Pride of Life
by Matthew Cramer
“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh,
and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father
but is of the world.” (1Jn 2:16 RSVCE)
I’ve been over this part of the Scriptures many times in the past. Yes, yes, lust, lust, eyes, flesh… but this time I stopped short.
Pride of life—what exactly is that, I asked myself.
I’m acquainted with pride—plain, old, ordinary pride—and how it affects my behavior. Excessive pride clouds my judgment and leads to perilous decisions. Personal satisfaction or moderate pride in my successes is natural and even beneficial.
But plain old pride—dangerous, yes—is not the term St. John used. He referred to “pride of life”. I sensed a broader concept there, which includes pride in the regular sense of the term, but far more important than “I’m better than you”.
According to St. John, there are three coteries of behavior, the love of which “is not of the Father but is of the world”. Every one of them is so consequential, so significant that it separates us from the Father. Pride of life is one of the three.
I don’t often hear about pride of life; in fact, mostly never. Still, if it’s that important, what is it? I had to do some digging to find out.
Early on, I was drawn to focus exclusively on one bedrock aspect of our lives, our existence. Just thinking about the word “existence” sends the mind off on vacation. Words like “boring” and expressions such as “waste of time” and “duh, dude—I already do” easily come to mind. There does not seem to be a lot of depth to plumb.
Even so, mental discipline will be necessary, as you read on, to stay sharply focused on existence. The examples I offer of past and present situations are only meant to highlight its role. A natural tendency to digress into other important issues, should be resisted and curbed. In short, stay focused. Matters of considerable import await you.
THE SIN OF THE ANGELS
It all starts with an event called “the sin of the angels”. Most of us are familiar with its fundamentals, but I need to start from this point that lies a little further back in time.
At the Burning Bush, God had told Moses His name: “I am, who am.” No, this is not a typo or syntax error. “I am,” the first half, affirms that He exists (hardly a surprise to Moses at the time). God is a being with an intellect and a will.
The second half of God’s name is key. “Who am” carries no reference to time.
Where God is concerned, the concept of time does not exist. He just is. There is no “before” Him. There will never be an “after” Him either. He is the prime mover, all-powerful, the source of everything that exists. Among the other faculties He possesses, He is infinite existence itself. (See also A God Who Loves Us)
Outside of existence, there is nothing. Everything that now exists, must receive it from existence itself. That makes it very personal. Creation—the universe, people and other stuff—all came into being because of an infinitely smart, omnipotent and loving someone—Almighty God Himself.
My wife Ruth Ann taught kindergarten and first-grade catechism for many years. When the subject of Creation came up, she’d ask the kids to form an empty ball by cupping their hands together. Then she’d have them squeeze their hands together and try to create something from nothing.
Typically, her point impressed them all. But sometimes, a pair of clasped hands would form a tight seal and the air inside would push back against the external pressure of the squeeze. The surprised and exuberant child in question would yell, “I did it, I did it—there’s something in here!’” More discussion would ensue.
God created a vast number of angels, destined to share the Beatific Vision (experiencing God’s infinite glory), which would satisfy the full capability of their existence. He bestowed on them an immense share of existence and required an act of submission.
The Scriptures tell us that angels are overwhelmingly beautiful and powerful. Satan, the most beautiful and powerful of them all, knew that his existence came from and depended on God. But, galvanized by his own spectacular existence, Satan decided to achieve the Beatific Vision through his own power, instead of receiving it as a gift through obedience to the Almighty. His sin of pride was quickly reinforced by the sin of envy.
Thus, we have the “sin of the angels”, a sin of pride: Refusing to submit to their rectitude defined by a superior. (St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologiae–The Angels, Question 63)
There came, eventually, a test, rebellion, and a cataclysmic war in Heaven. Satan and a great number of angels who chose to follow him were expelled (more in Satan And His Minions).
“Enough,” you say. “I’ve been through some of this before. I’m not an angel, and I’m certainly not aspiring to achieve the Beatific Vision. I have enough trouble as it is trying to make my way through this difficult life, without complicating it further.”
Fair enough. But do allow me to explore this subject a little further before we get to the easy part.
Rectitude is an astounding word. Just the sound of it suggests its meaning—a state of being, encapsulating righteousness (as in holiness), unerring moral character and correct judgment.
In this specific context, rectitude defines a being along with applicable righteous directives and assignments, as in: “This is your mission; this is how I expect you to execute it; this is the way you should live your life; and this is what I expect you to accomplish.”
A superior, in the case of the angels, means a superior being or rectitude, not the boss at work. In other words, if a superior being creates and defines your rectitude, you are required to faithfully abide by it. Refusing to do so is the sin of pride. In the eyes of Almighty God, this particular meaning of rectitude is as relevant for us as it was for the angels.
THE GIFT OF EXISTENCE
The Scriptures tell us that God created us out of love. With His infinite intellect, He knows that it is possible for the beings He creates to experience immeasurable joy and complete fulfillment in their existence on being blessed with the Beatific Vision. Since He is Infinite Love, God creates us with that particular destiny in mind.
But to simply state that God created us and leave it at that would be superficial in the extreme. To be sure, God did create us. It’s a fact. But our creation is more than a fact, a single event to be recorded in an archive somewhere.
Before me, there wasn’t any “not-yet-me”. There was nothing. I was fashioned from nothing, given a share of existence in a creative act by the Supreme Being, Almighty God. And it doesn’t stop there.
Should God withdraw His creative intent for me, even for an instant, I would cease to be, as though I had never existed. Every blink of the eye, every breath I draw, every sin I commit, every act of compassion I accomplish can happen only because God holds my unique, personal rectitude explicitly in existence, moment to moment.
Our existence hangs by a single thread. Reflection about this is highly recommended, although it can be unnerving.
The good news is—it’s a golden thread. God promised Noah after the Flood that He would never again destroy mankind. Thus, our existence depends on both God’s specific creative will and His faithfulness. But it is only His infinite love, mercy and faithfulness, moment to moment, that warrants the good news. For our part, we bring nothing to the party.
OUR RECTITUDE & DIRECTIVES
Early in Creation, God defined our rectitude. We are human beings called man. (This includes both the male and the female of the human species) Our physical and mental assets and capabilities are well known. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden and commanded them to be caretakers of the earth. (See also Overarching Care)
“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Gn 1:28 RSV)
Adam and Eve were comfortably sheltered and wholesomely nourished in the Garden. They walked and talked with God. If mosquitoes existed then, they were probably harmless.
Like the angels, Adam and Eve were given a test that required their submission. They failed it and set off a whole series of events over 4,000 biblical years that concluded with Jesus’ resurrection. (See The Train Wreck Of Humanity)
After the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden, God continued to provide additional directives right through the 4,000 biblical years BC. They manifested themselves in occasional direct encounters, the Flood, the Tower of Babel, the Ten Commandments, the Prophets, and the Old Testament, among other events. In the 2,000 years that followed His Resurrection until the present, Jesus left us His life, the Church, the New Testament, and the Holy Spirit to guide us on our way.
At the very moment of their creation, the angels realized the optimum potential of their rectitude and knowledge, except for the Beatific Vision. They were as much as they would ever be and knew all they would ever know. There was nothing more to be or learn beyond that. Thus, their personal choices were comprehensive and irrevocable.
Evaluation of my submission to God is more complicated. When sin and death entered the world, we became creatures of time and circumstance. Unlike the angels, we cannot decide to obey God’s directives, once and for all. I, as a person, develop over time. I acquire knowledge, encounter threats, am offered opportunities, and make decisions every day.
My rectitude (being) is unchanged, but I am not the same person that I was yesterday, and I’ll be different tomorrow. Thus, my submission is measured, in part, by the current state of my developing character and the cumulative decisions I execute, from one moment to the next in my life. In other words, are my decisions and my character consistent with the righteous directives defined by God?
Life, the desires of our fallen nature, and the ever-present attacks from evil invariably get in the way. Many decisions are required to be made and the ever-present chance of error looms large.
