The Great Sin
We begin with the Christian virtue of humility. In addressing that great virtue, humility, Lewis first describes “The Great Sin”, which is pride. It is interesting how things have changed in the generation since his writing. Personal pride, in this day and age, is now fostered in individuals to a degree that may be without historical precedent. We live in a world that glorifies the most entirely self-absorbed people imaginable. Though I could rattle off some names, I’d rather not deal with the troll responses. So just start your own list, you may perhaps begin with folks who are named after famous European locales.
Pride is considered by many, especially of the younger set (and Oprah fans of all ages), to be a virtue. In order to have this section make sense to the average, say, 25 year old, you may have to substitute the word “arrogance” for pride to get the intended meaning, because I’m not certain Lewis’ other term “self-conceit” is even all that frowned upon. But, with that in mind, what Lewis says is right on, “I have never 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.” This chapter was incredibly convicting and quite comparable to Edward’s treatment, in Religious Affections, of the same sin (though of necessity much briefer). Here Lewis unpacks pride in a way that must certainly expose everyone. His diagnostic tools are sharp and cut right to the heart. “…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 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….Pride is essentially competitive – it is competitive by its very nature – while 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….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.” And boy can I testify to the truth of that. When I was a younger woman, before I was a believer, there were few things more miserable for me than to have to occupy the same room with women prettier or more successful than myself. Well, God, through his grace, and the natural aging process, has done quite a work in that area of my life!
Lewis goes on to say that “Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride…it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.... Pride always means enmity – it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.”
And the most definitive statement of all: “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.”
This, of course, leads to the subject of religious hypocrites who are full of pride and yet claim to know God. Lewis’ explanation of the phenomenon is simple and spot-on: “…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.” And he offers excellent help for self-examination: “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.”
And finally, there’s this gem. We should all have it posted over our bathroom mirrors, or kitchen sinks, or wherever it will be seen many times a day: “…Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense”.
And to this I add my shamefaced "Amen". No doubt it is my own pride which makes it so difficult to for me to love the ones in this world I find so difficult to love. (And here Lewis again speaks directly to my #2 New Year's resolution!) May God grant me ongoing grace to mortify this sin in my life.