Continued from “Humble Pie” posted earlier this month
My experience of community bravado is not limited to my home state. I am a member of a local service organization and, as with most such organizations, we pledge our allegiance to the republic before each meeting. As we stand, facing the flag, a person is designated to lead the pledge and most of the time the person leading begins by inviting everyone to make their pledge to the “greatest nation in the world” and sometimes “in history.” Every week I wonder if other nations believe that theirs is the greatest nation in the world, if not history? Do folks in Spain, Italy, Brazil, and England say the same? It is safe to assume that the French think likewise about France, and we know Germany and Japan had a history of such belief during the 1930’s and 40’s. My question is why the need of citizens to state this about their nation?
America is a country that appreciates humility and sportsmanship. Vince Lombardi and Paul Bear Bryant, two of the most iconic and popular coaches in American athletics, are attributed with the quote “Act like you have been there before,” when criticizing excessive celebrations following touchdowns. Another of the most popular coaches in American athletics, and without doubt the most popular athletic figure and one of the most beloved persons in my community, Tom Landry was admired in great part because of his reserved, humble demeanor. In recent years, the NFL has seen an explosion of excessive, attention getting demonstrations for not only scores but even routine first downs. The NBA is also seeing increasing acts and posturing over dunks and other baskets. In my experiences, when people I have known called such attention to themselves it was an attempt to mask some uncertainty or sense of inferiority felt in themselves. I would imagine with a high degree of certainty that most of the individuals in my service organization and others I have heard make this statement of American exceptionalism, have been critical of athletes offering primetime dances or demonstrations. Why then do individuals and groups who admire men such as Landry, Lombardy, and Bryant for their humility in the midst of their excellence, and who think excessive celebrations in sports distasteful, find it necessary to state or brag about American superiority every time they say the Pledge of Allegiance?
It is not that I do not appreciate the achievements of this nation. It is not that I am not aware how the United States has defended, served and sacrificed for persons all over the world. It is not that I am not aware that no other nation responds to crisis and disasters more than the United States. It is not that I do not consider myself very lucky to be living in such a free, safe, and prosperous nation. I do not wish to be critical of the United States, rather I am only concerned about and critical of the deleterious pride I hear in such statements.
Pride can be positive or negative. Positive pride is an appreciation for accomplishment and the desire to do one’s best for the sake of doing it or for the good of others. Negative pride is pride that calls attention to self over others, the pride that leads to conceit, egotism and arrogance. My concern is in the negative facets and powers of pride, whether individual, organizational, or national. It is appropriate to honor the accomplishments, history, and beauty of one’s nation. The need to claim the superiority of one’s country however is a reflection of negative pride because it places not just the nation but, vicariously, the persons making the claim above other nations and peoples. Such belief feeds ego and appeals eventually to personal pride even over national pride.
The Bible addresses the subject of conceit and the call to be humble. Jeremiah calls Israel to remain humble even if it attains riches or strength, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.’” Jeremiah 9:23. Jesus taught followers in the 6th chapter of Matthew to be modest in their righteousness, praying, service, and giving to God in private rather than calling attention to their wealth, ability to pray, and service to God. In Luke 14 Jesus also teaches humility, “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Paul directed many churches in humility but most specifically to the church in Philippi where he told them in chapter 2 of Philippians to” humbly count others as more significant than themselves.” Paul goes further to direct the followers of Jesus to imitate Christ’s humility “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.” Throughout the entire Gospel of Mark, Jesus is struggling to deflect attention and praise from others by insisting that those to whom he ministered, especially those he healed, keep silent regarding his actions. Even though all defied him and went on to proclaim the power of Jesus, such acclamation was not his desire.
Jesus had every reason to point out his superiority over his followers and his opponents but he didn’t because to do so would damage his relationship with, and ministry to, those who followed and especially those who opposed him. As disciples we are called to follow in such humility. In short, if Christ did not call attention to his divinity and hold it over others, how can we as individuals, churches, states or nations hold our modest accomplishments over others?