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Mere Christianity - Book Three - The Great Sin

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Spirit/e—Mere Christianity

2009. 10. 10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Three

 

CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOUR

 

 

 

    8. The Great Sin



     Today I 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 flea
bites  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 it 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  every  one  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.


     Take it with money. Greed will certainly make a man want money, for the
sake of a better house, better holidays, better things to eat and drink. But
only up to a point What is it dial makes a man  with  Ј10,000 a year anxious
to get Ј20,000 a year? It  is  not the greed for more pleasure. Ј10,000 will
give all the luxuries that any man can really enjoy. It is Pride-the wish to
be richer than  some other rich man,  and (still more) the  wish  for power.
For, of course, power  is what Pride really enjoys: there is nothing makes a
man feel so  superior to others  as  being  able to move them about like toy
soldiers.  What  makes  a  pretty  girl spread misery  wherever she goes  by
collecting admirers? Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is
quite often sexually frigid. It is Pride. What is it that makes  a political
leader or a whole nation go on and on, demanding more and more? Pride again.
Pride is competitive by its very nature: that is why it goes on and on. If I
am a proud man, then,  as long as there  is one  man in the whole world more
powerful, or richer, or cleverer than I, he is my rival and my enemy.


     The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of
misery in every nation  and  every family since the world began. Other vices
may  sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes
and friendliness among drunken people  or unchaste people.  But Pride always
means  enmity-it  is  enmity.  And not only enmity  between man and man, but
enmity to God.


     In  God  you  come  up  against  something  which  is in every  respect
immeasurably  superior  to  yourself.  Unless  you  know  God  as  that-and,
therefore, know yourself as nothing  in comparison-  you do  not know God at
all.  As  long as  you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is  always
looking  down on  things and people: and, of  course, as  long  as  you  are
looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.


     That  raises a terrible question. How is it that people  who are  quite
obviously  eaten up with Pride  can  say they believe in God  and appear  to
themselves very  religious? I am  afraid it  means they  are  worshipping an
imaginary God.  They  theoretically admit themselves  to be  nothing  in the
presence of this phantom God,  but are really all  the time imagining how He
approves  of them and thinks them  far better than ordinary people: that is,
they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility  to  Him  and get  out  of it  a
pound's worth of Pride towards  their  fellow-men. I suppose it was of those
people Christ was thinking when He said that some would preach about Him and
cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that He
had never known them. And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap.
Luckily,  we have a test Whenever  we find that our religious life is making
us feel  that we are good-above all,  that we are better than someone else-I
think we may  be  sure that 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  either
forget about  yourself altogether  or see yourself as a small, dirty object.
It is better to forget about yourself altogether.


     It is a terrible thing  that  the worst of  all  the vices  can smuggle
itself  into the very centre of our religious life. But you can see why. The
other,  and  less bad, vices  come from the devil working on us  through our
animal nature. But  this does  not come through our animal nature  at all It
comes direct from Hell. It is  purely spiritual: consequently it is far more
subtle and deadly. For the same reason, Pride can often be used to beat down
the simpler vices. Teachers, in fact,  often appeal to a boy's Pride, or, as
they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave  decently: many a man has
overcome cowardice, or lust, or  ill-temper by learning to  think that  they
are beneath his dignity-that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly
content to see you becoming chaste  and brave and self-con trolled provided,
all the time,  he is setting  up in you the Dictatorship of Pride-just as he
would be quite content  to see your chilblains cured if he was  allowed,  in
return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual  cancer:  it eats up  the
very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.


     Before  leaving  this  subject  I  must  guard  against  some  possible
misunderstandings:


     (1)  Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on
the back  for doing a lesson well, the woman  whose beauty is praised by her
lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says "Well done," are pleased and ought
to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the  fact  that
you  have  pleased someone you wanted (and rightly  wanted)  to  please. The
trouble  begins when you pass from thinking,  "I have  pleased  him;  all is
well," to thinking, "What a fine person I must be to have done it." The more
you  delight in  yourself and the less you delight in the  praise, the worse
you are becoming. When you delight wholly in yourself and  do not care about
the praise  at all, you have reached the bottom. That is why vanity,  though
it is the sort of Pride which shows most on the surface, is really the least
bad  and most  pardonable  sort.  The  vain  person  wants praise, applause,
admiration, too much  and  is always  angling for  it. It is a fault,  but a
childlike and even (in an odd way) a humble fault. It shows that you are not
yet completely contented with  your own admiration.  You  value other people
enough to want them to look at you. You are, in fact, still human. The  real
black, diabolical Pride comes when  you look down on others so much that you
do not care what they think of you.  Of course, it is very right,  and often
our duty,  not to  care what people think of us, if we do  so  for the right
reason; namely, because we care  so incomparably  more what God  thinks. But
the Proud man has a different reason  for not  caring. He says "Why should I
care for  the  applause  of  that rabble  as  if their  opinion  were  worth
anything? And even if their opinions were of value, am  I the sort of man to
blush  with pleasure at a  compliment like some  chit of a girl at her first
dance?  No, I am  an integrated, adult personality. All I have done has been
done to satisfy my own ideals-or my artistic conscience-or the traditions of
my family- or, in a word, because I'm That Kind of Chap. If the mob like it,
let them. They're nothing to me." In this  way real  thoroughgoing Pride may
act  as a check on vanity;  for, as I  said a  moment ago, the  devil  loves
"curing"  a  small fault by giving you a great  one. We must try not  to  be
vain, but we must  never call  in our Pride  to  cure our vanity; better the
frying-pan than the fire.


