So you’ve tumbled down six steps of pride and have reached the fullness of contempt for the brethren–your fellows in whatever community is yours. Things started out small but grew through habit until your inner self was completely hollowed out.
On the surface, things look ok. Better, in fact–left only with appearances, you cultivate an admirable facade so that you will be praised by those around him. Most dreadfully, you have come to believe their ill-gotten praise. No one is so deceived by your facade as you.
A few things, all of which are easy to predict. A new contempt is brewing and reaches its perfection at the tenth rung (more on that in the next post). Self-deception about one’s greatness has two basic outcomes, one regarding good and the other regarding evil: Presumption and Self-Justification.
The arrogant believe their ill-gotten praise and this leads to a presumption (fore-taking) of many goods. Of course I should speak first; of course I am the most qualified candidate; of course my way is the best way. All good things are for me.
It is important to emphasize just how rational this is. At the seventh step of pride we are not craving the pleasure of these goods (recognition, admiration, control, etc.). This is a rational expectation, or rather the rational in us has been subverted. I “know” that by objective measure I am the best. Anyone who does not see this is obviously making a mistake!
With this comes a series of great sorrows. It is a travesty when my voice is not heard, for surely my fellows have abandoned the way of reason. It is a travesty when I am not selected for a task or honor, and my superiors must have some base and ulterior motive. Every decision by superiors must be reviewed by me and align with my opinions. Most tellingly perhaps, the presumptuous man disdains every menial task as beneath him.
This last I find most personally challenging. There are lots of things about my job I would rather not do. How many do I excuse myself from? St. Benedict’s hatred of grumbling must surely begin here.
But if I am never wrong, what will happen when a superior corrects me? The logical extension of presumption is excuse-making. Any failure must surely have an explanation outside of Me. At the eighth step of pride, we have a ready answer for every challenge, every correction, every finding of fault, no matter how minor.
And how, how we excel at excuses! As long as it’s not me, it could be: the weather, and its terrible toll on my health; the incompetence of my colleagues; only being given the task at the eleventh hour; being misled by people. It could be a simple denial, or a perplexed look that feigns ignorance, or perhaps a trivializing of the matter.
It’s disturbing how easy this is, and how naturally we can find ourselves lying without really intending to. I refrain from gesturing to the public stage and famous personages who exemplify this behavior. It is enough to see it in ourselves.
It’s important to keep the causal order here. St. Bernard is not claiming that all self-justification proceeds from this deeply rooted (and rotted) pride. Any given excuse could proceed from fear or the like. But someone this lost in pride does make such excuses, as naturally as breathing. And they cannot stop! Any parent of children knows the pain of trying to correct someone who is caught red-handed but denies denies denies. It’s scary to confront intransigent denial of reality.
At the eighth step of pride, we have essentially become little children…not in a good way!
Next Time: The Rebellion
But what facade can survive? There’s a better way to cover up the faults that slip out through the broken exterior–better than simply making excuses. Proud people aren’t stupid, after all, and excuses get old. Better to proactively deceive with false confession! And when even that fails, it’s time for a make-or-break moment of truth.
More on steps nine and ten next week.