1 Nephi 11:34-36 — LeGrand Baker — “the pride of the world.”

1 Nephi 11:34-36  

34 And after he was slain I saw the multitudes of the earth, that they were gathered together to fight against the apostles of the Lamb; for thus were the twelve called by the angel of the Lord.
35 And the multitude of the earth was gathered together; and I beheld that they were in a large and spacious building, like unto the building which my father saw. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
36 And it came to pass that I saw and bear record, that the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb (1 Nephi 11:34-36).

Nephi’s description of the building as “the pride of the world” is very apt. Pride is a pretense used to prop up a nothingness. The building is in the air because it has no substantive foundation. It is a fabrication of the imaginations of its inmates and of those who wish to be like them. When the building’s foundation is exposed as a fraud, there is nothing left to hold it up—not even in the haughtiness of the beliefs of the people who sustained it.

Pride—whether a mask behind which one hides his own reality or an assumed wisdom by which he projects and defends a pretended truth—has no reality. Pride is often worn as a mask behind which the motives, insecurities, and indulgences of one’s real Self are intended to be obscured. Pride may be displayed as a political catch-phrase, or as fashionable clothes, or as religious self-righteousness, but however it is displayed, its object is always the same: to attract honor, prestige, advantage—often money and power—to one’s facade by concealing one’s true Self. It is most destructive when one believes his own lie, and is persuaded by the mask that it is real. Then the whole Self becomes an illusion—a bubble dancing in the air like Lehi’s great and spacious building. As long as people live within their own lie, they cannot be taught eternal truth, because to recognize truth would destroy the mask.

In his second description of the building, Nephi uses two parallel representations: “vain imaginations” and “the pride of the children of men.” Vain imaginations are principles and attitudes, accumulations, and displays for which one may be willing to exchange his integrity but which have no real value. Both “vanity” and “pride” have the same meaning: each denotes an illusion that has no substance—something that does not exist except in the mind of the believer.

A most colorful description of the nothingness called “pride” and “vanity” is Mormon’s phrase, “puffing them up with pride” (3 Nephi 6:15). One pictures a cartoon showing a person who is all puffed up like a balloon, so full of hot air that his feet barely touch the real world, oblivious to his absurdity and assuming everyone sees him as the distinguished specimen he assumes himself to be.

Perhaps the most unhappy example is Jacob’s description on one standing before the Lord, but disqualified to enter his presence:

41 O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.
42 And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them (2 Nephi 9:41-42).{1}

Such an image might be amusing if it were not so deadly serious. The Lord also described our over-inflated clown, but turning a would-be comedy into pure tragedy as the proud one not only tries to conceal his real Self, but also seeks to use the illusion of authority to “cover his sins” (D&C 121:36-37).

The real tragedy of pride is that it diverts our attention from our own reality to an illusion about our Selves. People who are proud project the illusion as reality and insist that others acknowledge it also. But, as the psalmist observed, the things we humans struggle to achieve are often no more substantial than a shadow.

3 Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him!
4 Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away….
11 Rid me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood (Psalms 144:3-4, 11).

That psalm may have been the inspiration behind some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines. His Macbeth laments,

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing (Act 5, Scene 5).

“Signifying nothing”—that is the key. To seek a vain thing is to be as a child who blows bubbles in the air, admires their beauty and tries to catch them and keep them forever. He reaches out to capture their effervescence, touches them, and finds there is nothing there. To exalt the vain things of this world is to do homage to emptiness, just as to worship a false god is to do homage to a carved log that cannot respond because it has no soul.

Believing an illusion does not make the illusion a truth. Truth is independent of all things—including whether or not people believe or don’t believe. Even if an entire nation believes in the substance of a bubble, it is still only emptiness. People—whether an individual or a nation—who defend the bubble deny themselves the freedom to know the truth.

Illusions that are touted as truth are, in some perverted way, also independent. That is why their proponents support them. They free their adherents from the restraints of doing truth—of keeping the commandments and of repenting—while at the same time binding them to the subjugation that comes from disobeying sacral law.

If pride is our pretending to be what we are not, then humility is simply being who we are.{2} Demeaning one’s self is not humility, it is only doing homage to the negative side of the bubble. People who cannot accept or understand the reality of themselves cannot know the reality of others. Only people who know the truth of themselves and of the Savior are free to act independently. Ultimately, only the gods who know all truth are absolutely free.

In the Old Testament, “the Preacher” points out the absurdity of expending one’s life to collect power, glory, money or reputation that have no lasting value.{3}

2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
3 What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
8 All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:1-3, 8-9).

Our soul is not an accumulation of what we have collected or achieved in the past. When we appear before God on judgement day he will not ask us for our vita or resume. Rather, we will come as we are–just then. We will appear as we are—a product of what we have chosen to be—a Self, definable in the instant. The Atonement not only permits us to repent of our past and become a new Self, it also enables us to remain what we are.

There are some lines in Hamlet that show the absurdity of collecting accolades that are not real and pretending that they are our eternal Self. In this scene, Hamlet, who has just killed Polonius and hidden the body, is confronted by the king who had murdered Hamlet’s father and usurped Hamlet’s right to the throne.

King: Now, Hamlet, where’s Polonius?
Hamlet: At supper.
King: At supper! where?
Hamlet: Not where he eats, but where he is eaten: a certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet: we fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots: your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service, two dishes, but to one table: that’s the end. A man may fish with the worm that hath eat of a king, and eat of the fish that hath fed of that worm.
King: What dost you mean by this?
Hamlet: Nothing but to show you how a king may go a progress through the guts of a beggar.
King: Where is Polonius?
Hamlet: In heaven; send hither to see: if your messenger find him not there, seek him i’ the other place yourself. But indeed, if you find him not within this month, you shall nose him as you go up the stairs into the lobby.{4}

His point is this: even the crown of a king gives no advantage to his corpse when the king is dead, just as murdering to obtain that crown gives no advantage in hell to the soul who sat that crown upon his own brow.

Self aggrandizement is an illusion, no matter what it costs to project and sustain it. When one understands “pride” and “vanity” that way—as a sustained belief in nothingness—then one becomes free to know the reality of one’s Self.

Pride is not only self delusional, it is also self destructive. It seeks to distort everything around it, and what it cannot distort it corrodes. Its adherents seek to intimidate and thereby impose their illusions on others. They really have no other choice, because the bubble cannot sustain itself. If exposed as counterfeit, it will disintegrate like a puff of smoke. Thus the building falls.
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FOOTNOTES

{1} Other examples are 2 Nephi 28:9-15, Alma 5:37, Alma 31:27, and Moroni 7:45.

{2} When we can define “humble” in v. 27 in the same way we define “humility” in v. 39, then we can come close to understanding what it means. Jesus, the resurrected, creator, atoning God, could hardly be self-deprecating, nether could he be full of conceit. Rather, in this conversation with Moroni he was only being just himself—no masks—just “as a man telleth another.”

27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

39 And then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus, and that he hath talked with me face to face, and that he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language, concerning these things (Ether 12:27, 39).

{3} See: 1 Nephi 11:36, “the pride of the world.” See: 1 Nephi 12:13-23, “the depths thereof are the depths of hell.”

{4} Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 3.

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