Culture Wars /

OPINION: Abolish Pride Across the Political & Cultural Spectrum

An Anarcho-Christian wonders if all forms of pride—in identity, achievement, or country—should be replaced with humility

It’s hard to pin down its precise origin, but the phrase “God Hates Flags” once appeared on a protest sign somewhere in the early, yee-haw days of the online ocean. In fact, it might have been printed on a sign held by a counterprotestor who drew inspiration from the signature assertion of Westboro Baptist Church congregants. (Even today, that assertion is the church’s web address.) 

“God Hates Flags” is the kind of clever turn of phrase that’s at once self-evident and revelatory. As the playwright Lanford Wilson once wrote, “There are some things so true that they enter your soul as you hear them.”

As Pride Month comes to a close and we approach Independence Day, which invites a different form of pride, it’s worth considering whether or not pride in any form is harmful. Does pride — in one’s identity or one’s country — reflect a deep, reverent satisfaction, or is the damage of pride every bit as transparent as the word’s negative definition would have us believe? 

It seems that now especially, the June-July flag swapping gives off an empty-headed cheerleading vibe that feels vain, hubristic, and tribal. While the LGBTQIA+ folks are essentially celebrating their having been born with a particular identity, patriotic Americans are gearing up to salute a country in which they just happened to be born. Both groups appear to be mutually exclusive. (Does anyone know a member of the LGBTQIA+ community who replaces the rainbow flag with the Stars and Stripes come July?)

Though the two groups are opposed ideologically, they both seem to exhibit a perverse kind of pride that eschews the only coherent interpretation of the word. Genuine pride can only arise from one’s personal, often familial, achievements — and even that kind of pride should be embraced with caution, if at all. 

The Book says, without qualification, “First pride, then the crash — the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.” So pride, even in its narrowest sense, inflates the ego: “Pride lands you flat on your face; humility prepares you for honors.” Given the option between pride in personal accomplishments and humility in the same achievements, the choice seems obvious. In an age when humility is rare, perhaps even a reasonable sense of pride — in family, in work, at home — should be reoriented as humbleness and modesty. 

Gay Pride

If pride is poisonous, then humility is the antidote — a notion that inverts the outlook of one of the people who pioneered the term “pride” in association with the gay community. 

“In 1970, I authored the word ‘pride’ for gay pride. Somebody had to come up with it!” activist Craig Schoonmaker told podcaster Helen Zaltzman in a 2015 interview. 

He continued: 

We had a committee to commemorate the Stonewall riots … and wanted to unite the events under a label. First thought was “Gay Power.” I didn’t like that, so [I] proposed gay pride. There’s very little chance for people in the world to have power. People did not have power then; even now, we only have some. But anyone can have pride in themselves, and that would make them happier as people, and produce the movement likely to produce change.

Zaltzman countered: “But the word pride carries negative connotations too, of conceit or vanity — after all, pride is one of the seven deadly sins.”

“Oh, no. Not that kind of pridefulness; more like self-esteem,” Schoonmaker said. “That was hackneyed even then. The poison was shame, and the antidote is pride.”

According to the Schoonmaker, Gay Pride is a kind of overreaction to the notion of homosexuality as a stigma. 

But perhaps pride isn’t an appropriate antidote to anything, especially when it’s configured as an over-the-top reaction to shame. 

While the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) frames the Pride movement as one of “openness and positivity,” the organization doesn’t include the exhibition of pride as a tactic for resolving shame or “trauma.” 

“Members of this community are often exposed to traumatic experiences in multiple areas of their lives including societal stigma, discrimination and repression, and rejection from family and community members,” NAMI writes. “Unfortunately, these repeated exposures can lead to sustained levels of stress and internalized shame, and ultimately have serious impacts on the mental health of LGBTQI people.”

Among the handful of strategies for coping with shame NAMI provides, including advocating for rights, building relationships with accepting people, engaging with LGBTQI organizations, participating in prayer or worship, the act of expressing pride isn’t listed — likely because it’s not a real tactic. Rather, it’s a bluff; a kabuki mask to theatrically scare away the shame. 

A recent, audacious example of this kabuki mask bluff involved transgender activist Rose Montoya spontaneously going topless at a White House Pride event. Montoya’s excuse? It was merely a moment of “overwhelming trans joy,” a characterization that is every bit as forthcoming as it is insane.  

Though Schoonmaker’s claim to have invented the term Gay Pride has been disputed, his reputation as a gay rights activist, though well known, is tarnished within his own community. 