The ability to mitigate these threats comes from our personal relationship with Our Lord, the Sacraments and the Magisterium of the Church. They empower us with grace and abundant opportunities for forgiveness and reconciliation. (See Embracing Conflict With Hope and The Sandbox—SR3 Salvation Trilogy, SR1 The Devil and Evil Entities, & SR4 Authority and Power)
PRIDE OF LIFE
I am created by God from nothing, held in existence by His faithfulness, and charged to realize the full potential of my rectitude in conformity with His directives. That sounds simple and clear and it is.
We, as a people, along with the culture and traditions we were born into and bred within, have long been characterized as God-fearing, with strong family values, personal accountability and compassion for our fellow men. We cherish our freedom, our God-given “…unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, July 4, 1776)
Our history is checkered with the most incredible achievements and the most unforgivable misdeeds. We put men on the moon. The trauma of slavery has only partially abated. In the last century, we fought tyranny and evil in two World Wars and in the Cold War that followed. We are now engaged in a struggle against an evil form of Islam that seems determined to establish a new Caliphate through terrorism and unspeakable acts of violence.
Mercifully, there are still plenty of people in this world who lead their lives with integrity, abiding by sound biblical or Christian values. Witness the moving sacrifices common citizens and professionals have made and the supportive care they have provided to the injured and the afflicted after 9/11 and in the aftermath of recent natural catastrophes and man-made disasters.
Nevertheless, my lucid memory goes back over 67 years and I’m convinced that something else is going on now—something that is graver still, more terrifying and growing at a monstrously alarming rate.
I believe evil is now engaged in a full, frontal assault on our culture; it is an all-out war declared on us by a spiritual oppression, Pride of Life, deceiving us to repeat the sin of the angels. Pride of Life threatens to tear us apart by destroying our shared belief in who we are, where we come from, and what is our intended destiny—in other words, the very core of our beings.
The advances made in technology, science, and medicine, the diversity brought to entertainment, and the proliferation of free sex and instant gratification overwhelm our lives now. It is becoming increasingly easier for many, including the youth, to adopt a world view that affords license without the attendant responsibility. The prevalent motto seems to be: “I don’t need anything beyond me and mine. I’ll just play these.”
Lessons from the past and concerns for the long term are now treated with disdain. The facts of our creation and righteous rectitude are swept aside by a false rectitude—a collection of rights, both legal and asserted, an iron-clad now. “I exist; end of story.”
On the CBS program 60 Minutes, broadcast on June 20, 2004, Bill Clinton was asked why he got involved with Monica Lewinsky. His answer: “Because I could.”
There, for all to see, is pride of life.
RIGHTEOUS AUTHORITY EMASCULATED
The use of authority and power has always had its upside and downside. Mankind has seldom succeeded in implementing an effective sweet spot for their use over any substantial length of time. The problem always stems, of course, from our own proclivity for excesses and sin.
The Scriptures reveal that authority is tasked by God to protect, facilitate, and elevate the lives of those entrusted to its care. (See Overarching Care) Some sense of this responsibility had existed in secular life all the way through the fifties.
I trace Pride of Life’s opening moves all the way back to the sixties. Recalling them is almost too painful for words. There was Vietnam, the drugged-out hippies of Haight-Ashbury, the anti-war riots and burnings, the Kent State shootings, free love, Woodstock, the Kennedy assassination, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Apollo moon landing, just to name a few.
It seemed as if every single rule, regulation, law, cultural norm, commitment and vow had been challenged, flouted or dishonored and allowed to go unpunished. There were, of course, organizations that steadfastly conformed to the rule of law and individuals who acted righteously and survived the onslaught relatively unscathed. But every position of authority was left shaken and insecure and cast under a shadow of doubt. No one institution or organization, secular or sacred, escaped without scars including the most surprising of all—the Catholic Church.
Thus, it was in the sixties that the seeds were planted for the spineless, clueless exercise of authority we have today. Our concept of authority, some fifty-plus years later, seems only to recognize secular success, satiation, power, notoriety, money, and re-election—all hallmarks of a pride of life.
As a result, today, there are:
- Large numbers of weak, selfish, and cowardly men, who sire children and abdicate their responsibilities as husband and father.
- Foolish, deluded church leaders, covering up major moral dysfunction to maintain outward appearances.
- Spineless college and university CEOs, browbeaten and overrun by immature students demanding the suppression of ideas contrary to their own.
- Power-hungry politicians so obsessed with their own re-election, they’re incapable of bi-partisan legislation for the good of the country.
- Corrupt jurists who warp their interpretation of the Constitution to support the latest cultural degradation.
- Self-serving professionals in government service abandoning their commitment to unbiased administration in order to further political agendas.
A TYRANNY OF RIGHTS
Our culture is derived from the concept of freedom/liberty. We assert the right to do whatever we wish, unless prevented by law. Three significant cultural norms underscore our constitutional compact: our rights come from our Creator; we must respect the rights of others; and concern for the welfare of the body politic must be allowed to temper individual rights.
One of evil’s classic techniques to conquer humankind is to offer support for a legitimate or righteous endeavor and, after gaining a foothold, cleverly nudge it off course or egg it on to counter-productive excess.
Pride of Life has taken this technique to a creative new height. It has piggy-backed on our cultural enshrinement of rights. Once authority has been eroded, it’s possible to sweep aside cultural norms, the concept of God’s involvement, and ignore His directives. We are then left with nothing but rights, with no room for accountability or responsibility. In other words, the license to do as we please.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s now easy to trace Pride of Life’s execution of this strategy.
In the sixties, our culture confronted and sorted through several legitimate grievances. Among these were: The Civil Rights Movement, women’s rights and the draft. Injustice in laws and policies was alleged. Strong opinions and rhetoric on both sides fueled considerable resistance to change and hampered effective discourse. Present everywhere was fear, fear of change, and fear of no-change.
At the center of it all were rights claimed by both sides, rights justified by serious rationale. There were rights to disobey unjust laws, and rights to enforce laws until legally revised. They seldom found common ground. Non-violent law breaking gradually began to escalate into violence.
Demonstrations began with the usual protest marches and minor incidents of lawbreaking. Protesters occupied the seats reserved for others on public buses, drank from a “whites only” fountain, or avoided the draft by taking flight and heading for Canada.
The marchers’ demands were met with serious violence by those resisting change; attack dogs were let loose on them and the marchers beaten with clubs. At Kent State University, the Ohio National Guard fired on unarmed students protesting against the Vietnam War and the draft, killing seven and wounding 74. It was an ugly and distressing time.
In the Civil Rights case, there were clear cultural injustices in policy and in practice that needed to be addressed and remedied. It is to Rev. Martin Luther King’s credit that he managed to contain the violence related to the Civil Rights Movement until he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
Meanwhile, the quaint sixties’ hippie motto, “If it feels good, do it!”, had enticed increasing numbers of people into throwing off 0verarching moral and cultural norms that had been in place for years so that they could “go with the flow”. By 1980, it seemed as though every subversive interpretation of nature and of what was natural had been experimented with to the point of overwhelming excess, proclaimed normal and legitimate, and declared worthy of respect.
The Civil Rights Act of 1967 notwithstanding, cultural evolution took place gradually. Lacking the sanction of authority and the necessary moral restraints, the rhetoric of protest sought speedy cultural change and when frustrated, assumed an aggrieved and combative stance.
As we moved into the seventies and the eighties, protest manifested itself in significant acts of violence approaching anarchy. There was no way to contain them now. Authority had been emasculated and cultural norms tossed aside. What remained was the refrain: “I want what I want—now!”
Protest violence was perfected to a fine art. Large areas of urban cities were trashed, looted, and burned by masked “protesters”, (thugs) “aggrieved” because their “rights” were not being honored. Police stood by helplessly, their authority undermined by their concern that attempting restore law and order might lead to an aggravation of the existing situation. New phrases entered our lexicon: “Burn, baby, burn”, “no justice, no peace”, “long, hot summer”, and “rent a mob”.
