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“Sacred time for the city of man”

Augustine’s City of God has much to teach about responding to Pride month

Flemish painter Gerard Seghers' depiction of Saint Augustine of Hippo Wikimedia Commons

“Sacred time for the city of man”
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How would Augustine diagnose “Pride Month?” Of course, the theme itself would disturb him, since Augustine understood pride as the archetypal sin. No doubt he would rhetorically attack the devotion of an entire block of the civic calendar to such a destructive vice.

But there is much else in The City of God that pertains to this season. I am convinced he would perceive pride month as a “high holy” season for our post-Christian, neopagan culture. It is “sacred time” for the city of man.

In the first half of City of God, Augustine spends much space dissecting the public, civil religion of ancient Rome. These public celebrations and cultic practices were intended to shape the people in shared values. Behind these rites Augustine perceived demonic forces; and they resulted in rampant immorality, division, and domination. According to Augustine, these pagan gods/demons don’t care about morality, only that pleasures are satisfied; in fact, these demonic forces seem to want depravity to increase. Much of this can be said of the neopagan civil religion enshrined in pride month.

Pride month is devoted to perverted self-love—love for self that is defined by the self in contempt for God and His ordering of creation. This is what constitutes the city of man. And in this the city of man follows in the footsteps of the devil. The devil, in his self-exalting pride, refused to submit to the Creator and attempted instead to “counterfeit an unreality.” We follow the father of lies when we refuse to accept reality as defined by God and seek to refashion the world according to our wishes. Thus, the freedom pursued by the earthly city is at root rebellion. The sexual liberation of our contemporary progressive sexual identitarians celebrated during pride month is likewise a rebellion against the Creator and His design for our flourishing. God is not permitted to tell them who they are, what their bodies are designed for, how to express their sexuality, or where happiness is found.

Augustine explains that to live according to self is not actually liberating. In fact, it is to live according to lusts, which are enslaving. A key theme in City of God is the libido dominandi that animates the earthly city. This term names the lust to dominate that dominates us. Augustine sees this in Rome’s excessive longing for praise and boundless glory. The Romans desired to be free and dominant and could not countenance the shameful possibility of being in servitude to others. The desire for glory meant that liberty alone was insufficient; they must dominate those around them. We could extend this logic to our progressive sexual identitarians. They seek sexual liberation, to pursue their desires without restriction or shame. To achieve this, they must rid the world of all taboos and condemnation; therefore, they hunt down wrong-thinkers who would dare to judge them or restrict their sexual expression. The battle is never over until they have secured the positive regard of all and privileged social standing in the realm of cultural norms.

Humility is obviously the antithesis to pride; but it is also key to Augustine’s theology.

This is incoherent, divisive, and depravity-inducing. Identities are at odds with one another. The underlying logic of T fundamentally conflicts with LGB. This creates tensions between these groups, not to mention between all of these and those who hold more traditional views on sexuality. Like Augustine’s characterization of Cain’s “diabolical envy” of Abel, these progressive identitarians are driven to hate those who live by and promote norms traditionally deemed “good.” And to eliminate traditional taboos, these alternative sexualities are impelled not only to push their views into public spaces, but also to expose wide audiences to their sexual practices.

This leads to an increasingly sexualized culture. And it also sets the stage for the celebration of ever-new sexual identities, which seem to be implied in the “+” that remains perpetually undetermined. Because the prideful earthly city is not committed to reality, but only reality-editing self-love, it cannot generate genuine community. Citizens of the city of man cling to private goods. Though sexual liberation may constitute a “public value,” it is not a common good; it does not unite and elevate, but only brings division and debasement. Instead of ordering our passions to reality by submitting them to our soul/rationality, we become defined by our lower parts. We lose the peace of the “tranquility of order.”

How should citizens of the heavenly city act during this high-handed season in the civic calendar? I would suggest three prongs: First, humbly accept reality. Humility is obviously the antithesis to pride; but it is also key to Augustine’s theology. Folly stubbornly refuses to yield to truth, leading to the ruin of the one under pride’s domination. We can only be happy in truth, not empty illusions. And happiness is “the fulfillment of all that we ought to desire.” We were created male and female, with our sexuality ordered toward procreation. Don’t get hoodwinked by the progressive propaganda that says love and liberation are found in rejecting this reality.

Second, oppose this destructive, false civil religion. It is not loving to indulge destructive lies out of fear of offending.

Third, invite those under the sway of this civil religion to abandon false gods and embrace true liberation. To be happy is to cling to God and submit to his design for our flourishing. God will elevate us rightly when we humble ourselves and live according to His design. Invite such neighbors out of our culture’s neopagan rituals into the church’s “chaste celebration” in which we learn how to live rightly in this age so that we may be blessed forever.

James R. Wood

James R. Wood  is assistant professor of religion and theology at Redeemer University in Ancaster, Ontario. He is also a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, a Commonwealth Fellow at Ad Fontes, co-host of the Civitas podcast produced by the Theopolis Institute, and former associate editor at First Things.

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