Mere Christianity | Study Guide

C.S. Lewis

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Mere Christianity | Book 3, Chapter 8 : Christian Behavior (The Great Sin) | Summary

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Summary

In this chapter Lewis addresses the vice of pride and its opposite, the virtue of humility. Pride is the central vice of Christian morality. The prouder we are, the more we are annoyed by others' displays of pride because pride is inherently competitive. Pride grows out of our love of power and of feeling superior to others. Other vices may at times unify people, but pride only causes division and anguish. It creates "enmity between man and man" and "enmity to God." Pride prevents us from knowing God, as He is "in every respect immeasurably superior" to us.

There is an easy test for pride, Lewis says. One who is truly in "the presence of God" regards himself "as a small, dirty object" or, better yet, loses self-concern altogether.

According to Lewis, pride is a spiritual vice "direct from Hell." The devil sometimes helps people overcome the simpler vices in order to entrap them in the "Dictatorship of Pride." Such people begin to congratulate themselves on developing virtuous character, but they are actually being taken over by the worst vice of all, pride. Pride differs from mere vanity because vanity still wants to do the right thing, even if only for the resultant praise. Pride doesn't care for praise or blame because it looks down on others. We can still be proud of another's accomplishments, and it is not a vice unless this pride translates into us feeling superior.

God wants us to know him, but we cannot until we become humble. Humility must not be confused with self-deprecation. Its arrival is a relief, for humility means a person casts off the silly pretensions and agendas that had previously made life difficult. Humble persons are recognized by their interest in others and the ease with which they live. The first step in becoming humble is to become aware of one's pride.

Analysis

Just as fortitude, or courage, is the central virtue that underlies all the other virtues, pride is the central vice in Lewis's presentation. The severity of the vice of pride is underscored by the chapter's title, "The Great Sin." Lewis presents pride as a failure to recognize one's true standing in the universe. It represents a delusion that is very hard to uproot because the delusion insists so strongly on its own superiority.

Pride cannot see itself, and this unconsciousness becomes a weapon in the hands of the devil. In fact, the whole universal war between God and Satan began in the Garden of Eden at the moment when Eve's pride compelled her to do what God had instructed her not to do. Any defiance of God's will is an act of pride. Eve's was the first, and it set into motion the entire drama between good and evil.

In a previous chapter, Lewis stated that people who practice Christian morality enter into a struggle against their Diabolical nature and their Animal nature. The Animal nature is not evil in the same way that Diabolical nature is because animals have no Moral Law pressing upon them as far as we know. The devil, on the other hand, is the devil precisely because pride led him to defy the Moral Law. The devil now uses pride to manipulate humanity into joining his rebellion against God. Because pride has the quality of being able to masquerade as virtue, the Christian must maintain constant vigilance against it.

The real problem with pride is that it prevents us, by its very nature, from knowing God. We cannot know what God is until we recognize how small and repulsive we are in comparison to Him. It is not that God punishes us for our pride by withholding the experience of Him. Rather, our own pride builds the wall that keeps us separate from God.

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