All Pride Contains a Hint of Malice

Another heartening excerpt from David Brooks’ new work The Second Mountain. Here the Times columnist […]

David Zahl / 5.15.19

Another heartening excerpt from David Brooks’ new work The Second Mountain. Here the Times columnist turns over the definition of grace with a little help from Martin Luther and Reinhold Niebuhr—but with the heavy-lifting from Anne Snyder, Brooks’ erstwhile research assistant, now wife.

I was struggling with the concept of surrender and grace. I didn’t like Martin Luther’s idea that you can’t be saved by works, but only by faith. I wanted to stake out a middle ground, which I called “participatory grace.” You’d do some good things for your fellow human, and God would sort of meet you halfway.

Anne was having none of it:

“I want to reiterate that yes, grace is the central thing Christ offers, but that is the doorway. And it is to know him. I see lots of emphasis on striving in your note, and I appreciate its antidote to cheap grace. But the foundational fact is you cannot earn your way into a state of grace—this denies grace’s power, and subverts its very definition. Grace must reach out to the broken and undeserving. It must reach out to those recognizing plainly, vulnerably, their own need and emptiness. It can only find welcome in those sitting still.”

The name of my condition was pride. I was proud of who I had become. I had earned a certain identity and conception of myself by working hard and being pretty good at what I did. I found it easier to work all the time than to face the emptiness that was at the heart of my loneliness.

Pride of self comes in many forms. Among them is the pride of power, the illusion that you can gain enough worldly power to make yourself secure. This is the pride suffered by those who seek to control others or to dominate other nations. There is also intellectual pride, the prides suffered by those who try to organize life into one all-explaining ideology that allegedly explains away all the mystery. Every form of fanaticism, Niebuhr says, is an attempt to cover over existential insecurity. Then there is moral pride, the ego’s desire to escape moral insecurity by thinking it is better than other people, that it has earned its own salvation. In the grip of moral pride, we judge ourselves by a lax standard, which we surpass, and judge others by a strict standard and find them wanting. There is also religious pride. This is the pride that afflicts people who think religion involves following the moral codes and who think highly of themselves because they follow those codes. Such a person may pray every day, but his real concern is self. Is God listening to my prayers? Is God answering my requests? Is God granting me peace? Is everyone seeing my goodness, and am I being rewarded for my righteousness?

All pride is competitive. All pride contains a hint of malice. All pride is bloated and fragile, because the ego’s attempts to establish security through power, money, status, intellect, and self-righteousness are never quite successful.

Without giving anything away, one could almost read that last paragraph as a precursor to last Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones… What should be a moment of triumph, well, let’s just say , it’s not enough, #seculosity. The director even said as much in the commentary vid below, ht TGM: