Charity and its vices (with apologies to John Gee)

At BYU, John Gee has some interesting thoughts on charity, which like humility is perhaps among the most difficult virtues to work on directly.

It made me think of C.S. Lewis’ description of those who function day in and day out in an environment mainly bereft of charity. That lack stunts Mark’s (his protagonist) sense of what charity is, but it also leaves him unable to understand other equally spiritual reactions: righteous anger at evil, or a prophet-like indictment of something against which charity ought to bestir him:

It may seem strange to say that Mark, having long lived in a world without charity, had nevertheless very seldom met real anger. Malice in plenty he had encountered, but it all operated by snubs and sneers and stabbing in the back. The forehead and eyes and voice of this elderly man had an effect on him which was stifling and unnerving. At Belbury [Mark’s academic department] one used the words ‘whining’ and ‘yapping’ to describe any opposition which the actions of Belbury aroused in the outer world. And Mark had never had enough imagination to realise what the ‘whining’ would really be like if you met it face to face.

– C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 218.

Lacking the requisite virtues, or even a proper understanding of them, Mark cannot even understand the corresponding vices. Nor can he understand charity’s fruits.

Belbury and Mark may use the same names for their mental states and emotional reactions as the outside world uses for the virtues, but that does not mean that they or he intends or understands the same things thereby.

His sudden confrontation with the real thing, however, is shattering.

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