The cult of the expert, and other plagues, didn’t come upon us entirely without warning, as old books and magazines show.
In June of 1941, C. S. Lewis preached a sermon that has come down to us as one of his most enduring essays: “The Weight of Glory.” Lewis’s sermon was a reflection on the nature of the rewards that await believers, and he began by making the following claim: “If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love.”
Lewis went on to comment that the important difference between these two perspectives is more than the substitution of a negative term for a positive one. It is the claim that the really virtuous act is to forgo pleasures or benefits for the sake of others, “as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.” Lewis suspected that the modern virtue of Unselfishness had its origins in Stoicism or in the ethics of Kant rather than in Christianity.
More a Strategy Than a Virtue
I thought of Lewis’s comparison of love and unselfishness when rereading A. J. Conyers’s book on the modern preoccupation with tolerance, The Long Truce: How Toleration Made the World Safe for Power and Profit. In the first chapter of the book, Conyers observes that tolerance has—over the course of the past four centuries—assumed a prominent position on the modern list of virtues. But if it is indeed a virtue, it is, he notes, a peculiar one…
hat tip: Joe Carter, at Mere Comments
Today’s Grace Gems devotional (emphasis in original):
(J.R. Miller, “Daily Bible Readings in the Life of Christ” 1890)
“Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same–will be called least in the kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:19
A great many people are careful about breaking large commandments and committing heinous sins–while they commit ‘little sins’ continually and without scruple.
They would not tell a direct lie for the world–but their speech is full of little falsehoods!
They would not steal money from the purse or drawer of another–and yet they continually commit small thefts! For example, by mistake the grocer gives them a penny too much change–and they do not think of returning it. Through the carelessness of a postal worker, the postage stamp on a letter is left uncancelled–and they take it off and use it a second time.
They would not purposely try to blacken a neighbor’s name or destroy his character–and yet they repeat to others the evil whispers about him which they have heard, and thus soil his reputation.
They would not swear or curse in the coarse way of the ungodly–but they are continually using such minced oaths such as, Gosh! Gees! Heck! and other mild, timid substitutes for overt swearing.
They would not do flagrant acts of wickedness to disgrace themselves–but their lives are honeycombed with all kinds of little meannesses, impurities, selfishnesses, and bad tempers.
We need to remember, that little disobediences–harm our witness for the kingdom of Heaven.
Little sins–mar the beauty of our character.
Then, little sins are sure to grow! The trickling leak in the dike–becomes a torrent deluging vast plains!
Ofttimes, too, little sins are infinite in their consequences.
We ought never to indulge even the smallest faults or evil habits–but should aim always at perfection of character, and perfection is made up of ‘littles’.
From July 4, 1837, a look at the novelty and morality of American government.