Junior Ganymede
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The sin of pride versus the sin of unchastity; Ezra Taft Benson versus Jacob

April 08th, 2009 by Adam G.

Every Mormon knows Jacob’s sermon in Jacob 2 where he condemns unchastity and men who sexually dishonor women. Less known is that Jacob begins the sermon denouncing pride.

He tells the Nephites that they are “lifted up in the pride of their hearts.” . He says that “pride” and “being proud in your heart” are “abominable to him who created all flesh.” He does not equivocate.

But then he says,

And now I make an end of speaking unto you concerning this pride. And were it not that I must speak unto you concerning a grosser crime, my heart would rejoice exceedingly because of you.

He then speaks against unchastity. According to Jacob, pride is bad but sexual sins are lots worse.

We now turn to President Ezra Taft Benson. He gave a talk famous among Mormons called Beware of Pride.

He also condemns pride, but he doesn’t say that unchastity is worse. In fact, President Benson says that

Pride is the universal sin, the great vice. Yes, pride is the universal sin, the great vice.

The talk draws heavily on C.S. Lewis, who also thought that pride was the worse sin, certainly worse than unchastity. Remember The Great Divorce? The sinner who is afflicted with sexual sin in the form of a lizard is in a bad way, but the sinners who suffer from naked pride are much worse off. The sexual sinner repents and sees his sin turn to glory. The proud sinners do not and are condemned to hell.

So how to reconcile the American prophet Ezra Taft Benson with the Nephite Prophet Jacob?

The key is in President Benson’s statement that “pride is the universal sin.” Unlike Jacob, he is not talking about pride as one specific kind of sin. He is talking about pride as the common factor in every sin. If President Benson had written Jacob 2, he would have denounced the pride that led the Nephites to get wealth and think well of themselves, but he would have denounced even more the pride that led them to use women as status symbols and tools for the satisfaction of lust.

There’s pride, and then there’s pride.

Comments (13)
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April 08th, 2009 08:41:38
13 comments

Angie
April 8, 2009

“He is talking about pride as the common factor in every sin.”

I completely agree with this. It is, of course, simpler to denounce sinful behavior than to analyze the root of the sin. However, pride/enmity towards God/rebellion are the cause of (all?) sin.


Greenwood
April 8, 2009

Simpler and sometimes more effective. Its easier to think you aren’t a proud rebel against God when you don’t have denunciations of specific sins that keep reminding you.


Zen
April 8, 2009

Of course, the common simplification that all sins of virtue are worse than all sins of pride is manifestly false. Otherwise, any temper I show (it happens occasionally) would be the same as murder.

When Alma characterized the sin like unto murder, I don’t think we should be exclusive in thinking that was the ONLY sin like that.


GJB
April 9, 2009

There’s no reason to reconcile the two positions. Ezra Taft Benson was a later profit than Jacob; therefore, his revelations and speeches take precedence.

We always look to the living prophets rather than the dead ones.


Ed Britton
April 10, 2009

Both ‘pride’ and ‘sexual sin’ are very broad categories that capture sins of many different degrees. Of course there is a lot of overlap in seriousness between the two. I think the question is pretty academic in any case. I tend to agree that the most serious sin is the one that you’re having the most trouble with at the moment, regardless of the category(s) that it might fit into. But I’d certainly agree with Ezra Taft Benson that pride is very fundamental.


Matt
April 10, 2009

A great post. I don’t think there’s any real conflict, and really like your sythesis of the two thoughts.


Adam Greenwood
April 10, 2009

“There’s no reason to reconcile the two positions. Ezra Taft Benson was a later prophet than Jacob; therefore, his revelations and speeches take precedence.

We always look to the living prophets rather than the dead ones.”

Except that the living prophets tell us to look to the dead ones. “Search the scriptures,” they say. Agreed that if there’s an irreconciliable conflict, the living prophet normally takes precedence. But we can’t know that there’s an irreconciliable conflict until we’ve tried to reconcile them.


Ed Britton
April 11, 2009

I’ve meditated on the ‘what is pride?’ question, since pride seems to be the beginning of sin. Without the element of pride, can a thought or act even be a sin? Is ‘pride’ the defining attribute of sin? If we are truly without pride, then are we also without sin?

What do you think?


Adam Greenwood
April 11, 2009

Mr. EB,
I think President Benson would agree with you.
I sometimes think that idolatry is the root of all evil and that pride is just a subset of idolatry where our idol is ourselves. But maybe every idolatry starts with a little bit of rebellion, deciding to worship what *you* want to worship.


Kent G. Budge
April 17, 2009

It strikes me that this is a little like asking which is worse, the mens rea or actus reus of a crime. Both are essential elements of a crime.

Pride is the mens rea of sin, the act of unchastity the actus reus. It is impossible to commit humble adultery, nor to be proud without committing sinful acts.


Adam Greenwood
April 17, 2009

Well put.


Agellius
April 17, 2009

‘The key is in President Benson’s statement that “pride is the universal sin.” Unlike Jacob, he is not talking about pride as one specific kind of sin. He is talking about pride as the common factor in every sin.’

I agree too. For us Catholics, pride is one of the 7 capital sins (as is lust), meaning not that they are always sins in themselves, but that taken together they underlie and lead to all other sins. In other words it’s not pride and lust per se, it’s the sins they lead us to commit.


Adam Greenwood
April 18, 2009

Agellius,
I didn’t understand that such was the distinction between the 7 Deadly Sins and the other ones–what, venial sins?

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