Friday, December 23, 2011

The Great Sin

I am really trying to at least finish reading this book before New Years, if not finish posting about it. I'm a chapter or so ahead of what I'm posting at the moment.

Mostly this is due to the fact that one of my Christmas presents was American Jesus by Stephen Prothero and I'm going to break protocol and read that one next rather than throw it into the Bag of Books! So I'm really looking forward to getting to start it but I need to finish Mere Christianity first!

Another of my presents, by the by, was In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, thanks to my fabulous Big Sis! That book is on Murdock so I'm reading it at the gym. I just started it, but it's already very engrossing. *blinks* I've just realised this means I'm not currently reading any fiction books. *waits to see if the world will come to an end* So far so good!
So let's see...we're up to Pride.

"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 our-selves. 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."

And that's because...pride was the first sin, right? According to most Christian thinking at any rate. Pride was what caused Lucifer to refuse to bow down and serve humanity, who he saw as being lesser than himself and all the other angels, and/or to believe that he could sit on God's throne. 

"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."

I think that's true, to a point. But then you also can't allow yourself to be a doormat either. There are people out there who don't respect opinions, etc. and will just move you around like a doll if you let them. Users. Do they maybe have an overdose of pride? I think so. But you not having any pride/spine isn't a solution either. Sometimes the scenarios Lewis lists are clashes of egos(pride). Other times they're other people being assholes and/or manipulative.

"Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man."

"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."

"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."

I think it's obvious but I should point out that there is a difference between Pride and pride. And Lewis does make that point later on. There's the Pride that he talks about above, where it drives you to be in competition with, basically, everything and everyone under the sun because you need to be better than they are in every respect in order to feel good about yourself and then there's pride in things. We'll talk about that in a bit.

Lewis believes that people who are clearly Prideful cannot ever be truly religious. They 'worship an imaginary God' according to him and are in reality being misled by the devil. Or their own egos, since we know how much I hate blaming everything that goes wrong in a persons life (or the world) on the poor devil.

"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."

I totally get this. I didn't think it at the time, but when I was covering I did fall into this category. I said that I wasn't judging the women who didn't cover, but I did. Not always consciously, but I did. I thought that I was better, closer to God than they were for doing so and that they just needed to be educated and then they'd see how wrong they were. I felt very good about being so humble.

The funny thing is this: Lewis points out that quite often people use Pride in order to overcome lesser sins. Cowardice, lust, anger, etc. have all been overcome by an appeal to Pride, that they are beneath someone's dignity.

"The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled 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."

Okay. On to the lower case 'pride' which is not the same as the sin of Pride.

Lewis says:

1. Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. Feeling good that you've been told you did a good job is a good and natural thing. Because the pleasure comes not from feeling that you are superior inherently in and of yourself, but in pleasing someone that you wanted to please. The trouble, where this goes from pride to Pride, is when you go from thinking 'I've pleased them' to thinking 'How great am I that I've done all of this?' And the more you delight in yourself and the less in the praise, the worse you are. At the point when you feel completely self-satisfied all the time and don't care at all what anyone else thinks, ever, because you know that you're the best thing out there then you've hit rock bottom.

2. Pride in family, school, regiment, workplace. Lewis says that it all depends on what the person means when they say they're proud of such things. If they mean that they have warm admiration for them, then that's right and fine. You should feel good about the institutions that you join and participate in. But if they mean that they're somehow better than anyone else because they 'come from' such and such a family, or they went to such and such a school then that has gone over into the area of Pride.

3. God doesn't forbid Pride because He's offended by it. God wants to make people humble in order to make the moment possible where you can meet him. Lewis believes that you cannot get near God and not be humbled by it. (Which I totally agree with. If you were to really meet something so much more powerful than yourself, the only sane reaction is a realization of the very smallness of your own being.) So God forbids Pride because it is such the opposite of human nature in relation to Himself. Pride will not, according to Lewis, ever get you anything or where good in the long run, especially not in the spiritual sense. And since that's the ultimate end of everything, to die and go before God, that's the biggest thing to focus on.

4. A truly humble person is not one that is always telling you that they're nobody. It is someone who you would never even think of in that way. Someone who is cheerful and smart who people just generally like.


  1. Dear Miss Amber, Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic new year.

    Sarah x

  2. Oooh, great post. I really like the paragraph about the devil laughing. It makes sense what he says about the devil (or our egos if you prefer) being OK with us being chaste, moral, covering, good people, what have you as long as that makes you proud. Like you noted about yourself when you covered, if I can say, "Oh look at her, the slut. I never gave myself to anyone outside of marriage. I am so much better than she is." or "look at all that skin she shows. What a whore. I cover myself and show my devotion to God." Satan (ego) doesn't care if you are covered or chaste if he can give you spiritual cancer (pride) which is much much worse and keeps you from knowing God!

    And that is very scary because I admit to struggling with this more than I probably would like to admit.

    Great points about pride and Pride and I liked #4 about a humble person. Really thought-provoking post. Thanks for your willingness to share your thoughts on this book!

    What? No fiction in your life as of this writing? I'm sure you'll remedy this soon! I hope Murdock likes the book. It sounds interesting! I remember reading "American Jesus" and finding pictures to go with my posts on it. Fun times!

    Merry Christmas!

  3. Sarah,

    A belated Merry Christmas to you and yours as well!

  4. Susanne,

    It was a good chapter. Whether or not you think that the devil drives such impulses, they're clearly a problem within our personalities that we need to deal with. They don't serve any good purpose when taken to the extremes talked about here.

    I think we all struggle with it way more than we'd want to admit. It's part of our pride, you know? To think of ourselves as the perfect, or nearly so, example of what we think we should be. Admitting to flaws is extremely hard. :)

    Thank you! I have my moments of enjoyment with this book. Much of what Lewis says is very obvious and correct, though I don't agree with him that the only way to get to certain points is from a Creator. I do believe in God, I'm just saying that it's not as black and white as Lewis proposes. But much of what he says, especially in these last two chapters is very good and useful no matter what theological stance you might take.

    Susanne....that book. I've got to tell you, it's kind of disturbing. It's based off of and quotes personal memoirs of the Dodd family and others and reading it, knowing what's happening that they're not seeing, knowing what's coming and reading about them agreeing with the Germans that there *is* a 'Jewish problem' and that the Jews have too much power, etc. etc. and this American family (and others) making excuses for the building abuses is really sobering. And then you get the parts where someone will offhandedly mention the new detention center where people are kept in 'protective custody' at Dachau and you's a good book, but disturbing at the same time.

  5. Wow that book DOES sound disturbing! I may have to find it for myself. Thanks for sharing about that so I'd know better what it's about.

  6. Susanne,

    When I finish it I'll post a review. It's very good so far, like I said.

  7. I'd never heard pride described as the first sin. I'm not sure if that's a denominational thing, or if the people who taught me think of sin as a human problem and so it wouldn't apply, or if they just didn't think to word it that way, or what. And then of course, my very liberal seminary would never seriously mention Lucifer/Satan/any evil being as a literal thing, so...yeah, I wouldn't have heard it there. (Neither necessarily says much about "most Christian thinking," though...they're both sort of on the extreme to either side.)

    At first, I was annoyed that he said only Christians ever accuse themselves of Pride, then I realized that it makes perfect sense for this to be the case. Since Pride and pride aren't the same, only a Christian ever would talk about Pride. It's only a sin in that capital sense, which really only comes up in Christian tradition. The rest of us call it "arrogance," and I think that nearly everyone will admit that they display this at times. Yay, words.

    Weird application I've been thinking about lately. I've struggled with Pride/arrogance in blogging, but then also learned to overcome it the same way. While I love the possibility of meeting other people and helping each other to learn through blogs, I shied away from commenting because I worried that people would see my blog and decide I was silly or wrong. Finally I had to realize that wasn't humility but a desire to be seen as clever and spiritual, and fear that that wouldn't happen and the people I respected would cut me down. Realizing that helped me to start conversations with more experienced people even though it was scary, because from the other side I saw that I should be humbled by their experience, and I should take advantage of the possibility that they might correct me. They know more, and getting to learn from someone who's so far ahead is a great opportunity that I would hate to miss by being arrogant. So really, we have a lot more to gain from humility, even without the religious/sin aspect.

  8. sanil,

    Honestly, it's only something that I came across relatively recently, meaning in the past couple of years. And it makes sense. But growing up it was never laid out in those terms that Satan's sin was Pride, just that he rebelled. And I came away with the impression that Adam and Eve's sin had something to do with sex...

    But now it's like...that's the common understanding that I somehow never got before, that Satan's sin was Pride and that it played a huge role in Adam and Eve sinning and getting expelled from the Garden.

    Yeah. And that's why I didn't argue the point with him. Pride, the way he defines it, is a Christian concept. It doesn't mean that other people aren't prideful or arrogant, and never admit to it, but they just don't think about it in that same mindset.

    Oh! I don't think that's a weird application of the idea at all! Very interesting. We don't want to be seen as silly because of our pride. I get that.

  9. Yeah I struggle with this too... like Susanne said, more than I like to admit.

    Thank you for this really honest and thought-provoking post Amber.

    Also, Sanil, I've been looking for your blog, but there doesn't seem to be a link in your profile? :)

  10. Becky,

    Thank you.

    I really think we all struggle with it more than we want to admit and that's part of the problem, you know? It's our pride/Pride that keeps us from being able to admit that we have a problem.

    BTW: sanil's blog is - it's also on my sidebar to the right if you want a clicky link.


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