How do you reconcile diverse points of view about LGBT Pride found in psychology, religion, and spirituality? What about differences in point-of-view between traditional, modern, postmodern, and integral philosophies? The following two reflections on Pride come from distinct periods in my own development: the first one, published back in 2007; the second, written today.
1Is Gay Pride a Sin? (An Excerpt from 2007’s Soulfully Gay)
Antigay zealots once placed a billboard in downtown Toronto that they intended for marchers in a Gay Pride parade. The billboard was a Bible quote: “This was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, Pride.”
The idea that pride is the worst of all sins is a common notion. Saint Augustine called pride “the beginning of all sin.” Today, the religious right sees the depravity of gays not only in our sexual behavior but also in our “prideful” failure to acknowledge our own sinfulness.
They call us egotists, narcissists and hedonists. However, our response to the religious right does not have to be as categorical and knee-jerk as their attacks. Gays need not reject religion altogether just because a group uses its theology as a weapon against us. Instead, we can take an open-minded look at pride to glean wisdom that we can claim for our own.
Judeo-Christianity is hardly the only tradition to condemn pride. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, and other wisdom traditions also have teachings that condemn egotism and arrogance. The Greeks understood pride as hubris, the exaggerated self-confidence of being foolish enough to ignore the gods.
Unfortunately, the spiritual wisdom about pride is frequently distorted by religion. Religions may go beyond condemning arrogance to actually teaching that human nature is corrupt, wicked, vile, wretched, and fundamentally sinful. In recent decades, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and the transgendered have suffered some of their greatest humiliations at the hands of religion.
Traditional religion relentlessly condemns pride but seldom condemns low self-esteem with the same conviction. Authentic spirituality teaches that both arrogant pride and low self-esteem are equally important distortions of self-worth.
In Christian ways of thinking, arrogant pride is tantamount to playing God; effectively one is pretending to be one’s own savior. By the same token, Christians can think of low self-esteem as a failure to honor one’s dignity as a creation of God by effectively playing God and damning oneself.
Christianity’s remedy for the dual sins of pride and low self-esteem is right relation with God. In other words, it’s not thinking so highly of oneself that you don’t see your own need for salvation. But it’s also not thinking too lowly of oneself, because your sense of esteem comes from recognizing your sacred worth as a child of God.
In Taking a Chance on God, John J. McNeil discusses the sin of low self-esteem: “In my 20 years as a pastoral counselor and psychotherapist to lesbians and gays, I have found that the chief threat to the psychological and spiritual health of most gay people, especially those who come from a strong Christian background, is guilt with its companions shame and low self-esteem, which can in turn develop into self-hate.”
McNeil points to therapy, coming out of the closet, and developing a healthy spirituality as the three most important steps for gays to take in healing low self-esteem.
Pride isn’t a sin when it’s an expression of healthy self-esteem. Celebrating gay pride is an essential affirmation of our human dignity, whether that takes the form of marching in a parade or being more honest with our friends and family about who we are.
Pride can surely elevate the gay spirit, but what about the gay soul? Feeding the spirit requires that we envision our ideals, put our philosophy of life into action, and have a strong sense that we are a woman or man with dignity and integrity. Positive self-esteem is vital for these endeavors. In contrast, soulfulness does not care about what’s healthy or unhealthy, or whether an experience is joyful or melancholy.
Soulfulness insists on being true to what’s real without pretense or apology. Being soulfully gay means not using false pride as a shield over our pain, shame, and guilt. Authenticity demands that we allow a place for all our feelings, especially the uncomfortable ones that we’d rather cover over with denial, secrecy, and rigid thinking.
For everything in life there is a time under the sun, says the book of Ecclesiastes. There are times for celebrating gay pride and times for acknowledging our doubts and lack of wholeness. For every man and woman marching gleefully in the parade, there are others who aren’t yet ready to celebrate, at least not until they’ve done their soul work.
The point of doing soul work is not to wallow in misery but to enter deeply and courageously into our pain. Soul work requires us to break down the falseness of our sense of gay pride so that we can eventually emerge from the other side into an authentic form of gay pride. But the soul’s first step down can be a rough and tumbling one: humility.
