Elders’ Quorum this Sunday was Ezra Taft Benson on pride. He didn’t offer just one definition of pride. He offered several. Too big of a sin for soundbites.


Here’s one:

Pride is essentially competitive in nature. . . .

The proud make every man their adversary by pitting their intellects, opinions, works, wealth, talents, or any other worldly measuring device against others. In the words of C. S. Lewis: “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. … It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” (Mere Christianity, New York: Macmillan, 1952, pp. 109–10.)

My quorum has some pretty competitive people. There are a couple of former football players, a rodeo guy, a couple of lawyers, a couple of businessmen . . . We are all men, basically. We are proud of our successes in competition. So President Benson’s remarks loosened our tongues. Our consensus casuistry—whether it’s an adequate one, judge ye—was that the elements that can separate competition from sinful pride are good sportsmanship and fair play. Pride wants to win at any cost; pride doesn’t care about the actual qualities that the competition is supposed to measure. It wouldn’t necessarily be pride to try to be at the top of your class in medical school. But if you cheat to do it, pride is in your heart.

The tricky thing, of course, is that the more you focus on some objective the harder it is to remember the constraints that honor and humility put on that statement. Screwtape advised his hapless nephew that the more a man focused on non-cowardly ways to avoid death during a bombing, the more likely he would be to avoid death in a cowardly way when the point came. The ends justify the means is not a valid normative statement, but it is true descriptively. Winning requires focus, so the temptation to pride is acute there. Competition is a danger.

But so is non-competition. Sometimes people don’t compete because they are more concerned about their status and their self-image then they are about the honest excellences of competition. The most obvious example is taking your marbles and going home. But never bringing out your marbles in the first place is also it. There is a sense in which participation trophies are merely a truce between prideful parents. Enlightened pride, but still pride.

Much of the non-competition of the modern world strikes me as prideful in just this way. It’s not pride we are trying to avoid. It’s the loss of it.


Satan knows this kind of pride very well.  When he saw that some might fail at mortal life, he wanted us all to agree not to play the game.

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