Today, a new category of rights has come into existence. They are not the natural outcome of policy decisions, moral guidance or laws in place. Instead, they emanate from a narrow, individualistic approach to life and are fueled by self-serving motives and desires.
College students are labeled “snowflakes”, because they have a meltdown facing or about to face the slightest resistance to their point of view. They retaliate by claiming personal harassment and injury, mental or otherwise.
They attempt to stifle concepts and opinions contrary to their own through threats and acts of violence, hypocritically justifying them under the banner of free speech. Insult, injury, and recompense are claimed for the flimsiest of reasons, all on the pretext of demanding their “rights”.
The footprints left by Pride of Life’s evil tactics are visible everywhere. Our culture is morphing into what is known as Identity Politics—a collection of MEs—represented by individuals whose rectitude neither has direction nor is guided by directives. There is no sense of the long term in their lives; the collective good, God’s directives, or the rights of others are irrelevant to their purpose. There is only “my rights, as I define them now, without limits or interference”.
Writing in The Weekly Standard, Mary Eberstadt analyzes the rise of Identity Politics, seeking a cause for its depth and ferocity. She concludes that fifty years of trashing the family unit through divorce, multiple partners, co-habitation, absent fathers, births out of wedlock, abortion and free sex have led to a predictable outcome. The article is well worth the effort to obtain a reprint.
“Identity politics is not so much politics as a primal scream. It’s the result of what might be called the Great Scattering—the Western World’s unprecedented familial dispersion.
Anyone who’s ever heard a coyote in the desert, separated from the pack at night, knows the sound. Maybe the otherwise-unexplained hysteria of today’s identity politics is just that: The collective human howl of our time, sent up by inescapably communal creatures who can no longer identify their own.” (Eberstadt, Mary, “The Primal Scream of Identity Politics”, The Weekly Standard, November 6, 2017)
As Christians, we must constantly proclaim the total defeat of Satan and his evil followers at the hands of Jesus Christ, His Death and Resurrection. Author of life, Jesus, King of the Universe, reigns supreme.
Testimonies of God’s intervention, healing, and deliverance, and His transformation of a difficult situation into a blessing are legion. We have every reason to expect that Our Lord will back us up. Paul writes: “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…” (Ro 5:20 RSV)
That said, our rectitude, as defined by God, still includes the responsibility of being caretakers of the earth. Therefore, in the face of this direct, frontal assault by Pride of Life, we had best be prepared and about our business.
The effectiveness of the strategies devised and used by Christianity in the battle to win souls had been impressive all through the 1950s. Membership ranks had swelled significantly. But those strategies were set up for a different era and culture and are no longer relevant. Underscoring this reality is the steady decline in church membership and the induction of new souls since the sixties. Given the cultural inroads already made by Pride of Life, the effectiveness of past evangelization in today’s Western world is questionable.
Today, we are losing the battle, big time.
This is not mere hypothesis. It is a stark reality. I hear it from parents and read about it in countless studies. The claims of Christianity are falling on deaf ears. There seems no way to reach the uninitiated. They’ve been inoculated by a pride of life against taking interest in or feeling concern for anything that lies beyond their immediate existence and culture.
We need a different approach to reach out to the young and to those who have just entered middle age. An approach that gets their attention, punches through the shield erected by Pride of Life, and opens their minds to receive the Christian message.
There is a flaw in the deception practiced by Pride of Life. It is the same flaw that led to Satan’s downfall. Pride of Life succeeds only as long as the very basic issues involved in your existence are avoided. The angels were blinded by the brilliance of their spectacular existence and disregarded the issues of their creation.
Despite the progress of technology and economic and scientific advances, mankind’s existence is not sufficiently magnificent to produce the same result. But combined with the suppression of the issues involved in our creation, the same goal is being achieved.
Pride of Life’s deception acknowledges existence as a mere fact, nothing more. It promotes the misconception that our creation has no meaning, no mission, no intended destiny or obligation to the source of existence.