According to a slanted but thoroughly researched 2019 profile written by LGBTQ+ historian Tyler Albertario, Schoonmaker had long advocated against “the presence of women (girls) at a gay social function,” he wrote in a 1969 letter. “[It’s] always restricting, and there is no reason whatever for their inclusion, certainly no reason as strong as the reasons for their not being present.” 

But ultimately, that’s not why, in Albertario’s estimation, “Nobody at any of the marches which bear his proposed nomenclature of ‘Pride’ will ever fly his visage, recite his writings, pay tribute to him, nor even deign to utter his name in the same breath as those figures for whom they do. Craig Schoonmaker failed to build any meaningful legacy at all.”

The actual reason Schoonmaker has been demonized is because his unrelenting — and, by 2023 standards, breathtaking — indictments against transgender people consumed much of his later writings. His last blog post, on July 29, 2017, titled “Trump Is Right about (Nonexistent) ‘Transgendered’ People,” offers a scathing screed that would be considered a bannable offense today. 

“Gay men and lesbians must accept the blame for misleading people,” wrote Schoonmaker, who died in 2018. “We ‘came out,’ bit by bit over decades, to our friends, families, and then society in general, and got them to accept us as just being ourselves. That was good. But it went too far, in making people think, uncritically, that if homosexuality is normal, and lesbianism is normal, therefore the people covered by the T in LGBT (and sometimes Q), then ‘transsexuality,’ or ‘transgendered’ people, are also normal.”

He goes on to argue that “the ‘LGBT(Q) community’ does not exist” and “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A TRANSGENDERED PERSON!” 

Schoonmaker was so white-hot furious at “people so astonishingly crazy that they can look in a mirror and … persuade themselves that they are of the opposite gender” that he closes out his final post by suggesting — in what may or may not be a Thomas Paine-type exaggeration — that transgender people should be systematically euthanized so their organs and tissues could be donated to the “thousands or tens of thousands of decent people [who] die waiting on transplant lists.” 

He concluded: “Maybe the prospect of being put to death and chopped up for parts will concentrate what remains of the mind of ‘transgendered’ ‘people,’ and make them see things right, clear of delusions.”

It’s beyond the scope of this writing to ascertain whether or not Schoonmaker was so deranged he wanted to see mass murder or if this was his “sell-the-Irish-children-for-food” moment. What is clear, however, is his outrage. He felt his movement had been stolen, and the feeling that virtually nothing could be done about it pushed him over the edge. 

A milder, more palatable version of this outrage appears to have inspired Gays Against Groomers, a nonprofit organization that claims to stand “against the sexualization, indoctrination and medicalization of children under the guise of LGBTQIA+.”

The group’s founder, Jamiee Michell, recently spoke to Fox New Digital about the White House’s display of the Progress Pride Flag during the event attended by Montoya. 

“The flag represents to us an ideology, a political statement of indoctrinating kids and trans kids and pushing kids to sterilize and mutilate themselves,” she said. “They just keep adding more crap to it. And the more they add, the more you can see the actual gay flag, representing all the things we fought for and won, getting smaller and smaller.”

After founding Gays Against Groomers — and subsequently getting banned from PayPal, Venmo, Google, Twitter (twice), TikTok, Donately, Linktree, and Printful over the course of six months — I was curious if the original Pride flag holds any meaning for Michell. 

“When I see the original rainbow flag, the true gay flag, it reminds me of ours and our gay and lesbian elders’ fight to be seen and have the same rights as every other American in this country,” she told me. “I have never been one to make my sexuality my entire identity, nor have any sense of ‘pride’ in that, but that flag is an homage to that time and the hard-fought real progress we were able to make in this country.”

She added: “At this time, the only flag I see necessary at all is the American flag, as it represents everyone.”

Michell went on to explain how celebrating Pride has changed over the years. Not long ago, it took place over the course of one weekend where she would attend the parades and festivals with friends. 

“Over time, it has spread from one weekend a month, to an entire month, and now in many places even a season, while at the same time becoming more and more degenerate and kink-obsessed,” she said. “It no longer represents me or the gays and lesbians and even trans people I know.”

Michell said it’s been about seven years since she attended a Pride event — and that was “even before the push on children,” she said. 

I can understand Michell’s perception of what the original Pride flag stands for symbolically. While her organization’s messaging is powerful and uncompromising, it never devolves into Schoonmaker’s wild musings. And even though the latter’s prescription of pride to counteract shame is questionable, it does fit into the milieu from whence the original movement sprang. Or maybe the word “pride” was simply a stroke of branding genius rather than exactly what he meant. Perhaps the phrase “Gay Dignity” or “Gay Self-Esteem” just didn’t have the same zing that him and fellow gay men and women needed to whip up attention. 

