Pride, the sin of “over-against”…

C. S. Lewis

The posture of pride is “over-against” — over-against both man and God.  C. S. Lewis calls it the “great sin” and devotes a whole chapter to pride in Mere Christianity.  He helps us see that pride is essentially competitive, that it is competitive by its very nature.


According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites 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. …


The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But Pride always means enmity—it 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.


I pointed out a moment ago that the more pride one had, the more one disliked pride in others. 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 any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?” The point it that each person’s pride is in competition with every one 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. Two of a trade never agree. 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. 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. If every one else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not. The sexual impulse may drive two men into competition if they both want the same girl. But that is only by accident; they might just as likely have wanted two different girls. 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.


Greed may drive men into competition if there is not enough to go round; but the proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will try to get still more just to assert his power. Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride. …


Pride or self-conceit, Lewis points out, is the vice opposite the virtue of humility.  While “The Great Sin” (Book III, Ch. 8 in Mere Christianity) focuses on understanding pride, Lewis also includes several helpful insights regarding growth in humility—as well as the difficult project of riding ourselves of pride.


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 any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?” The point is that each person’s pride is in competition with every one else’s pride. …


[God] 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. …


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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2 Responses to “Pride, the sin of “over-against”…”

  1. I rememeber C. S. Lewis saying in MERE CHRISTIANITY that pride comes from the pit of hell. No one could have said it better. It is terrifying because when I examine my life, what I pass off as “righteous indignation,” or just being “rough around the edges” is pride that needs to be confessed by me.


  2. I wonder if these observations can be scaled up to view world problems as being rooted in national pride? My old college history books blamed nationalism as the cause of WWII. This might have explained the German,Italian and Japan’s nationalism fairly well but there was shame and outrage as a result of the Pearl Harbor Raid. They made us look unprepared to say the least.

    I think that our pride in our past economic accomplishments now prevent us from even considering that there are limits to the social programs that can be supported. Even when Obamacare is given only a six year financial lifespan before it is broke, we push on with no plan to fix it or even mitigate the short viable lifespan that it will have. Critics of the President like Dinesh DeSouza, say that he wants to bring the country down a notch. Can diminished pride save us? Probably not because we have a particularly difficult pride to extinguish.

    We prefer pride in our intentions over pride in our results. This only makes the bad results last longer and become more toxic over time. We seem to attack the bad results to give longer life to pride in our intentions. This is like playing football with the intention of winning but when the score is displayed, we must somehow blame the scoreboard for producing an “unjust” outcome. Obviously, Truth is a major casualty with a collision with Pride.