"If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither."
-C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)
This quote, albeit a lengthy one, is, by far, one of my favorite quotations from C.S. Lewis' book Mere Christianity.
Because, this champion of the Christian faith has openly challenged a contemporary thought process, believed both by the church, and of it.
I'll admit that while growing up I honestly thought that sex, outside of marriage, was the 'Big Sin.'
You know, the one that God would send you straight to the pits of hell for.
You've probably heard similar things if you've grown up in church. Maybe it isn't explicitly taught straight out, maybe the pastor is subtle about it.
Or maybe, and this would be exceptionally grievous, it is taught unintentionally. Whatever the reasons I grew up thinking that the 'Big Sins' were suicide and...yes Sex.
With a big, fat, capital "S."
Now, I do want to say that I am coming to see that sex outside of marriage can be an exceptionally devastating thing. I've experienced it firsthand, and I wish that pain on no one.
The danger we face with making some sins bigger than others, however, is that it can instill a false sense of self-righteousness within the person who does not struggle in that particular facet of life.
Is this not what the Jewish religious leaders, whom Jesus saved his wrath exclusively for, did?
Weren't they so focused on perfecting their external shell, and condemning those who "fell short" according to their religious standards, that they completely missed God, in the flesh, who came to restore the very people they were condemning?
And what's the deal with sex and "sin" anyway?
My new found understanding of the church-y term "sin" is a rather simple concept. It is a term which just describes things not being as they were intended.
I realize some may view this as a bit simplistic, but the more I understand about the Christian faith, the more I tend to see how people can actually make things more complicated than they need be.
Here is the basic concept, the world was right but man chose to deviate from what was right, good, and true. He chose his own way over God's.
This is why I believe that all sins, from the 'littlest' to the 'greatest' were created equal.
So sex outside of marriage (or unchastity as Lewis deems it), is actually a sin, because it deviates from they way God intended relationship between a man and a woman to be.
That's the big deal. It's why Christians tend to spend a lot of time on the virtue of Chastity.
Marriage is more than just sex! True, sex was created specifically for marriage and enhances it exponentially, but it goes deeper than that.
It is a multi-faceted, beautiful relationship which, in its right form, mirrors God's relationship with humanity.
But I already wrote about marriage, so there is no need to repeat what's been said.
What Lewis is saying, in Mere Christianity, is very profound.
He doesn't merely identify external "sin", as many Christians tend to do, but, instead, he focuses on the root of the problem.
When he says that the "Diabolical self" is the 'worse' of the two selves he doesn't mean that sexual or other 'Animal self' sins are irrelevant.
Lewis understands that the sins of man are not external, nor physical, though they may be manifested in external and physical ways.
He is actually saying that the worst sin is found within the heart of man.
These are sins of any kind.
Any shape, size, or caliber.
They take place any time a person decides to place themselves before the way God intended things to be.
The heart is capable of producing the tendencies toward selfishness, power, control, lust, hatred, and many other things.
When a religious person screams hateful and vicious things at another human being, in the name of God.
When any man decides to take advantage of a woman.
When a father or mother abuse their children.
When someone decides to cheat, steal or lie.
When someone holds bitterness in their heart toward another.
When leaders use their power to oppress.
When someone is discontent with the life they've been given.
All of these 'sins' stem from one source. The heart.
This is the "heart of the matter" so to speak. (Yeah, I'm so funny.)
So why is Jesus so ticked at the religious establishment of his day?
I think that, time and time again, throughout the narrative of Christ it is the "religious" and "spiritual" ones, are those who have succumbed to the Diabolical self.
Pride, control, and lust for power had seduced them, and yet they had somehow convinced themselves that they were right with God.
This is why a convict on death row, an agnostic, a drug addict, a homosexual, or even a politician, may, in fact, be much closer to experiencing God than a "religious" church-goer.
What God wants is the heart.
And when it comes to the heart often it is the former who are more genuinely seeking God and his grace and truth, than any of the latter.
God isn't interested, nor is he impressed by Christian credentials.
He wants for us to trust him, to believe that His design and plan was the right one, and the most freeing.
He wants the best life for us. Now. Today. Forever.
Will we trust him?
Therein lies the choice that we have been given.