friend who had a somewhat analogous experience with Scientology--though I realize Scientology is only very arguably a religion. He was given a test at a Scientology center, and was told he scored in some remarkably high percentile, and had truly impressive qualities--a result that I'm sure inclined him further to believe in the test, and by association in Scientology as a whole. (Fortunately, he ended up not sticking with Scientology, though I think it was more due to a loss of interest than any real examination of its teachings.)
Both as part of the group of worshippers as a whole, and often as an individual as well, religion--or Christianity, at least, if not every religion--teaches that you are someone special. You are a child of God. You are one of the righteous, with the faith and strength of character to serve the true deity. You are one of the intelligent and undeceived who recognizes and can face the truth. You are a person of extraordinary qualities and/or premortal history. You are great. And I think it's a desire to believe all that that's one of the things that keeps people in religion. And that's just a form--and a rather blatant form, at that--of pride.
Oh, I'm not saying the areligious are immune to pride, by any means. I've seen writings by a number of atheists (by no means all!) who lord it over the religious, belittling them for their foolishness and stupidity. (And sure, those atheists may have the weight of evidence on their side, but that's no reason to be a jerk about it.) And I'm certainly not nearly free of pride myself. Pride, I have to admit, has a lot to do with why I'm finding it hard to free myself from going through the motions of religion; why I have to hide behind cowardly anonymity for these posts, and still go to church on Sunday and pretend to be a faithful Mormon in my off-the-net life--I've said before it was because I didn't want to disappoint all those church members who think so highly of me, and that's true, but it's also because I don't want them to think less of me--and that's pride talking.
Pride's not unique to the religious, no. Not by any means. But it's the religious--well, again, I guess I'm mostly talking about Christians here; I don't know enough about most other religions to really comment--who go on and on about how humble true believers are, and how humility is such a cornerstone of their religion. It's not. Religion is, far too often if not always, built on a solid foundation of pride. I agree with Christian teachings that pride is a vice, and that it can lead to all sorts of harmful consequences. I just don't think the churches that teach that practice what they preach.