Pride: The Great Sin

C.S. Lewis

A brief excerpt from Mere Christianity. Copyright Macmillan Publishing, 1943.

… 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, 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 … Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

…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 patronize me, or show off?” The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with everyone else’s pride. It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise… Pride is essentially competitive … 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.

…The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and in every family since the world began. … Pride always means enmity; it is enmity. And not enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.

In God you come 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. … Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love or contentment or even common sense.

(But) I must guard against some possible misunderstandings:

(1) Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well, the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the praised soul to whom Christ sells “Well done,” are pleased and ought to be…

(2) We say in English that a man is “proud” of his son, or of his father, or of his school, or regiment, and it may be asked whether “pride” in this sense is a sin. I think it depends on what, exactly, we mean by “proud of.” Very often, the phrase “is proud of” means “has warm-hearted admiration for.” Such an admiration is, of course, very far from being a sin…

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize 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.

Excerpted from Mere Christianity, Macmillan Publishing, 1943. Used in accordance with the “Fair Use” doctrine. All rights reserved.

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