Mere Christianity Part 19

Chapter 8 in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis is “The Great Sin.” This chapter discusses the sin of pride.

Lewis begins by stating “The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit.” Pride and self-conceit are not the same things. Pride is “a feeling of elation or satisfaction at achievements or qualities or possessions etc. that do one credit.” Conceit is “a far-fetched comparison, esp. as a stylistic affectation.” You can have pride without being conceited.

He then claims that “it was through Pride that the devil became the devil.” No, the devil became the devil because he disobeyed God. It can be said that pride led him to disobey God, but I’d say it was more likely love. “Pride leads to every other vice.” Prove it. Seriously, this is an extraordinary claim. Lewis would have to go through every vice, prove that it was in fact a vice, and then prove that it was caused by pride to make this claim correct. I could make it incorrect simply by pointing to one vice not caused by pride. For example: addiction is not caused by pride. Since addiction is seen as something to avoid, it is a vice. It’s caused by having a particular personality type that makes one more sensitive to becoming addicted. Nobody is proud of their addiction, at least not that I’m aware of.

Lewis goes on to argue “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 notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?'” Where is the evidence that this test works? How is it prideful to dislike being patronized or snubbed?  Those are very rude behaviours in themselves. I’d find it odd if even the most humble person was okay with them. That doesn’t signal pride, it signals that a person has been effectively taught societal moral beliefs. The dislike of being overlooked may be more accurate, but I’d still say your dislike of being overlooked says something else about you, namely that you are extroverted as opposed to introverted. As an introvert, I often try very hard to be overlooked. I doubt an extrovert would say the same.

He then states “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.” Again, evidence?

According to Lewis, “It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.” I’m proud to be able t say that I am organizing a conference. But I know very well that I’m not going to be the best at it. There are others with far more experience than I have. I’ve already made mistakes, and I’m sure to make quite a few more. But I’m learning a skill that I’m hoping will be useful in the future. I’m doing something that I never thought I’d do, but it turns out to be something that I’d like to do more of. How, exactly, is that competitive?

He then argues “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.” I’m pretty sure he’s describing a narcissist, actually. That is a very special level of pride. And, just a side note, you can’t actually have what you don’t own taken from you. “Take” implies ownership. You do not own your partner. If they leave you, that’s their choice (unless they were kidnapped).

He claims that “10,000 pounds will give all the luxuries that any man can really enjoy.” Man I wish this were still true. Of course, without regaining a lot of the labour issues from the time.

Lewis says of pride “What makes a pretty girl spread misery wherever she goes by collecting admirers? Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is often quite sexually frigid.” Wow. How sexist. First off, nobody can make you sexually or physically attracted to them. One can try by wearing certain clothes and applying certain products, but it’s your own brain that causes you to become attracted to the person. As such, an individual person has very little control over whether or not they collect admirers. The ones who can collect admirers usually don’t have to put much effort into it. Second, men really are not the only ones who have sex drives. Women like sex too. And third, we live in a society that tells women to suppress their sexual desires lest they be sluts, but if they do suppress them they are prudes. To say that a woman must be sexually frigid because she is pretty is perpetuating a very problematic belief.

He then argues “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.” Again, this sounds more like a narcissist than simply someone who is prideful.

And he states that “As long as you are proud you cannot know God.” If you can’t know God if you are proud, but all people suffer from the sin of pride, then how come Lewis keeps making assertions about knowing what God wants us to do?

Lewis says of those who are prideful “I am afraid it means they are worshiping 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.” How does Lewis know what other people are thinking, or the accuracy of their beliefs? Is he a mind-reader? Does he have some sort of special access to God’s knowledge that these other people don’t?

He claims “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.” So…whenever you feel good about yourself, it’s because of the devil? But God is the good guy? In that case, why worship God? He makes you feel bad and worthless, but the devil makes you feel good.

Then he goes on to say “The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself all together or see yourself as a small dirty object.” But God isn’t an abusive boyfriend at all. No, he loves you. He makes you hate yourself, but he loves you so it’s okay.

Lewis finished by stating that “The other, and less bad, vices come from the devil working on us through our animal nature.” This right here is evidence that C.S. Lewis accepted evolution.


