CS Lewis

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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Five books that shaped my childhood

I think the books that we read in our childhood affect us more than at any other point in our lives. So here are five book series that enthralled me, made me laugh, and filled my innocent, un-moulded brain with new and interesting possibilities.

1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis


Magic rings with the power to teleport you into new worlds; a voyage to the edge of the world; minotaurs and epic battles and evil witch-queens…how could a kid not love Narnia? My childhood friend Becky lent The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to me when we were in primary school and multiple re-readings of all seven books soon ensued. My favourites are the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Eustace turning into the dragon, the one-legged hopping men, the strange feast) and the Silver Chairthe twist blew my eight-year-old mind! These books always bring back fond memories. Also, if you know a kid who hates reading, try Narnia. It worked on my brother many years ago.

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2. Sweet Valley Twins by Francine Pascal

This is embarrassing, but oh so true. Did any of you ever succumb to this series? Our little local library was well stocked with Sweet Valley, and I must have spent hours trawling through the romantic/cheerleading/travelling/friendship dramas of blonde twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield. This is probably how I learnt about boyfriends =(

PS. I have since thrown out my Sweet Valley books ;P

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3. Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce

This series is da bomb, if you’re a little girl with big dreams of adventure, hot princes, and beating snobby guys at their own game. Tamora Pierce taught me that young-adult fantasy exists and can feature a young female heroine, fast-paced storyline and a gratuitous plot (safe sex, safe drinking, safe sword-fights). Alanna is good at pretty much everything. Princes and thief-kings alike fall in love with her. This series inspired me to write my first and possibly only full length novel, Amaya: Crusader of the Slaves, which features a Mary-Sue character with no flaws and a killer knack for fighting, diplomacy, generally getting everyone to love her, saving the kingdom, and becoming Queen of Shal-Amor. It’s going to be the next Harry Potter. I can feel it.

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4. The Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody

If you must know, I still adore Obernewtyn. Isobelle Carmody began writing this series when she was still in high school, back in the 1980s, and it’s just flourished under her talented craftsmanship. When I first immersed myself in the post-holocaust world of Elspeth Gordie and the Misfits, I only knew that this story was UNPUTDOWNABLE! Now, re-reading the series, I can admire Carmody’s powerful, fluent language. She chooses words succinctly, wasting none, and packs so much into each book (although they do become successively more brick-like). There’s no purple prose, and for this I respect her immensely. Adjectives are overrated.

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5. The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

Another master storyteller. Wit, adventure, an alternate London governed by a Parliament of greedy magicians. It’s the lesser-known, better Harry Potter. Bartimaeus the 5000-year-old, silver-tongued djinni taught me that fantasy can be modern and humorous. After reading this series I tried my hand at my own fantasy book featuring a witty demon. It achieved moderate success amongst my friends and now sits in the bottom of my drawer.

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As you can see, four-fifths of my childhood was shaped by fantasy. I also read a whole bunch of other local library offerings (yes, I was that kid—the one who staggers out of the library with a stack of fifteen books, and you come to recognise her only by her sweat-spotted forehead and the top rim of her glasses) including Babysitters Club, Animorphs and Tomorrow When the War Began. Funnily, as I was a pretty sheltered (read: Asian) kid, I think I learnt a lot about life from books. It might explain why my worldview is a bit wacky…and why I always see monsters in the clouds.

What are the five books that shaped your childhood? I’m curious to know =)