Monday, January 22, 2007

Bear with me, it's long


C.S. Lewis is brilliant. Our Sunday school class is reading through and discussing his book Mere Christianity. I am enjoying it immensely. It's been much too long since my brain has been engaged and challenged in this way. Yesterday we read Book III Chapter 8: The Great Sin. Here's a bit of it (all emphasis is mine):

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...

Boy, I dislike it in others! Even more, I dislike finding it practically galloping* in my life.

...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...

"The complete anti-God state of mind." Let me repeat that. ANTI-GOD state of mind. I really want no part of that.

... 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...

Doesn't it sound just so empty to think that way? Richer, cleverer, better-looking? I need to re-train my brain so that it really sinks in that NONE OF IT MATTERS!

...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...
It's so easy to look down on others and think I'm so...(fill in the blank), and forget to look up and realize that I'm a speck on the face of the earth and that I'm not really all that I think I am!

...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.
Say that five times. "It is better to forget about yourself altogether." Wow!

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

"He is not in the least worried about His dignity." He came to earth as a man, as a being he created in order that He might have a relationship with us. What a gift!

...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.


Read entire chapter

On the lighter side: Did you catch the movie allusion? What was the movie?
*Updated to say: The movie I alluded to was Arsenic and Old Lace starring Cary Grant. It's a line my family quoted the most while I was growing up. Here it is:

1 comment:

Sheila said...

Movie illusion - what was it? I totally missed it.
Excellent post, btw!