A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated these things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things (p. 117).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Is the primary problem of the human condition that I don’t love myself enough (low self-esteem) or that I love myself too much (pride)? That is a question that can stir a great deal of debate.

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I would contend that the fervor of the debate itself reveals that the scales tip toward pride. If low self-esteem were really the core human ailment, then we would timidly defer to one another and our disagreements would be mousy.

When reading the larger works of C.S. Lewis you will find that he sides on the pride side of this debate. However, here he is discussing self-love in a way that is distinct from pride. He does not seem to denigrate the self-love he describes here as pride (nor do I think he should).

Lewis describes this healthy self-love as hating the sin in my life because it destroys something that was intended to be good – namely self.

This points helps to answer one of the strongest points made by critics of the self-esteem movement (and I count myself in that number) – self-esteem assumes that we are basically good people who only do bad things because of negative outside influences. Scripture clearly teaches the opposite. We are people marred by sin who naturally love darkness instead of light (John 3:16-21).

Yet Lewis’ depiction of healthy self-love allows for a fundamental moral brokenness in the human race. His take on self-love still allowed him to admit, “I was the sort of man who did those things.” No silly, illogical excuses like, “You know I didn’t mean it,” or “I only behaved that way because…,” or “That wasn’t really me who did/said that.”

I believe it is instructive to see how Lewis got to this view of self-love. He got there by thinking of others. He wanted to know how you could hate the sin and love the sinner. Taking the Second Great Commandment seriously led him to consider the one example where he already obeyed it. Coincidentally, it was the example Jesus said to use – love others “as” (implying something that is already naturally occurs) you love yourself (Matt. 22:39).

It was from this example that he got an answer to his question: how do you hate the sin and love the sinner? Answer: You are grieved for how sin destroys the life of the sinner. Even when the sinner gets an advantage or pleasure from his/her sin, you are grieved that sin’s addictive roots are being reinforced.

How is this love? It is love, because all grief is rooted in love. You will only grieve after you have loved. You are saddened because of an obstruction in a desired joy. In this case, another person’s good.

So let us realize that we love ourselves naturally even when we are made miserable by our actions. Our misery actually reveals our love for self – we genuinely desire our good. After realizing this let us love others with that same desire for their good. That is the only thing that will prevent a healthy self-love from becoming pride, self-centeredness, or self-preoccupation (insecurity).

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Self-Esteem” post which address other facets of this subject.