(c) Rev. Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved
The name “Lucifer,” which most people associate with the devil, comes from the Hebrew word “helel” which translated means “brightness”. That translation is appropriate for how the myth in the Old Testament says evil, and the devil, came to exist.
Jewish Scripture, what we know as the Old Testament, says that God created multiple angels to be with her and to help with her work. All of this happened, according to the myth, before God created the physical universe. Of all the angels God created, she made only one to exemplify beauty and intelligence. This angel would be as close to God’s perfection as possible. God named this angel Lucifer or, as I said earlier, “brightness.”
And according to the myth, Lucifer was and is beautiful, brilliant and shining. Contrary to how he is often depicted – like the scary image on your programs – the Old Testament myth says the devil is not sinister appearing. He’s very appealing and covered with sparkling rubies, diamonds and sapphires.
That’s also consistent with the Hebrew translation of the word “serpent” found in the myth of Adam and Eve – the one who tempted them. The actual ancient Hebrew word that early English translators rendered as “serpent” actually means “shining one.” In other words, the first authors of the creation myth, and devil mythology, described the devil as a beautiful and attractive creature.
The Old Testament says, however, the devil became so enamored, narcissistic and arrogant about his beauty and intelligence, that he began to not only think of himself as equal to God, but even superior to her. And once Lucifer began thinking of himself in that way, God forever banished the devil from her presence in heaven. Implied in the myth, at the moment God turned her back on Lucifer, the timeless battle of good versus evil began.
That is why the beautiful devil seduced Adam and Eve. Lucifer was jealous of God’s created beings so he sought to destroy them by infecting humanity with evil. Lucifer used his cunning and his attractiveness to persuade Adam and Eve to disobey God and eat forbidden fruit from the tree of ultimate knowledge. He appealed to their egos by asking why shouldn’t they know what God know’s. Evil, the myth says, infected people not just because of their disobedience – but because of their egos. Adam and Eve, man and woman, believed they too could be equal to God.
The takeaway from the overall myths about the devil and Adam and Eve, is something that we can apply in our lives. The root cause of all evil, the motivation for anything bad and hateful that humans do, is arrogance. It was Lucifer’s sinful pride that caused his fall away from goodness, and it was the same sinful pride that led man and woman to also fall from grace and learn the ways of selfishness and hate.
Such pride is the negativity I believe every human must battle within themselves – the inclination to put oneself first above all others. My needs, my opinions, my thoughts, my beauty, my desires are all superior to yours. Everything I think and do, this voice inside my head seductively whispers, must revolve around me, me, me! And so I lie, cheat, hate, judge and attack you all in order to put me above you. Sinful pride motivates everything bad that humans do and say.
A funny story describes a man who was given a new title as Vice President by his small company. This man then boasted and bragged about it non-stop for many weeks – to anyone he encountered. Finally, his wife could not stand his arrogance any longer. “You do know,” she said to her husband, “companies call lots of employees Vice-Presidents. Even the local grocery store has a Vice-President of peas.” The man was of course deflated with this news but after he thought about it, he was sure his wife exaggerated. So he called the local grocery and asked the clerk who answered the phone, “I’d like to speak to the Vice-President of peas, please.” To which the clerk immediately asked, “Fresh or frozen?”
One of the great things about Unitarian Universalism is its openness to wisdom found in ALL world religions. And regarding pride being the source of every human failing, I believe the Biblical myths I earlier related are on to something. With our willingness to learn from all religions, we should therefore heed the lessons from Jewish and Christian devil myths – without needing to believe the actual stories.
Every misdeed that humans commit come from them thinking they are more important and more deserving than anyone else. Greed, envy, anger, violence, and hate are always due to someone thinking their feelings or their needs are the best and must take precedence over another’s. Actions or words that hurt are always caused by a focus on the self. And such a focus comes from sinful pride.
Indeed, just as all religions define real goodness by the Golden Rule – to treat others equal to or better than how one wishes to be treated, evil can be defined as doing the opposite of the Golden Rule – to treat others worse than how one wishes to be treated.
And so my message series this month of June, in which we rightfully celebrate the ideal of Pride, must include a proper understanding of what is good pride and what is sinful pride. That’s the purpose of my message this morning.
I believe good pride is an honest awareness of oneself – one’s core truth which includes his or her strengths and weaknesses. This kind of pride does not think of oneself as greater than others, but instead as skilled in some areas, weak in others. Good pride believes everybody is worthy of the same dignity, justice, and basic needs of life. Good pride does not put the self above others, it simply puts the self equal to all others.
