Screwtape, on Religious Pride


C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters presents the fictitious correspondence between Senior Demon Screwtape and his apprentice nephew, Wormwood. You can sense the pride Screwtape takes in his experienced insights into human foibles and failings, all of which he exploits, and instructs Wormwood to do the same, toward the end of hardening their hearts toward God. The following excerpt deals with tempting those who have already made religion a major part of their lives.

“Success here depends on confusing him. If you try to make him explicitly and professedly proud of being a Christian, you will probably fail; the Enemy’s warnings are too well known. If, on the other hand, you let the idea of ‘we Christians’ drop out altogether and merely make him complacent about ‘his set’, you will produce not true spiritual pride but mere social vanity which, by comparison, is a trumpery, puny little sin. What you want is to keep a sly self-congratulation mixing with all his thoughts and never allow him to raise the question ‘What, precisely, am I congratulating myself about?’ The idea of belonging to an inner ring, of being in a secret, is very sweet to him. Play on that nerve. Teach him, using the influence of this girl when she is silliest, to adopt an air of amusement at the things the unbelievers say. Some theories which he may meet in modern Christian circles may here prove helpful; theories, I mean, that place the hope of society in some inner ring of ‘clerks’, some trained minority of theocrats. It is no affair of yours whether those theories are true or false; the great thing is to make Christianity a mystery religion in which he feels himself one of the initiates.”

Lewis wrote, “the Enemy’s warnings are too well known.” Maybe that was the case when he penned these words, but pride in ones faith is now a major sin within the church, as many of us take an entitlement attitude toward Jesus’ lifesaving blood. Thing is, we come to faith in Christ as we should, but we “let it ride,” not filling our minds with the mental cleansing power of God’s Word. Those are the rocky ground on which the Word is sown(Matthew 3:3-23). So, God’s truth sprouts and grows for a while, but it can’t put down roots in our hearts so the winds of life just blow it away, leaving empty religion in its place.

Self-congratulatory pride is always sin. We must contrast that with the pride in your workmanship that keeps you doing your best work, because it says something about who you are. Then, there’s pride in God’s work in your life, which says everything about who you are in Christ. But as soon as you let those constructive forms of pride give you the sense of being better than others, it has become sin.

That may seem minor in this world of atrocities, but there is no “puny little sin.” Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone.” When you allow your pride to make you think you’re better than others, you make Jesus out to be a liar by thinking, “Both God and I are good.” That’s nothing less than blasphemy.

Screwtape had it right. Pride seems like a small thing, but like a small weed, if left alone it will take over the field and have to be rooted out and burned up.

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