Mere Christianity, Book Three, Chapter 8: “The Great Sin”

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.

Pride (or Self-Conciet) v. (Christian) Humility

“The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. …. 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.”

  • Pride is the only vice that is competitive by nature. The other vices may result in occasional competition, but pride needs more of anything.
  • Pride 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. That raises a terrible question. How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means 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: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound’s worth of Pride towards their fellowmen. …. 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 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.

For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.

  • Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. “The trouble begins when you pass from thinking,, ‘I have pleased him; all is well,’ to thinking, ‘What a fine person I must be to have done it.'”
  • The kind of pride that means “a warm-hearted admiration for something/someone” is not Pride.
  • Pride is not a threat to God — it is a threat to our relationship with him,

    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.

  • A truly humble man “…will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. … He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

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.

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Parent: Mere Christianity: Leaders’ Notes Series

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