A redated post.
C. S. Lewis on Pride: The Great Sin
I first read Mere Christianity when I was 18 years old. At the time, I was between my freshman and sophomore years of college, and had spent much of my time until then in the Arizona competitive chess scene. (Just so you know, the competitive chess scene, especially amongst teenagers, is not a hotbed of humility).
In addition, I have spent much of my life since in pursuit of achievement, especially intellectual achievement. So this chapter of Mere Christianity was a like a hard kick in the stomach.
Today many people with a “psychology” orientation would say that “self-esteem” is very important.
Aristotle said that humility is a vice.
27 years ago, I wrote a sermon counterbalancing was an overstated case in this chapter. However, a properly balanced chapter on this subject would not have had the impact on me that the actual chapter did.
I should warn you that those who know me best might tell you that I am the last person on earth to be lecturing anybody about humility.
Further, the Christian tradition’s emphasis on humility effectively demolishes the theory that Christianity is the product of wishful thinking. Who would want this to be the main sin of the human race?
Lewis: this is where Christianity morality differs from other moral ideas.
No one except Christians ever admits to this vice.
However, no one who is not a Christian ever shows any mercy towards it on others. No fault makes a man more unpopular, but we are unconscious of it in ourselves.
The virtue is pride or self-conceit, and the opposite virtue is humility.
This, not chastity, is the center of Christian morality. This is the essential vice, the utmost evil. It was through pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to all other vice. It is the complete anti-God state of mind.
(One time I mentioned to a class of students at the University of Illinois that there were 18 or so full-time faculty members at the U of I, and that as far as I knew 17 of them were atheists. One student raised his hand and said “Those atheists in your department, do they think of themselves as the supreme beings?” I was not quick enough to say “not all of them.”)
If you want to know how proud you are ask: “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 patronize me, or show off?” The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride. Pride is essentially competitive, while other vices are competitive only by accident. Pride takes no pleasure out of having some thing, only out of having more of it than the next man has.
The sexual impulse may cause two men to want the same girl. However, pride will cause a man to take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but because he wants to prove he is a better man than you are.
Why do wealthy people want to make more money? Pride, and lust for power. Why does a girl spread misery by collecting admirers? Pride. Why does a political leader or whole nation go on and on, demanding increasingly? (This is my last territorial demand-Hitler.) Pride again.
Pride causes enmity because it is enmity. In addition, it is enmity toward God, as well as toward others. If you are always looking down, you cannot look up.
Why are people who are obviously eaten up with Pride say they believe in God and appear very religious? They are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing before a phantom God, but are really imagining how much this God approves of them and thinks them better than ordinary people. (VR: Pharisee’s prayer: I thank God that I am not as other men.)
Whenever we think that our religious life makes us better than other people, we are being acted on not by God but by the Devil.
The real test of being in the presence of God is that you see yourself as a small dirty thing or you forget about yourself altogether. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.
Teachers appeal to a boy’s pride or self-respect, to get him to behave decently, you can even overcome other sins through an appeal to pride. (VR: I’m not sure about this one). However, the devil is happy with that, he is happy to cure your chilblains by giving you cancer.
However: Pleasure in being praised is not pride. Vanity, the pursuit of the praise of others, is a kind of pride, but it is the kind that is least bad—at least you care about what someone other than yourself thinks.
One should be glad that one has pleased another, and even more glad that one has pleased God. VR: I should think, as well, that one should be pleased to have achieved any worthwhile goal.
Someone can be “proud” of a son, or father, or school, or regiment, etc. If we mean admiration, then that is not a sin. However, if you give yourself airs because of it that is a sin.
God does not forbid Pride because it offends God’s own pride, but because God wants you to know Him, and your pride gets in the way.
Lewis says he wishes he could tell us what it is really like to get free from pride.
A truly humble person would not be a self-denigrating person; he would simply be a cheerful person who was very interested in what you said to him.
First step toward humility? Realize that you are proud.