Hardly anybody in the English-speaking world needs to be reminded that the month of June is designated by LGBT people as a special time of remembrance and gratitude for civil rights that had formerly been denied them. The Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969 are usually cited as the first major victory in a struggle for equality that achieved decriminalisation first, then eventually almost universal acceptance.
It is perfectly understandable that LGBT people should celebrate their hard-won emergence from denial, shame and fear of exposure, for people always take pride in their champions.
But is pride as such an appropriate response to any form of sexuality, whether ‘gay’ or ‘straight’? The problem with pride is that it can too easily morph into arrogance and bullying. National pride, for example, may be just a step away from nationalism and jingoism, but may also manifest itself as simple patriotism – love of country, without any accompanying urge to vaunt ourselves or put down others. We must be cautious about going to extremes. Those who formerly suffered persecution should be wary lest they too become persecutors.
Christians strictly speaking may glory in nothing but the Cross of Christ. But as natural men and women we can take legitimate pride in the achievements of others. There is solid cause for pride, I suggest, in the highest achievements of the Christian West, and particularly in the movement towards conferring rights on minorities previously subject to severe legal disabilities, a movement that has had by far the strongest impetus in countries that inherited a formative Christian tradition. Allowing dissenting voices to be heard, whether of female campaigners for the franchise, or of gay people wanting release from fear, or of people reduced to servile status, or of scientists holding unorthodox views, is characteristic of a society radically influenced by these unprecedented words of St Paul:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
That said, we must be cautious about taking pride in any human achievement, for our good works are seldom untainted. It took a very long time for St Paul’s words, quoted above, to gain acceptance. In fact, let’s be honest, they are still widely ignored by those who, for reasons of personal convenience, choose worldly priorities. And that’s most of us, sooner or later, from time to time.
There have always been professing Christians who have chosen to deny the insistent demands of their Faith. Christians have lent money usuriously, killed enemies, kept slaves, suppressed women. And other Christians – almost always a minority – have resisted those selfish and greedy impulses, sometimes at great personal cost. It’s been a very long struggle and it’s not over yet, nor ever will be in this world.
By the early nineteenth century – spurred on by the so-called Enlightenment – we might have thought we were winning. Among its eventual greatest victories were the abolition of slavery by western Nations, the emancipation of women, and the protection of children from cruel labour. Thereafter generously motivated advances in science and government won victory after victory over disease, injustice and unrestrained commercial greed. But the French Revolution showed that brutishness lies just beneath the surface of any high-sounding human endeavour, however noble its initial impulse.
Should we be proud of all the good things human beings have achieved? Yes perhaps, but always with reservations and with a suspicious eye on the fluctuations of fashion and opinion. In the ‘let it all hang out’ 60s and 70s almost all censorship laws were repealed. Now the tide has turned and current restrictive attitudes are turning out to be at least as ugly as those that went before: unpopular ideas are regularly ‘un-platformed’. Bullying may be out, but tweeting is in, and it is every bit as vicious and cruel, because the anonymous nature of tweeting appeals to the weak and cowardly.
As for pride, here’s the rub:
Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Dr David Daintree AM is Director of the Hobart-based Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies