The Great Sin / Friends, cynicism is overrated

There is a reason why I believe C.S. Lewis has one of the greatest reasoning minds the world has seen. Even if you are not a Christian and don’t agree with everything he says, you can’t deny that he makes a bunch of insightful, powerful observations into the human condition. Also, he isn’t scared to speak his mind clearly and without fluff.

I’ve been meaning to read Mere Christianity for years and have been sadly distracted by a whole range of less important books. I only picked it up last week when my dad pointedly left it next to my bed. Go Dad! I’m two thirds of the way through, now, and the only thing I wish is that I had read it sooner. It’s not a difficult read, and even though it was published in 1952, it’s still strangely resonant in today’s society.

C.S. Lewis, probably best known for inventing Narnia, was an atheist for many years and struggled not to be won over by Christianity. He eventually found himself unable to deny God and went on to write a number of books about God, human behaviour, the four types of love, his conversion, and fauns that look like James McAvoy. His works have shone light into the lives of millions of people. Lewis has a gift for being exceptionally sharp, logical, wry and astute. He is one of the reasons I believe in an intelligent, and not a blind, Christianity.

One of the most fascinating chapters I’ve come across is entitled ‘The Great Sin.’ I had to read this chapter through twice, because it made me feel so guilty and enlightened at the same time that I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Have a read of the following excerpt. I can guarantee you that you won’t like what he says. But a part of you will know it’s true.

The Great Sin.
From Mere Christianity by C S Lewis

I now come to that part of Christian morals where they differ most sharply from all other morals. There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the centre of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now, we have come to the centre. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

Does this seem to you exaggerated? If so, think it over. I pointed out a moment ago that the more pride one had, the more one disliked pride in others. In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?’ The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with every one else’s pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree. Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive – is competitive by its very nature – while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not. The sexual impulse may drive two men into competition if they both want the same girl. But that is only by accident; they might just as likely have wanted two different girls. But a proud man will take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but just to prove to himself that he is a better man than you. Greed may drive men into competition if there is not enough to go round; but the proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will try to get still more just to assert his power. Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride.

Read the entire chapter here.

This chapter has made me reconsider many of the ways I treat people, and the previous post in which I argued that we shouldn’t care what other people think about us. We shouldn’t care, but we shouldn’t care for the right reasons.

And the next chapter? It talks about how charity isn’t just about giving money to poor people. It’s not even about liking people. It’s about how it’s OK not to like some people…you just gotta be good to them anyway. I like that ;)

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7 comments

  1. That’s such a great post Grace!!

    I think for awhile now, one of my hardest struggles is with pride. And when I see it in other people, this weird counter-transference goes on and I end up judging the person even though I know I’m quite prideful myself ha

    It’s definitely very hard to live in this world and not have pride. We’re all intrinsically wired to want to be loved and acknowledged. And if you think about it, people go to great lengths to present themselves as ‘successful’ or ‘righteous’ because subconsciously we may be thinking that the more successful or more righteous we look, the more people will want to love and acknowledge us.

    So what is the anti-dote to pride? Humility. And what is humility? Is it the absence of pride? No, not necessarily. I think it is more of how we react when we are presented with an opportunity to speak well of ourselves or even an opportunity to show off how good we are. Do we decide to make full use of that ‘opportunity’ and promote ourselves breathlessly? Or do we we hold our tongue and restrain ourselves just so we can allow others to flourish? (Philippians 2:3)

    It’s a very interesting mentality to have, especially since many people in this world have this mantra of ‘total dominance = number 1’. Albeit very difficult, I think it is the most refreshing mentality to have. I mean, who wants to run a rat race with someone who just wants to exert superiority? I definitely don’t!

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    1. Hi Megan ;D

      I think a lot of people struggle with pride…and most of us don’t even know it. At the end of the chapter he says that the first step towards achieving humility is to realise that you are proud. Which is something we don’t really think about because it’s not really wired in us to think of it as a bad thing. I’m totally happy to bitch about people who are arrogant and stuck-up but I’ve never realised the harm that pride can do to yourself and your relationships with people. Mostly to yourself. Realising how important humility is really changes your perspective on how you approach your day!

      I agree that people go to great lengths to present themselves as “successful” or “righteous”…I guess that’s because that’s what the world sees as admirable, and we like to pretend to ourselves that we are those things. Humility will be even more useful when we start to go into the workforce and don’t want to be caught up in the world’s rat race for success. One small way I think helps me be less proud is to avoid judging people. It’s not my place. Instead I should be looking for aspects of people I respect.

      Thanks for the comment!

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  2. Love C.S. Lewis and that was a great excerpt! I reckon the hidden nature of pride is what makes it most deadly… more often than not, we can only see it in others but are blind to our own flaws in the area of pride… reminds me of what Jesus said about pointing to the twig (or something small like it) in your brother’s eye when there is a log in your own eye. I may just ‘Press This’ coz I like it that much :D.

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    1. Ooh, I’m flattered! Thanks Amy :D That’s a really good point, about how we all hate seeing that flaw pointed out in ourselves. We react so defensively! But,ultimately, thinking that we are better than other people only leads to dissatisfaction and selfishness. I guess it’s something I’ve constantly got to keep in mind in the future :)

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  3. I reckon this is one area that aussie Christians may have a cultural advantage. For all the drunkenness, filth, and whatnot in our history, I reckon there’s also a fair whack o’ humility. Traditionally, we relied on God for the bread on our table- making sure the rain wet our soil. We feel uncomfortable when we have to say something positive about ourselves.

    For once, being the children of criminals helps. It feels better calling on God as the true master of our victories than trying to own them ourselves.

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    1. You make an interesting point. Aussies aren’t really an ‘arrogant’ race when you compare us to some other nations. Our sense of national pride is far more laid back and it would take a lot of incitement to get some of us to wave the Aussie flag high in our front yards. I don’t know how much this contributes to religion–or the decline of religion–in our country, but I guess our open-mindedness keeps us open to the possibility of a higher order.

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