Pride and Sensuality (Concupiscence)
According to Reinhold Niebuhr's Pauline-Augustinian interpretation, pride and sensuality (concupiscence) are the fundamental elements of sin. Terry D. Cooper's chapter in Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance, "Pride, Sensuality and Addiction," provides an excellent exposition of Niebuhr's position.
"When God is not treated as the source and center of our existence, our desires, which are not bad in themselves, become disoriented and excessive. Torn from our foundation, we anxiously attempt to drown ourselves in the pursuit of every type of passion. When God is negated as the center of our life, human volition becomes disturbed. Off balance, we are given over to a variety of vocations that are never an expression of our created nature. As our pride pushes the divine out of our life, so sensuality binds our will in its sometimes reckless search for expression. Our desires are "disordered" because we have lost our connection to ultimate significance, our relationship with God" (pg. 60).
"Whether in drunkenness, gluttony, sexual license, love of luxury, or any inordinate devotion to a mutable good, sensuality is always: (1) an extension of self-love to the point where it defeats its own ends; (2) an effort to escape the prison house of self by finding a god in a process or person outside the self, and (3) finally an effort to escape from the confusion which sin has created into some form of subconscious existence" (pg. 63).
"Regardless of which form of sensuality we pursue, it is built on the failure to trust God as the center of our world. Thus, we rely on our own resources to solve our anxiety problem. In trusting our own resolutions, rather than God, we become preoccupied with eliminating our anxieties. The attempts to eliminate our condition make the condition worse. For Niebuhr, any solution to the problem of human existence that does not trust in God is an expression of pride. Why? Because we are replacing at the helm of our lives our own solutions instead of relying on divine assurance. This may not look like an obvious form of puffed-up self-congratulatory pride. But pride is inherent in any form of God-replacement. Distrust in God and human pride are always two parts of a single process" (pg. 63).
"Augustine's discussion of sensuality is centered around the word concupiscence. . . . it refers to inordinate desire, an insatiable lust. . . . This disorderly desire results from our disconnection from God as the center of our lives. It is a wide reservoir out of which particular obsessions and compulsive attachments emerge. It prompts a preoccupation with this world's goods" (pg. 64).
"Concupiscence, therefore, refers to the spiritual condition behind compulsive attachments. As desire-out-of-control, it invariably leads to idolatry, the making of a limited, finite good into a god. But again, it seeks this god because a relationship with the divine has already been abandoned. In spite of the fact that lust's target provides only temporary relief, concupiscent craving continues to seek more and more. It panics at the thought of its desired object being taken away. For Augustine, as well as Niebuhr, concupiscence always involves the love of created things apart from their Creator" (pp. 64-65).
"Having moved away from a trust in God, we involve ourselves in habitual, destructive enjoyments of inferior goods as replacements for God. Again, concupiscence and idolatry are two sides of the same coin. In fact, we can speak of concupiscence as an inherent proclivity toward idolatry. We human beings have a nasty habit of trying to turn something finite into the infinite. To repeat: for Augustine concupiscence is not the most basic dilemma. Concupiscence is instead a secondary problem following quickly behind the prideful replacement of God. Our desires are disordered because we have lost our center in God" (pg. 65).
Terry D. Cooper (2003). Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance: The Problem of Identity in Theology and Psychology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.