The Inner Ring

Yesterday I picked up a book from the library, which itself is not unusual, but like much of the reading I do, there was a heavy layer of irony in it. Now, I have not finished the book, as I have an alarmingly large number of books to read at present, but all the same, there is at least one aspect of the book that has an ironic aspect that is worth mentioning. The particular book in question seeks to present 25 books as being essential for every (thinking) Christian to read during the course of their lives, from a group of people I have never heard of. Be that as it may, one of those books is a book I have read and listened to on audiotape, Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. The irony is not that this group of people has picked a book I particularly like as an essential classic of Christian writing, or that I disagree with their choice [1], but rather that this group of people has set up an inner ring of thinkers and books, and put someone in it who wrote, in Mere Christianity no less, about the problems of inner rings and the lure of people to consider certain people as privileged and others as not.

The inner ring is one of the most obvious manifestations of our tendency for pride, and is something that business attempt to motivate people towards with a great deal of persistence. For example, numerous business have loyalty cards that reward people for spending money at their establishment, with the subtle blandishments towards feeling proud about the special privileges that result from such a status, which usually involves the privilege of spending more money at a given place under the illusion that one is saving money. At other times, the lure is even more obvious and great, such as for travelers whose frequent flying earns them upgrades to first class seats and the opportunity to enjoy private lounges at airports while waiting for flights. Given the way that flying for most of us in the hoi polloi resembles a cattle car or steerage class on the old transatlantic boats, such lures are powerful indeed, and while it is perfectly fine to feel a sense of enjoyment and relief about receiving such benefits, we must be careful not to look down on those who lack such privileges.

Even in such a matter as written and spoken communication, the inner ring is an area of potential trouble. I have often been reminded of this in my own life. About fifteen years ago I went to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jekyll Island, Georgia, spending the time with my brother and a couple of young adult friends, where we all rented a four-bedroom house and split up the rent evenly between us. The then-girlfriend of one of my friends came up to visit, and while talking with her she reminded me of all of the inside jargon I was using from within my denomination that were unknown elsewhere. I was reminded that it was necessary to translate this language into ordinary English so that it could be profitably understood by someone on the outside. At other times, I have spoken or written to others and found that they struggled to understand what I said. When in Thailand, for example, the students translating my messages would ask me, “Achan [teacher], why do you use such difficult words?” The answer was that as a well-educated person, such difficult words come fairly naturally to me, because one of the prices of feeding one’s mind on hundreds of books a year, often of an elevated and technical nature, tends to lead to that large vocabulary bleeding out into my speech and writing. The difficulty of my speech was not born out of snobbery towards those who were less intellectual, but came naturally from being a very self-aware intellectual whose word choice often springs from a desire for very precise and layered communication and also a certain amount of poetic diction and a fondness for alliteration and somewhat flowery language [2]. I had no trouble translating my more difficult words into less difficult ones for the students, but the matter had to be brought to my attention nevertheless.

In the end, we can only judge the extent to which we are motivated by being part of an inner ring to glorify ourselves and feel proud of our position, or whether we use such inside information and access as we have to serve others. Although I have generally considered myself an outsider with regards to social matters, the fact that since childhood I have been deeply active and involved with the larger activities of those institutions I have been a part of has tended to lead me to be more of an insider than I have consciously recognized, but enough of an insider that other people around me have tended to notice it and to act accordingly, even if I have sometimes been oblivious to this. In my own mind, I have sought to use these connections to help and encourage others, and have not sought to hoard privileged knowledge or lord it over others as if I was anything special. At least that is true in my own perspective, and I cannot be sure how the matter has appeared to others, who could very easily see me as far more proud and arrogant than I am to myself. The fish is the last to notice water, and the proud and arrogant man (or woman) is generally the last person to recognize how they are eaten up with arrogance, even if everyone else can recognize it.

Why does it matter anyway? The reason why being a part of an inner ring is so dangerous is that those of us who enjoy having influence, and being respected for various institutional power and position tend to find that our pride is essentially competitive. It is not having money that we want, or even having money that we might do some worthwhile purpose with it, but rather having more money than our neighbors, that marks arrogance. It is not having a particular office or position that we might better serve according to our talents, for such would not be pride, except a pride in what God has given us, which is not pride in ourselves at least, but rather pride in an office because it is a privileged office that is desirous of making others envious of us. In many ways, pride was the original sin, since it was pride that led our Adversary to rebel against God, and that drives every institution under the sway of the evil one to be filled with people grasping for positions, and hypersensitive to slights and to threats against our dignity. We all too easy become puffed up and full of ourselves, when what is needed is that we should live with unselfish generosity and the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Inner Ring

  1. Pingback: Book Review: 25 Books Every Christian Should Read | Edge Induced Cohesion

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