     (2) We say in English that a man is "proud" of  his son, or his father,
or his school, or  regiment,  and it may  be  asked whether "pride" in  this
sense  is a sin. I think it depends on what, exactly, we mean by "proud of."
Very  often,  in  such  sentences, the phrase  "is  proud of" means  "has  a
warm-hearted admiration for." Such  an  admiration  is, of  course, very far
from being a sin. But it  might,  perhaps, mean that the  person in question
gives  himself airs on the ground of his distinguished father, or because he
belongs to a famous  regiment. This would,  clearly,  be a fault;  but  even
then,  it would  be better than being proud simply  of  himself. To love and
admire  anything  outside  yourself  is to  take  one step away  from  utter
spiritual ruin;  though we  shall not be  well so long as we love and admire
anything more than we love and admire God.


     (3)  We  must  not  think Pride is something  God forbids because He is
offended at it, or that  Humility is something He  demands as due to His own
dignity-as if God Himself  was  proud. He is not in the  least worried about
His  dignity. The  point is,  He wants you to know  Him; wants to  give  you
Himself. And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get
into any kind of touch  with  Him  you will, in fact, be  humble-delightedly
humble,  feeling the  infinite relief of having for once got rid of all  the
silly nonsense about  your  own  dignity  which  has  made you restless  and
unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this
moment  possible: trying to take off a lot  of  silly, ugly, fancy-dress  in
which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about  like the  little
idiots we  are. I wish  I had  got a bit further with humility myself: if  I
had, I could probably tell you more about the relief, the comfort, of taking
the fancy-dress off-getting rid of the false self, with all its "Look at me"
and  "Aren't  I a good  boy?"  and all its posing and posturing. To get even
near it,  even for  a moment, is like a drink of cold water  to  a man in  a
desert.


     (4) Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what
most people call "humble" nowadays: he  will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy
person,  who is always telling you that, of course, he is  nobody.  Probably
all you will  think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap
who took a real interest in what you  said  to him. If you do dislike him it
will be because you feel  a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life
so easily. He will not be thinking about humility:  he will not be  thinking
about himself at all.


     If anyone  would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the
first step.  The  first step is to realise  that one is proud. And a biggish
step, too. At  least,  nothing whatever  can be done before it. If you think
you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lewis describes the great sin as one in which no man in the world is free, which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in another, and which hardly any people except Christians ever confess to being guilty of.

  1. Have you ever recognized the great sin in yourself?
  2. What is the virtue that is opposite of pride?
  3. What is Lewis' suggested method to test how proud you are?
  4. What part does competition play in pride?
  5. What is another word that can be used to describe pride?
  6. According to Lewis, what is the real test of being in the presence of God?
  7. What are the 4 misunderstandings which Lewis discusses concerning pride?
  8. What is the first step to acquiring humility?

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Pride (or Self-Conciet) v. (Christian) Humility

 

"The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. .... 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."

  • Pride is the only vice that is competitive by nature. The other vices may result in occasional competition, but pride needs more of anything.
  • Pride is enmity... "And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God."

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that - and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison -you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. That raises a terrible question. How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound's worth of Pride towards their fellowmen. .... Luckily, we have a test. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good --above all, that we are better than someone else -- I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.

  • Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. "The trouble begins when you pass from thinking,, 'I have pleased him; all is well,' to thinking, 'What a fine person I must be to have done it.'"
  • The kind of pride that means "a warm hearted admiration for something/someone" is not Pride.
  • Pride is not a threat to God -- it is a threat to our relationship with him,
    The point is, He wants you to know Him: wants to give you Himself. And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble-delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are. I wish I had got a bit further with humility myself : if I had, I could probably tell you more about the relief, the comfort, of taking the fancy-dress off -getting rid of the false self, with all its 'Look at me' and 'Aren't I a good boy?' and all its posing and posturing. To get even near it, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.
  • A truly humble man "...will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. ... He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all."

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://lib.ru/LEWISCL/mere_engl.txt 

http://www.opendiscipleship.org/Mere_Christianity_leaders_notes

http://www.gordy-stith.com/Mere%20Christianity/mere_christianity_study_guide.htm