But honestly, in 2023, who needs a month-long celebration in the name of self-esteem? Does it really help any marginalized community to “be seen” or “affirmed” by the entirety of corporate culture? 

No, because pride in one’s identity has no place in a proper society. 

USA Pride

The Jesuit priest James Martin, in a recent op-ed that’s so clueless one wants to accuse him of being malevolent, encouraged Catholics to celebrate Pride Month. 

He writes:

Pride Month is mainly about supporting the fundamental human rights of the LGBTQ community: the right to live in safety, the right to be treated as equals, and the right to be fully welcome in society. … Besides, complaints about the use of the word “pride” never seem to apply to other groups. People often say, “I’m proud to be an American” on the Fourth of July. Or they wear buttons that say “Proud to be Irish” on St. Patrick’s Day. Or when something wonderful happens in the church they tell their friends, “I’m so proud to be Catholic.” Few people object to that or would describe that as vanity. People generally understand the kind of pride that these people are talking about.

Actually, no, I don’t understand the kind of pride these people are talking about, and I never have. 

When someone says they’re proud to be an American or they’re proud of this country — versions, so far as I can tell, of that bizarre feeling we call patriotism — I literally don’t know what that means. It’s as weird as saying you’re proud to be tall. (Does it even bear mentioning how goofy it sounds to express pride in one’s skin color?) In effect, the sentiment here is that one is proud to have happened to be born in the U.S. But how can one be proud of happenstance? I’m not convinced one can or should without giving in to some kind of delusion. 

(For those who weren’t born in the U.S. but chose to call this country home, I would think the word “grateful” would describe their feeling for the U.S. more accurately than “proud.”) 

If we take the view of pride as a feeling based on achievements, what living person has genuinely contributed to the betterment of the United States in such a profound way that they can look upon the state on the country, in 2023, with any sense of pride? (And yes, I know — “It could be so much worse,” a veteran friend, who’s spent plenty of time in impoverished countries, reminded me recently. Well, yeah, of course everything can always get worse, but even the most logical sense of pride doesn’t arise from comparison.)

I’m even more perplexed by someone who argues that the spirit of America is what informs their pride. The so-called spirit here refers to the expansive consciousness that led a group of revolutionaries to establish the United States in the name of freedom from tyranny. Taking pride in that spirit is just as silly as fixating on the Original Sin of slavery for the sake of denouncing the land we stand upon. These views look backward, gimlet eyed, at the somewhat ungraspable abstraction of history. 

And if one were to suggest their patriotic pride stems from the brave actions of our founding fathers and leaders past, I would contend that the word “pride” is used mistakenly. I wouldn’t view Christ on the cross or Moses at the Red Sea with anything resembling “pride.” I suppose these historic actions could be reflected upon with gratitude and humble thankfulness, but neither of those qualities look like pride. 

Let’s define pride, simply, as a present-tense feeling for that which occurs in the present. 

At best, a sane person should agree that the U.S. is a failed experiment. It seems “a more perfect Union” isn’t possible — perhaps it never was. As long as the federal government still exists, all 330 million of us will continue to be robbed blind at gunpoint to fund endless wars abroad and our own enslavement at home. Excuse me for being black-pilled, but any hope that this monstrosity will ever be drastically minimized — or (hear my prayers!) smashed into a million pieces and scattered to the wind — must be abandoned. Like the AI demon HAL in 2001, one of Kubrick’s many apt prophesies, the machine has already authorized the expansion of itself far into the future. 

“Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here,” states the sign above the gate of Hell that Dante encounters. If we were a fair nation, this warning would be posted at every entry point along the border. 

Whether you cherish the ideals of the founding fathers or despise our country due to its history of fill-in-the-blank with a postmodern, neo-Marxist-ism, can we at least agree that whatever the U.S. has become is deserving of shame and disgust? 

How can anyone justify professing pride in the United States of 2023? 

The states aren’t united. The hidden tax of inflation, i.e. taxes on top of taxes on top of taxes, makes it nearly impossible to earn a sustainable living. Forget about owning a home in the new era — you’re better off buying space in the metaverse. A significant portion of the country finds it unacceptable for Trump to be president, while the other half feels the same about Biden. As much as constitutionalists want to insist that we’re a republic, good luck convincing the political establishment, let alone the permanent administrative bureaucracy, to alter their course. 