5 responses to “Mere Christianity Part 19

  • nuclearkumquat

    I have to disagree with you on several points here. Firstly, you misunderstand the terminology Lewis is using here when referring to Pride. Pride is defined as “a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired” whereas self-conceit is defined as “undue pride in oneself”. The Christian idea of pride is a bit different than that of the secular view. Some pride is considered ok, you should be proud of your own work and success if it’s been earned honestly, and even proud of your wife or children. But by being “proud” of these things one is also expected to know that they were only able to achieve these things through the grace of God, so that there is a kind of humbleness in their pride (it’s an oxymoron, I know). So really it can be said that a Christian is never supposed to be proud of earthly things at all, but overjoyed that the Lord has blessed them with success or other things. See Daniel 4:29-33 for an example of this. So because Christians believe that all things come from God, then taking pride in anything you do because of your own merit is undue pride (self-conceit). This kind of pride does lead to bad things and corrupts the hearts of men.
    You next state that it was not Pride that led Satan to betray God. This is contrary to almost every biblical scholar or commentator I’ve ever read. It was absolutely pride that led the Devil to fall. He was so proud of his own merits and accomplishments (such as his beauty, power, position as choir master, etc.) that he began to see himself as a one above the authority of God. This is an idea explored by many theologians and displayed very well in John MIlton’s “Paradise Lost”.
    Your next point tries to dismiss Lewis’s claim that Pride is the chief among the vices. I won’t waste my time attempting to show you why each vice is in fact a vice (if you really want an argument for that then there are plenty of theologians and even philosophers who make very strong points about these things). I will, however, attempt to clarify what Lewis means by saying that Pride leads to all other vices. This goes back to the Christian outlook on Pride. All people are called to put their whole heart and faith in God. So whenever a person devotes their heart to something else, they separate themselves from God and this is what we refer to as “sin”. Pride is always the first step in this process, because in order to sin, one must believe that they are wise enough or good enough to stand on their own without God’s guidance, so that they have an immense amount of pride in themselves even though, according to Christian theology, they have no real merits or reason for believing this way. So pride leads to that separation from God, and that is the first step towards all sin. Why does a person do drugs? Because they believe they have the right to control their own body and what goes into and don’t believe that God has any right to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do. They pride themselves in their own wisdom and intelligence, believing they have the capacity to make the best choices for themselves. Why do people give in to lust? Again, because they think they’re wiser than God. They think something along the lines of “sex feels good, God and his followers don’t know what they’re talking about, I’m smart enough to make my own choices”.
    Another criticism you raise in regards to Lewis’s book is his method of finding out how prideful you are. This is something that I think can be easily misinterpreted. Lewis isn’t trying to suggest here that you should just be ok with every criticism thrown at you, but how offended do you get when you are criticized? And why are you offended? If your knee-jerk reaction to critique is to puff up into an angry ball and insist that you couldn’t be wrong, that ‘s a sign of too much pride. A proper response to any criticism is to first consider that it could be correct or true. Sometimes they’re not good critiques, and it’s perfectly reasonable in those circumstances to politely explain why you see/do things the way you do. Lewis only means that if you genuinely dislike criticism in general, then it is probably because you are too proud of yourself and are too arrogant to admit that you may sometimes be wrong.
    I think the rest of your questions can be answered with my explanations above in mind or within Lewis’s book. He does a fair job of explaining all of this in my opinion, but it is still understandable for a person who is not Christian, or even a Christian without a very good understanding of theology, to misunderstand what exactly Lewis is getting at. Mere Christianity is a collection of radio talks, and I think this is important to know when diving into the book. Lewis uses a lot of conversational language and assumes that the listener/reader already has some basic understanding of the concepts being discussed. I would suggest that you at least make an attempt to research Christian responses, commentaries, and explanations of Lewis’s work before criticizing it. I hope that I didn’t come off as rude or confrontational in any way, as I am only trying to explain what Lewis means from a Christian perspective. Have a blessed day!


    • hessianwithteeth

      Since the story of Lucifer isn’t in the Bible itself, it’s difficult to say much in the way of motivation. But the story I’ve learned is that Lucifer, the favorite of God’s angels, refused to bow down to the humans when God commanded the angels to do so. He didn’t refuse to bow down because he thought he was above God or above bowing down, but because God said that men were above angels and above even God himself. God said that human free will made humans deserving of rule over earth. This angered Lucifer, partially because he didn’t believe that such flawed creatures were superior to angels (pride), but mostly because he didn’t believe any creature was superior to God (loyalty). His crime was disobedience, not pride, and his motivation, from the story I’ve heard, was loyalty more than pride. But again, I’m sure there are many versions of that story, so the exact motivation is hard to say.


    • hessianwithteeth

      Lewis’s arguments are problematic because he’s trying to teach people what Christianity is. That assumes that the reader is not a Christian, or at least doesn’t know much about Christianity. However, his arguments are such that they would only be accepted by those who already accept a Christian world view. You cannot hope to convince someone that your world view is correct that way. His talk about pride is not something that a non-Christian would accept. Reading other Christians is not going to help me understand Lewis (I don’t have any problems understanding him, I just disagree with him), nor will it make me accept his arguments. It just adds another unnecessary step.


      • nuclearkumquat

        I’m not sure where you heard that God declared men to be above Himself, but I can assure this is not, nor has it ever been, a commonly held church doctrine. There may not be as much in the Bible about Satan as Jesus, but there are other sources of information biblical scholars have used to determine the nature and history of the Devil that line up with the picture presented in scripture
        I do think that you’ve misunderstood Lewis’s intent in writing the Mere Christianity as well. Lewis did not intend for this book to be used as a means to convert people. It was instead an attempt to find different doctrines and beliefs held by most of the different church denominations in order to bring about a more united Christian community. Lewis had certainly forseen that non-believers would eventually read his book, however, and so he made a little effort to present in a way that they could understand if they wished to dig a little bit more into Christian doctrine. If you feel that it is a waste of your time to further research the topic, then perhaps you shouldn’t read the book at all. Lewis’s purpose for writing are made very clear in the preface of the book, and though he is certainly optimistic that a deeper understanding of the Christian outlook on life may persuade some to change their minds about God, this was never his main goal.


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