C.S. Lewis is considered by many to be one of the greatest authors ever. More than 300 million copies of his books have been sold; and though he died in 1963, hundreds of thousands of his books are still purchased each year. One of his most well-known works is Mere Christianity, in which he intellectually lays out a defense of the Christian faith. In a section labeled “Christian Behavior,” he discusses topics such as cardinal virtues, social and sexual morality, forgiveness, charity, and hope, followed by a chapter entitled, “The Great Sin.”
Lewis reveals that the great sin in life is pride and arrogance. He goes on to say that “Pride has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.”
Lewis goes on to describe pride as a spiritual cancer that destroys our ability to genuinely love others and prevents us from being content. As a spiritual cancer, pride slowly grows and develops in our lives, becoming well-established without our knowledge. Lewis says that pride is purely spiritual; it originates straight from hell and consequently is far more subtle and deadly than all other sins. We readily recognize it and hate it in others, but most of us believe that we are in no way afflicted by it.
Without realizing it, pride explains so much of the dysfunction in our lives:
- It explains why we worry so much about what people think about us.
- It explains why we always compare ourselves with others.
- Pride keeps us, particularly men, from having good relationships – we can’t be transparent. We can’t share our struggles, our weakness, our fears.
- It explains why we are paralyzed by the fear of failure – which is like a psychological death.
- And then when we do experience any type of failure: experience great shame – which for many leads to depression and often suicide.
Then there is a real dark side to pride that is so difficult to see. Sociologist Anthony Campolo shares how this so often plays out with parents in the raising of their children:
We will never know how many children have had their lives made miserable by being pushed to achievements which makes their parents look good. Children who are driven to psychological exhaustion for academic achievement often know that their labor is primarily to enhance the status of their parents. Behind the claims that the parents expect the children to do well, because success in school will increase their options, is the ugly reality that the achievements of the children visibly demonstrate the superiority of the parents. This is what pride can do to our families.
When it became apparent that the Vietnam War was not winnable and that the United States should pull out, 85% of our military leaders refused to endorse this option because they felt it would be humiliating. Their pride would not allow them to go along with this decision.
Lyndon Johnson refused to pull out because, as he put it: “I would not look very manly.” If we chose to withdraw our troops Richard Nixon made a similar response: “I do not want to be the first president in history to have lost a war.”
This is what pride can do to a nation. Thousands of young men died in Vietnam because of the pride of our leaders. They feared how it would make them look if we withdrew from a war that they knew was not winnable.
This has made me wonder what the ultimate extent of pride’s devastation is to people’s lives and relationships. Its consequences can cascade through our lives. It creates incredible instability, fear and weakness. Since we cannot detect pride in the depths of our hearts, we never really know what is wrong with us.
This is why humility is of great value. Stephen Covey said, “Humility truly is the mother of all virtues. It makes us a vessel, a vehicle, an agent instead of ‘the source’ or the principle. Humility is the place of growth and strength. There is power in the humble life.