A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons – marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning (p. 78-9).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
It usually takes a strong conviction to completely give something up. Convictions like this are usually forged in the midst of painful or life changing experiences: broken heart (marriage), considering cruelty to animals (meat), a broken home or personal addiction (beer), or a stark awakening to the glorification and promotion of moral evils (cinema). There are many more examples than the four Lewis listed.
The question naturally arises, “How could a good person be for what I am against?” Framed in the context of your personal experience, it is hard to imagine a form of “good” that does not coincide with your personal conviction.
In addition to context, there is the strength required to hold an enduring conviction that is contra-cultural. You must be willing to face and answer doubters and antagonists. You face being jeered and questioned. Answered are developed and refined because they are asked for often and are given in the face of opposition. The expectation is solidified that, “Those who are not with me are against me.”
It is not that much further to assume that, “If I am doing this to honor God, then those who are against me are also against God. God delivered me from something painful or awakened me to something dark. This person is not fleeing from that pain or darkness. They must be foolish or evil.”
While the experience and verbiage may vary, the formula remains consistent. Yet the pattern itself does not warrant Lewis’ moral evaluation – “bad man.” Why use the term bad instead of misguided, overly passionate, or socially awkward? Why not settle for being descriptive instead of joining these people in being judgmental? Is Lewis committing the same sin?
I do not believe he is. When we impose our personal conviction on others and use it to declare that God is for us and against those who do not follow our conviction, we are adding to the Gospel. We have begun to divide the “sheep” from the “wolves” on the basis of our emphasis within the teaching of Scripture (here giving the benefit of the doubt to these personal convictions).
It is much easier to identify these convictions in other people. When we experience such convictions in the lives of others, they make us feel uncomfortable, conversation becomes awkward, and we feel dismissed when we make “valid” points (again giving the benefit of the doubt).
But when the conviction is our own, we experience peace and safety within our parameters. Our conscience has only been trained to “ring” when our conviction is violated; not when our conviction ascends to an extra-biblical level.
If is for this reason that we must strive for humility and charity as we seek purity. Purity alone creates pride, exclusivity, and self-sufficiency. However, these reflections should not be taken to denounce strong convictions; only as a caution against be blinded by what we see most clearly.