This June, as once more we mark and celebrate LGBT Pride Month, the impact of living one’s authentic self has become a political focus, especially for those who are transgender or gender-nonbinary (referred to by many as genderqueer).
Many people of all faiths and all ideologies are among those who identify with and support the LGBT community. And for many it is obvious why there is deep wisdom in fighting for values such as full inclusion and equality for all individuals. These values speak to both core secular principles and the aspirations at the heart of many religions.
But what about pride itself? Can pride be compatible with faith values? Isn’t “pride” the opposite of “humility” which is one of the most important aspects of a meaningful life?
Pride gets somewhat of a bad name in many religious circles. According to Proverbs, “It goeth before a fall,” and is the root of straying from a path of G*d. And there is a kind of vanity and arrogance associated with pride that can be a barrier to experiencing what is more profound in the world and a gateway to selfish behavior. Humility could be a counter to this kind of pride.
However, at the same time, pride is also a necessary human emotion to recognize one’s own self-worth. Far from being a blockage to encountering meaning, such pride can be a necessary reminder that one’s life is precious and that each of us is irreplaceable. The opposite of this pride is not humility, but shame. And to feel shame about who one is, how one loves, the way one relates to the world and desires to be treated can do serious damage.
Beyond the pride of self centeredness and the pride of self-worth is yet a third definition of pride. It is an admiration, pleasure or satisfaction over something regarded as highly honorable or meritorious. We are proud of our neighbors, loved ones, and friends at moments when they rise above, when they are authentic, or when they speak a truth about which we either agree or to which we aspire.
Often, of course, the pride we experience is complex, not wholly one type of pride or another, but an opportunity to connect ourselves to others; pride not that lifts ourselves above someone else but that helps us see a different part of ourselves. By standing with you I’m saying something to both others and myself about myself.
In many ways the roots of these questions go back to the story of Genesis, a starting point for so many in understanding the unfolding of the human story. While the travails of Adam and Eve are often read as a blueprint for particular human behavior, the Genesis account of humanity begins not with a test but with the creation of human beings in the Divine likeness. With the stamping of the unbounded and diverse image of our Creator on each individual. And with the declaration of humanity as “very good.” Just as G*d sees creation in all its diversity and declares it “very good” so do we have the opportunity to affirm the goodness at the heart of each of us.
In the Talmud, a well from which much of Jewish wisdom is drawn, the spiritual leader Rabbi Akiba states “Beloved are human beings that they are made in the Divine image but even more beloved are we that we know we are made in the Divine image.” And that is something about which to have all kinds of pride.
Michael Bernstein, a Rabbi, has served since 2009 as Rabbi of Congregation Gesher L’Torah, a vibrant and dynamic Synagogue community in north Atlanta where each person’s story is embraced and Judaism is personal. He was ordained as a conservative Rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in 1999. He and his wife Tracie have three children, Ayelet, Yaron and Liana.