Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mere Christianity....

C.S Lewis wrote this book. Chapter 7 is on forgiveness.

The message at church this morning was on forgiveness. I thought this was good enough to post about!

C.S Lewis was also an adult convert to Christianity, that is something I did not know.

7. Forgiveness

I said in a previous chapter that chastity was the most unpopular of
the Christian virtues. But I am not sure I was right I believe the one I
have to talk of today is even more unpopular: the Christian rule, "Thou
shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Because hi Christian morals "thy
neighbour" includes "thy enemy," and so we come up against this terrible
duty of forgiving our enemies. Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea,
until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to
mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not
that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they
think it hateful and contemptible. "That sort of talk makes them sick," they
say. And half of you already want to ask me, "I wonder how you'd feel about
forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?"
So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells me that I
must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I
wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying
to tell you in this book what I could do-I can do precious little-I am
telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in
the middle of it, I find "Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin
against us." There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered
forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly dear that if we do not
forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are
we to do?
It is going to be hard enough, anyway, but I think there are two things
we can do to make it easier. When you start mathematics you do not begin
with the calculus; you begin with simple addition. In the same way, if we
really want (but all depends on really wanting) to learn how to forgive,
perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo. One
might start with forgiving one's husband or wife, or parents or children, or
the nearest N.C.O., for something they have done or said in the last week.
That will probably keep us busy for the moment. And secondly, we might try
to understand exactly what loving your neighbour as yourself means. I have
to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself?
Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of
fondness or affection for myself, and 1 do not even always enjoy my own
society. So apparently "Love your neighbour" does not mean "feel fond of
him" or "find him attractive." I ought to have seen that before, because, of
course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do 1 think well of
myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and
those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In
fact it, is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice,
but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does
not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief.
For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out
that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain
that they are. Go a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only
do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I
can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So
apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do.
Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me
long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or,
as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.
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 the
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. Consequently,
Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for
cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have
said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the
same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man
should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that
somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.
The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities
in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story
might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's
first feeling, "Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that," or is it
a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first
story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If
it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which,
if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning
to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head,
later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as
black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything-God and our friends and
ourselves included-as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be
fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
Now a step further. Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No,
for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to
punishment-even to death. If one had committed a murder, the right Christian
thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is,
therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence
a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy. I always have
thought so, ever since I became a Christian, and long before the war, and I
still think so now that we are at peace. It is no good quoting "Thou shalt
not kill." There are two Greek words: the ordinary word to kill and the word
to murder. And when Christ quotes that commandment He uses the murder one in
all three accounts, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And I am told there is the same
distinction in Hebrew. All killing is not murder any more than all sexual
intercourse is adultery. When soldiers came to St. John the Baptist asking
what to do, he never remotely suggested that they ought to leave the army:
nor did Christ when He met a Roman sergeant-major-what they called a
centurion. The idea of the knight-the Christian in arms for the defence of a
good cause-is one of the great Christian ideas. War is a dreadful thing, and
I can respect an honest pacifist, though I think he is entirely mistaken.
What I cannot understand is this sort of semipacifism you get nowadays which
gives people the idea that though you have to fight, you ought to do it with
a long face and as if you were ashamed of it. It is that feeling that robs
lots of magnificent young Christians in the Services of something they have
a right to, something which is the natural accompaniment of courage- a kind
of gaity and wholeheartedness.
I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served
in the first world war, I and some young German had killed each other
simultaneously and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot
imagine that either of us would have felt any resentment or even any
embarrassment. I think we might have laughed over it.
I imagine somebody will say, "Well, if one is allowed to condemn the
enemy's acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between
Christian morality and the ordinary view?" All the difference in the world.
Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really
matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the
soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a
hellish creature. We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy
hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other
words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that
wants to get one's own back, must be simply killed. I do not mean that
anyone can decide this moment that he will never feel it any more. That is
not how things happen. I mean that every time it bobs its head up, day after
day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit it on the head. It is
hard work, but the attempt is not impossible. Even while we kill and punish
we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves- to wish that
he were not bad. to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in
fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him:
wishing his good, jot feeling fond of him nor saving he is nice when he is
I admit that this means loving people who have nothing lovable about
them. But then, has oneself anything lovable about it? You love it simply
because it is yourself, God intends us to love all selves in the same way
and for the same reason: but He has given us the sum ready worked out on our
own case to show us how it works. We have then to go on and apply the rule
to all the other selves. Perhaps it makes it easier if we remember that that
is how He loves us. Not for any nice, attractive qualities we think we have,
but just because we are the things called selves. For really there is
nothing else in us to love: creatures like us who actually find hatred such
a pleasure that to give it up is like giving up beer or tobacco. ...

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