Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Terrible Question, on the John or Anywhere Else

My current On-the-John read is C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. These kinds of books are excellent for reading on the commode: They're broken up into fairly equal chapters because they were originally on the air - 10-minute radio broadcasts. Here's something I ran across today.

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 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.


If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise [sic] 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.

Earlier, in the same chapter (Chapter 8, "The Great Sin"), he says, "As long as you are proud you cannot know God." And as I read the excerpt above, thinking of others who fit the bill before thinking of myself, I see that I am in terrible need of mercy.


alison said...

Denial of self is an opportunity to make room for Christ's mercy and grace. Too often we settle for pride.

Thanks for posting this.

Dan said...

Funny thing...I think we probably all could think of others to whom it would apply, thus inditing us (me). Though I wonder at Lewis's use of the term "small, dirty, object." I think I've thought that far too much in my life, and suffered from the flipside of pride, an overactive conscience and guilt and condemnation. I say flipside, since I think sometimes that can be a sign of some bizarre type of pride too: the pride of being one of the few who really, truly understands His need for Christ, and smugly flaggelates himself. Pride is a funny thing, but regardless, I don't think God ever views us as small, dirty objects. He sees the sin that clings to us, that we're in need of a good washing, but I don't think it's the best way to describe how God views us.

There needs to be balance in it all I suppose, but the one thing I'm sure of: I have too much pride.

And aren't I great for realizing it?

Scott Lyons said...

I would agree, Dan. There are some other little things that I think Lewis could have hashed out a little better in this chapter as well. (Most of it is straining at gnats, of course.) But it makes for some excellent reflection regardless.

The excerpt struck me as I was in the middle of writing a bit about fundamentalist Catholics. I'll still write about them, of course, because someone's got to, but it did give me pause.