2LGBTQ Pride and Power, “Integral Style” (2018)
Pride is an emotion with polarized meanings in psychology and religion. Psychologists speak of pride as a highly developed sense of self-esteem and mastery of the associated feelings with which it is associated. Traditional religionists often speak of pride as the “root of all evil” and more progressive religionists speak of pride as a distorted relationship with the divine. How do we address all of these different senses?
In Integral Spirituality as I see it, the truthful aspects of all of these meanings are interrelated and both healthy self-esteem and appropriate (not hubristic) self-regard are seen as essential aspects to a healthy spiritual life. For some people, it is easy to throw out the old fashioned view of pride as sick or ignorant or intolerant. For other people, it is easy to dismiss the more modern view of pride as fluffy, narcissistic, meaningless psychobabble, or emasculated spirituality. Like so many areas where life is confusing, the truth is in the middle, provided you take a higher and central view.
When I say that the truth about pride is central what I am trying to convey is that an Integral Spirituality does more than say “gay is okay” or “do what’s good for your self-esteem”, it gives you an Integral Map (a post-metaphysical cosmology) in which the universal currents underlying your psychological and spiritual potential can be illustrated. And in this Map, there’s an appropriate place for pride as well as a way of seeing its potential dysfunctions that you can acknowledge from wherever you’re at, regardless of your gender or sexual identity and no matter what your religious preference.
Thus, I am speaking about taking a balanced view of pride as it fits in your own life seen from the perspective of an Integral Map. So it’s central if you’re a religious traditionalist to emphasize the virtue of humility and the vice of hubris; and from this perspective you can say that good LGBT pride is the path of moderation in between extreme humility and extreme hubris.
It’s also central if you’re a psychologically-minded modernist atheist who emphasizes the healthful role of self-esteem in a well-functioning psyche and the unhealthful role of pathological narcissism; and from this perspective you can say that healthy LGBT pride contributes to wellness and good social skills.
It’s also central and higher between the mindset of a progressive postmodernist who emphasizes that LGBT pride is a form of taking back power from the marginalized by disrupting cultural memes that silence our voices … and the mindset of a conservative assimilationist who emphasizes that one should take pride in universal human attributes only, not divisive and non-integrated cultural differences.
The views of the conservative assimilationist and the progressive postmodernist cannot be reconciled on their own terms. One seems to think that all good things come from celebrating our differences and the other seems to think that that’s a recipe for social disintegration owing to a leveling of value hierarchies. This is important to recognize because some form of this argument lies at the root of many of the cultural conflicts still facing the LGBT community.
In order to reconcile the views of assimilationists with cultural separatists in society, one must begin by reconciling them within one’s own self. To do this, one needs to find all the truth and goodness and beauty in each of the opposing views. Take an intellectual curiosity in the views of your opponents on the other side of the culture war and really listen to them. Read the best and most thoughtful of their worldview’s subscribers, not merely the trolls in Reddit forums or CNN’s comment boxes.
And then own all the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty you can find in the views of the other side and don’t let it go. To do this, it helps if you imagine that these worldviews form a continuum from assimilationist (LGBT pride is divisive and unnecessary, just be human) to separatist (LGBT pride is all-important, disrupt and transgress) to integralist (both/and: celebrate both the diversity of the LGBT community and celebrate our universal humanity, all the good things we share in common with everyone).
- Enfold the integral dictum that some truths are more right than others. Exclude the sinful, unhealthy, or wrong aspects of the views about LGBT pride you need to reject.
- Enclude the truthful parts of the assimilationist and separatist viewpoints as part of a more cohesive whole truth about LGBT pride.
- Enact your expanded and more inclusive view of LGBT pride in everyday life, finding new degrees of wholeness and peace of mind and more tolerant and compassionate ways of relating to people from all different worldviews.
Befriend your inner traditionalist, modernist, and postmodernist alike and walk with them into a new way of being in the world that lets you be fully YOU. You may find yourself empowered into a more authentic sense of pride, one that is built on a more solid and unshakable foundation than ever before.
Happy LGBT Pride Month everyone!