No aspect of Jesus’ teaching is so distinctive and world-changing as that concerning pride and humility. A simple historical observation makes the point well. Among the ancient moralists, humility and a mind given to service was actually considered vicious. Servility was despicable and vile. To do great things, it was thought, one must have a high self-estimation. The great-souled man made big boasts and then made good on them. Thus humility was thought a vice. For Jesus and his followers, on the other hand, humility is a primary virtue.
Jesus understood that the engorged self-esteem, which was considered healthy and laudable among the pagans, actually debilitated them. Pride hinders the exercise of our greatest power – ‘power under’ others in service. As a quick litmus test of the world-changing effect of Jesus’ teaching and example, just consider the last time a political leader assumed a title like ‘the Great’. This serves as an indicator of how much Jesus’ teachings have changed the consciousness of the West… at least at the level of public affirmation. On the other hand, human nature has not changed. The individual impulse to self-aggrandizement rages on and proves just as toxic today as ever.
The peculiar toxicity of pride lies in the blindness it creates in its practitioner. Simply consider the fact that our secular society has developed ways of addressing every other distortion of heart that Jesus unveiled. Various therapies, 12-step programs, and institutions are in place to deal with anger, distorted desire, and even dishonesty – at least to some degree.
Anger management therapy is available through purely secular institutions. Everyone recognizes sexual addiction, compulsive shopping, and kleptomania as problems. Clinical professionals address them in some manner. Even lying, when it reaches a certain level of compulsiveness, is acknowledged as undesirable. Sociopaths are considered diseased.
The reason these programs and institutions exist is because people struggling with such things know they have a problem. When people are gripped by anger, twisted desires, and compulsive deceit it ruins their lives in a way they cannot easily ignore.
But what about pride? Can you name a single analogous therapy, program, or institution designed to address it? With the possible exception of marriage, there is no institution in secular society designed to restore humility. I know of no Betty Ford Clinic for the Insufferably Arrogant. I’ve yet to find a chapter of Boasters Anonymous. Where does one go to detox from an ego that sucks the air from any room into which one walks?