The federal government is currently $32 trillion, or $96,000 per person, in debt. This is the kind of spending that will never wane or be wound back. It will only get worse. 

Moving forward, this country will have less and less to offer its increasingly impoverished citizens. 

Seriously: what is there to be proud of? 

Celebrating Independence Day in honor of what the country was intended to be rather than what it’s become is like celebrating an anniversary for a marriage that ended decades ago. It requires willful blindness, a concerning level of faux devotion and a depressing preference for living in the past. 

Even if the country did live up to the ideal that inspired the revolutionaries who envisioned a free nation, it shouldn’t serve as a source of pride or allegiance. 

I take issue with any pledge of allegiance — partly because real allegiance doesn’t require a pledge. Any dummy can mouth their way through a confession or a claim or even a promise. 

I happened to attend an event recently that kicked off with everyone standing, placing their hands upon their hearts, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, one has to pick one’s battles, and I wasn’t willing to stage a protest at this particular event. (Call me a coward and criticize my judgment. You might be right, but am I necessarily wrong?) I stood, but I refused to go along with the rest of it. 

In fact, I quietly hoped that someone in this crowd, which was predominantly Catholic, would take issue with my silent protest. Maybe because I relished the opportunity to explain, in as few words as possible, what it means to be an Anarcho-Christian. 

The term “anarchy” means no ruler. But the Christian qualifier adds an amendment: “No King But Christ.” Anarcho-Christians cannot pledge allegiance to anything or anyone other than Christ. To do so would imply that you would prefer to follow someone other than the Word made Flesh. And if you acknowledge that Christ is God, that Christ is the perfect King, why would you follow or support anyone else at all? 

So I can’t recite or stand for the Pledge of Allegiance because I have already pledged my allegiance solely to Jesus Christ. If the papists and patriots want to place their allegiance elsewhere, that is certainly their prerogative. But I will not participate in that meat parade. 

God hates flags because they flap loudly and annoyingly between Him and His creation. 

As one art installation sought to confirm, blind devotion to the flag — any flag, ultimately, but our flag, specifically — prohibits genuine independence and freedom of thought. Moreover, the symbol tends to transform itself into an idol that demands blind loyalty rather than serve as an emblem of the principles that vested it with power in the first place. 

In 1989, the artist Dread Scott devised What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag? — an installation composed of three main items: a photo montage that included South Korean students burning the flag and flag-draped coffins of troops; a book on a shelf with pens; and a 3-by-5 American flag on the floor in front of the book. Those who encountered the display, which appeared at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, were encouraged to respond to the titular question in the book on display. While doing so, it was possible to stand on the flag. 

Scott received death threats. Although President George H. W. Bush expressed worry “about the right of free speech,” he also said the exhibit was “disgraceful … I don’t approve of it at all.” Then, U.S. Congress passed the Flag Protection Act of 1989 — a response to the Supreme Court decision that burning the flag was an act of protected speech. 

In response to the Flag Protection Act, Scott and several other activists burned the flag on the steps of the U.S. Capitol as a protest. Scott was listed as a defendant in a case that would ultimately go to the Supreme Court. The following year, the 1989 act was struck down when the Court ruled it unconstitutional. 

So despite earsplitting outrage from politicians, veterans, pundits, and patriots, the constitutionality of free speech as a principle ultimately held more weight, legally, than the symbol itself. (Although Trump revived the idea, in 2020, that anyone who burns the American flag should go to jail for one year because, he said, “that’s desecration, that’s a terrible thing.”)

Flags inevitably become entangled with a powerful sense of pride — a sense of pride that, I would argue, stands between man’s relationship with God, regardless of whether or not that pride derives from identity or country.  

Maybe I’m wrong. Or at the very least, it might be useful to hear a different perspective. But I wasn’t interested in hearing some braindead neocon bore me with warmed over platitudes about what it means to be an American. I wanted to speak to someone with a strong perspective and a genuine understanding of liberty. 

So I contacted Pete Quinones, a documentary filmmaker and cultural commentator who often focuses on revisionist history. On a recent episode of his podcast, The Pete Quinones Show, he referred to the Progressive Pride Flag as “a flag of war.” 

“I consider myself an American patriot and am proud of America. But America to me is its people,” he told me. “And, of course, my pride is not going to include everyone, not by a long shot. But those who still hold to the values of God, family and community. The kind of people in small towns who will do anything for one another and fight to keep the community safe from predation whether that be physical crime or the influence of activists seeking to push cultural agendas that oppose theirs.”

Quinones continued: 

We are in a fight against what is normal and what is clearly insane at this point. The truth should calm you and never cause anxiety. The truth is natural. Truth comes from a place of peace. If you have to be convinced or propagandized someone is selling you falsehoods. They’re trying to fill you with fear. American values should bring comfort. The people who hold those values, that’s the America I’m proud of.

I told him that I’m entertaining this idea that any form of pride should be avoided, and that the Bible is pretty unambiguous in its denunciation of pride. 

“Being proud of true, good and beautiful of God’s creation should be encouraged and celebrated,” he said. “Gay pride is an inversion of that. It’s encouraging and celebrating that which God explicitly condemns.” 

Maybe there is something to be said for those people who cleave to their values and cherish truth, especially in a time when truth is under widespread assault. 

And yet, the words of the great anarchist thinker Emma Goldman nag at me. She writes: 

Indeed, conceit, arrogance and egotism are the essentials of patriotism. Let me illustrate. Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot consider themselves nobler, better, grander, more intelligent than those living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others. 

It may not be inevitable that patriotism leads to militancy, but it does seem likely, and I think that’s the problem on both sides. Pride in identity and pride in country tend to manifest in extreme beliefs and behaviors. 

(When I asked Quinones to comment on Goldman’s quote, he said, “I would say these are the words of someone who believes that family and homeland are bourgeois sentiments. This is someone who wants to tell others what they should believe and how they should live and that people should be citizens of the world instead of citizens of a land or members of a family.”)

Even so, I question if pride has any utility at all. 

Though pride rooted in personal achievement may be a mistake, or at least shortsighted, it’s a rational application of pride. If one takes on the mountainous challenge of raising a child, how could a parent not be proud when their child achieves or overachieves? 

Maybe pride is the wrong impulse even under those circumstances. Instead, maybe the parent should remember Solomon’s fabled advice to the sultan who asked for a motto equally befitting adversity and prosperity: “This too shall pass.” 

Pride, even if it arises from having achieved something truly remarkable, swells the ego. But being reminded that mortality is harder than a diamond, that we are easily crushable and fragile as a snowflake, that our greatest deeds can be instantly sucked into the wormhole of history, that “This too shall pass” — that’s the essence of humility, because it slaughters the ego. And the ego is the first casualty in a bona fide encounter with God. 

Is there any circumstance where the instinct toward pride wouldn’t be better supplanted by humility?

No, because pride in one’s country has no place in a proper society. 

Personal Pride

Nebuchadnezzar II, more so than anyone else alive in sixth century BC, had very good reasons to be proud of his accomplishments. During his nearly four-decade reign, he emerged as one of the most brilliant military strategists who ever lived in addition to rebuilding and expanding the city of Babylon. 

One day, when he was walking on the balcony of his royal palace, he couldn’t help but recognize the depth and breadth of his unthinkable accomplishments. 

“Look at this, Babylon the great!” he said. “And I built it all by myself, a royal palace adequate to display my honor and glory!” 

This relatively harmless comment was all it took for God to tear away his kingdom, scramble his brain to the point of madness, and send him to live in a field like a wild animal for seven years — “enough time,” the Book says, “to learn that the High God rules human kingdoms and puts whomever he wishes in charge.” 

Is God really that petty or is pride that dangerous? 

I can’t think of a passage where Christ talks directly about pride, but he does say, “If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face.” 

The association between having your nose in the air and pride is scientific, it turns out. In 2009, pride was one of three “self-conscious” emotions with recognizable expressions added to the University of California, Davis, Set of Emotion Expressions (UCDSEE). One of the two most well-recognized expressions of pride includes “the head titled slightly back, a small non-Duchenne smile” — meaning the smile isn’t so large it creates crow’s feet — “and expanded posture.” 

The researchers used the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to verify that the same expression of pride was posed by black and white males and females, meaning pride was depicted in the same manner regardless of race and gender. 

The danger of pride is very real. If we’re being reasonable, we can’t claim to be proud of our personal identity, the country in which we live, or the accomplishments that we personally evaluate to be remarkable. Indeed, if we take Nebuchadnezzar’s story and Christ’s proclamation to heart, the latter sense of pride might be the most dangerous kind. 

“On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom,” Montaigne wrote. 

If one were to actually attain some form of kingship, the most appropriate response isn’t pride — even less so if one’s sexual identity or love of country opened the doors for that crowning moment. 

The appropriate response is, “This too shall pass.” 

*For corrections please email [email protected]*