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Pride as the Primary Problem


The following excerpt from Terry D. Cooper's Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance is part of Cooper's summary in chapter 2, "Pride as the Primary Problem," of Reinhold Niebuhr's comprehensive restatement, in The Nature and Destiny of Man, of Augustine's thesis that pride is the primary constitutive element of sin.

"Because we are both nature and spirit, we humans are inevitably anxious. That anxiety, in itself, does not lead to sin or disturbed behavior. However, it does create a situation in which we inevitably, though not necessarily, move away from a calm trust in our Source and make ourselves the center of all life. This deification of self precedes problems with inordinate desire. We reject our creatureliness in a frantic effort at self-mastery. Pride, the result of not remembering our status in relationship to our Creator, can take various forms. In each of these, it is an attempt to be God.

"When we fail to trust God in the midst of our anxiety and we unduly exalt self as the center of the universe, it disturbs our relationships with others and distorts ordinary human desires. These desires, which are not corrupt in themselves, easily become corrupt because of anxious self-concern. While our primary problem is not our desires but the distrust of God and the anxious exaltation of ourselves, our desires do become excessive and problematic once self-idolatry has begun" (pp. 56-57).

For Stoics, the primary problem is the false judging of the value of externals which is, or results in, passion. The problem, for Stoics, is not one of inordinate or excessive passion, but of passion itself. But if pride is defined as a refusal to "follow God," which is one way the Stoics say that the end is achieved, then I believe that pride could be held by Stoics to be the primary problem. Vices, then, would be seen to combine the ignorance and irrationality of false value-judgment with the rebellion of pride.

Distrust of God and pride combine to motivate us to try to obtain happiness by pursuing strategies that value externals as good and bad.




Terry D. Cooper (2003). Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance: The Problem of Identity in Theology and Psychology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Reinhold Niebuhr (1996, c. 1941, 1964). The Nature and Destiny of Man: a Christian Interpretation, Vol. 1. Louisville: Westminster Charles Knox.



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