LGBTQ or rainbow Pride, that I discussed last Sunday, is therefore not a way to proclaim gays, lesbians and the transgendered are superior. Rather, June Pride asserts that LGBTQ persons are as worthy and good as anyone else.
Homophobia, sexism, white supremacy, religious intolerance, and any other form of discrimination are examples, on the other hand, of sinful pride. A group of people presume to believe they are superior, more enlightened, or more virtuous than the targets of their hate.
The antidote to sinful pride is obviously to replace it with good pride. And that involves adopting and learning attitudes of humility. Indeed, I believe good pride and honest humility are one and the same.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Shambhala Buddhist monk, once said that true humility is simply “genuineness.” And that echoes what I said last week about rainbow pride – or what I today specifically define as good pride. Good pride means being authentic to who you really are – not perfect or superior, but simply a flawed but still very worthy human like everyone else.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Buddhist teacher, said that sinful pride is, “An obstacle to developing our understanding, compassion, and boundless love. When we are humble we have nothing to fear, nothing to lose.”
He echoes exactly what Jesus taught and practiced. To be a humble servant is one of the greatest things to be, he said. It’s why, at his final meal on the night before he was executed, stories say Jesus washed the feet of his followers – who were embarrassed he would do such a lowly thing. Feet, in those times, were considered the nastiest part of a person since people walked barefoot, or in mere sandals, through dirt streets often filled with sewage and trash. Washing his follower’s feet, one of the grossest and demeaning things a person could do for another, was a way for Jesus to teach and model humility and do just what Thich Nhat Hanh said – to love, serve and be compassionate.
Just as Christianity and Judaism teach, Buddhism and Hinduism teach the same. The ultimate goal in life, for both Buddhists and Hindus, is to diminish the self. Humility is thus a foundational virtue for those forms of spirituality. Arrogance and sinful pride are human failures that prevent harmony in our minds and peace in our hearts, they believe. When we pridefully seek and desire things for ourselves, we will never be happy. Contentment comes not from getting what we want – because if we get what we desire, we will always want more. Contentment comes from letting go of wanting – to instead be at peace with what one already has.
For Hindus and Buddhists, sinful pride is connected to the ego – something every person has. Buddhists define the human ego as something that, “At all costs pursues what is pleasant, and at all costs avoids what is unpleasant.”
Humility, or healthy pride, however is to work toward reducing our egos and not feeling the demands they make. Whether it be boredom, feeling inadequate, dealing with a hardship, or being attacked by others, healthy pride means we stop feeling hurt, or in need. Indeed, we all know a fact of life is that bad things happen. Sinful pride, however, tells me that even though everyone else suffers, I should not. I, my ego seductively tells me, deserve only luxury, adoration, and perfect health!
As I said last week, LGBTQ pride is a way to be proud of who one is no matter the attacks that come from others. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. taught with his appeals for non-violence and his practice of it during the Selma, Alabama marches. White supremacists said and did horrible things against King and the black marchers, but they had the kind of good pride in themselves that knew they were worthy and fully equal with anyone. That enabled them to confront hate with non-violence. King and his followers let go of their egos precisely as a way to elevate themselves in a humble and profound way.
And we must do the same when we suffer, feel attacked, or are diminished. If we know who we are, if we know we are good, worthy, and beautiful – all moderated with a dose of healthy humility, nothing can truly harm us.
In many ways, that is why many people of color have turned to Jesus and Christianity as their spiritual path. They see in Jesus a poor man of color who willingly allowed himself to be mocked and executed in the most painful and humiliating way possible – all to show that serving, sacrificing, loving, and caring are far more powerful than arrogance and hate.
Dr. King and his many black admirers saw themselves in a similar way. While white supremacists thought they had won, goodness nevertheless prevailed. The KKK and other haters will be relegated to the margins of history. Jesus, Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, and the gay prophet Harvey Milk – all people who taught good pride and humble non-violence – they will be championed and remembered forever.
The path to peace in our hearts, the path to love and empathy, is one paved with good pride and healthy humility. Instead of being inwardly insecure but outwardly arrogant about our looks, intelligence, or things we do or do not have, let us instead be humbly proud – and at peace – with who we are – good people who are nevertheless no better and no worse than anyone else. Let us be genuine, self-aware and “ego-less.” Let us be proud in such a way that we want for others what we want for ourselves – to be loved, to enjoy equal justice, to have the essential needs of life met, and to live with peace and joy.
I wish that kind of good pride for all of you, as I pray to learn it myself.