Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Merton on the Illusion of Pride

Merton warns against the selfish pride that tends to imagine we can only be fully human by "asserting [our] own desires and ambitions and appetites." Those who take this path to "find themselves" thing the only way to achieve it is to build "a barrier of contrast and distinction between themselves and [others]." Their pride manifests itself in thinking, "I have what you have not. I am what you are not. ... Therefore you suffer and I am happy, ... you are nothing and I am something, and I am all the more something because you are nothing."

Merton observes that this tendency is most dangerous when it becomes spiritual pride--thinking that my good deeds constitute a "sweet distinction" in me "from the common run of sinners in this world." Merton describes it as "the complacency of a will that loves its own excellence," to "burn with self-admiration" and think it is one's love for God, to relish "acts that make [us] admirable in [our] own eyes" and think our satisfaction is "the unction of the Holy Spirit." In short, Merton says such a person "thinks his own pride is the Holy Ghost"!

It seems that the antidote for this temptation may lie in Merton's observation that "I must look for my identity, somehow, not only in God but in [others]. I will never be able to find myself if I isolate myself from the rest of [humankind] as if I were a different kind of being." New Seeds of Contemplation, 47-51.

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