On June 1, 2021, Joe Biden used his bully pulpit to encourage Americans to stand proud in our nation’s march for what he called equality. “Pride stands for courage. [Pride] stands for justice, and most of all [pride] stands for love … Happy Pride Month!” the president tweeted.
In the fall of 1942, C.S. Lewis took to the airways of his nation to encourage his fellow citizens to, likewise, stand resolute. But the differences between Lewis’ speech and President Biden’s tweet are stark.
In the face of an actual existential threat, the Oxford don didn’t speak of contrived notions of social justice or the faulty logic of defining ourselves by our desires. He didn’t talk of a person’s right to do whatever he wanted but instead spoke of every man’s obligation to do what he must. Lewis didn’t flatter with messages of moral license, but rather he reminded all his listeners of God’s moral law.
When C.S. Lewis took to his day’s version of social media via the BBC, he didn’t speak in platitudes of “affirmation” and “tolerance.” He didn’t talk sanctimoniously of “inclusion” and “love.” Instead, he spoke forthrightly about what he called his nation’s “Great Sin.”
And what was this sin that Lewis described as “worse than any other?”
“There is one vice,” he said.,” [a sin] of which no man in the world is free … [That] essential vice, that utmost evil, is pride.
He went on.
“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.”
Lewis argued that pride makes you feel you are “better” than everyone else. “It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.” A proud person is never satisfied. Pride makes us always want more. More influence. More control. More power. “If I am a proud man,” he said, “then as long as there is one man in the whole world more powerful, or richer or cleverer than I, he is my rival and my enemy.”
Lewis characterized pride as the chief cause of human misery since the dawn of time. He said pride not only makes us enemies with each other, but it also makes us enemies with 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.”
“How is it,” asked Lewis, “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 worshiping an imaginary God … ; 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.”
Lewis also said that pride leads to the damnation of self-righteousness. “Many a man has overcome [lesser sins] by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity … The Devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you become [virtuous] provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the dictatorship of pride — just as he would be quite content to see your [common cold] cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of [true] love, or contentment, or even common sense.”
Pride leads to the disdain of others, said Lewis. “The real black, diabolical pride comes when you look down on others so much that you do not care what they think … But the proud man says … ‘All I have done has been done to satisfy my own ideals, or, in a word, because I’m That Kind of Chap. If the mob like it, let them. They’re nothing to me.’”
This all sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Self-righteousness. The loss of common sense. False definitions of courage, justice, and love. Looking downward at others rather than upwards toward God.
Maybe as America begins its month-long celebration of pride, our leaders would do well to stop their smug virtue signaling and instead consider what C.S. Lewis told us some 79 years ago. Maybe in the face of this “most mortal of all sins” — this “complete anti-God state of mind” — our president would do well to call upon our nation to confess its sin rather than celebrate it.
• Everett Piper (dreverettpiper.com, @dreverettpiper), a columnist for The Washington Times, is a former university president and radio host. He is the author of “Not a Daycare: The Devastating Consequences of Abandoning Truth” (Regnery) and, most recently, “Grow Up: Life Isn’t Safe, But It’s Good” (Regnery, 2021).