But if the uninitiated are led to rationally address and think about these issues, just as you did at the beginning of this piece, it would be very difficult for them to turn away without debating the key question: What am I going to do about God?
And that’s exactly where our revised strategy needs to focus: we must relentlessly immerse their minds in the basic fundamentals about God, existence, their own creation, and their rectitude.
The objective has to be executed as a low-level war of attrition. The uninitiated are unlikely to ever receive the fundamentals of creation from the secular. But they will certainly be targeted with a lot of inputs suggesting these fundamentals are inconsequential enough to be ignored. We have to plant the seeds of knowledge so deep in their minds and nurture them with such diligent care that the truth will survive the secular onslaught and emerge victorious.
The “immersion” that I referred to cannot assume a preachy, pedagogic, or structured form. Nor can it be articulated with church and prayer-meeting phrases. We cannot use Socratic teaching methods or multiplication-table cue cards. Pamphlets may be helpful, but only peripherally. The only acceptable agenda is to lead the individual into confronting the vital question: What am I going to do about God?
The way to pass on these truths is for the uninitiated to acquire them directly through their experience with the private areas of our lives—off-hand comments, one-liners, plain, simple, random, day-to-day revelations of our actual life with God. I do not believe there are acceptable alternatives.
We have swallowed one of evil’s most successful, long-standing deceptions—hook, line, and sinker: that revelation and discussion of our personal life with God should be avoided or kept under wraps because of the possible controversies they could create or the offense they might cause.
Another of those deceptions involves endorsing our proclivity to develop a unique lexicon for discussing our faith life with other believers. It can reach the elitist level, but it does maximum damage when it isolates us and makes any approach by others, especially the uninitiated, more difficult. Now the time has come for us to claw our way out of the closet so that we can share unvarnished truths about God in plain and simple terms with our friends and loved ones.
During this extended process, you may sense through certain indications—a question asked, an opinion offered—that the individual’s mind has opened up to an extent and is more receptive to your words. Don’t try to drive a truck through this opening. Practice restraint. In other words, don’t be overeager, come on strong, and mess it up. Just keep it simple; respond to the question put to you or the opinion shared with you, and return to square one.
Pray God, you might even sense a certain curiosity, a desire to learn more. That would be the time to reveal more of the Christian message and elaborate on it, but always with due sensitivity to and in conformity with the fundamentals.
Hopefully at some point, the tested tools that present the Christian message–in other words, the Church, Bible study and structured education—will bear fruit. But as in the arena of sports, what is crucial is always fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals.
Implementing this strategy will probably require some personal investment on our part. We can never predict when an opportunity may arise. Hence, we must be very familiar and comfortably conversant with these truths so that we can comment on them and explain them at a moment’s notice.
The commentary presented earlier can be a memory refresher, but our level of familiarity and comfort must go beyond mere intellectual assent and acceptance. To be effective, we must own these truths. Further research and contemplation may be required.
Listed below are the truths I selected to define the important fundamentals for youth and for those in early middle age. I didn’t stop short of ten on purpose:
- God exists and there is only One—infinite, all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving.
- He is the source of all that exists.
- He created you uniquely from nothing.
- He holds you in existence from moment to moment.
- He guarantees you will exist forever.
- He wants you to live with Him in Heaven.
- He provides rules by which to live.
- You must choose to follow His rules or lose Heaven.
- Your character and your day-to-day decisions reflect on and determine your choice.
History records many occasions of individual, small-group, and en masse conversions to Christianity. Some are labeled “born again” or “metanoia”. Spectacular and impromptu conversions still take place today, as the Holy Spirit wills.
Yet, here and now, my thoughts and prayers are for friends, relatives, and parents of children and adults up to the age of thirty-five. Today, more than ever before, they are called to arms in this late stage of a valiant struggle. They must carry out their evangelization in the trenches of day-to-day life, significantly outgunned by the secular.
May Our Lord bless you, protect you, grant you wisdom and keep you close. He is your strength and your counselor. He’s Alive!!