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I remember C.S. Lewis writing somewhere about how some preachers like to use the word "we" when pointing out a problematic behavior. For example, consider the statement "We secretly judge the homeless man around the corner". If I recall correctly, he describes it as a potentially disingenuous way of accusing the audience of something while not sounding accusatory. Because after all, "we" includes the speaker, so it implies that the speaker is only being as harsh as he is on himself. However it can still come off as disingenuous because even though the speaker says "we", he really doesn't do the thing he's accusing his audience of, and most people don't imagine that he really does.

Of course, C.S. Lewis described it much more carefully and articulately than I have, which is why I'm trying to find the original reference in his works. Does this ring a bell for anyone who can help me find out where he wrote about this?

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    Why are you so sure that the preacher 'doesn't do the thing he's accusing his audience of'? Clergy are only human and may well acknowledge their own failings. Nov 15, 2023 at 11:08
  • sorry I didn't write that more clearly. The preacher in this case is a hypothetical person who is using the word "we" to make an accusation more palatable even when he doesn't actually fit into the group he's inserting himself into. It's not a real preacher or anything, just an example. Nov 16, 2023 at 16:07
  • Yes, I understand that, but I wonder why 'most people' would be so sure that the hypothetical preacher doesn't sometimes share the human failings they refer to? Nov 16, 2023 at 16:30

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Not sure about the preacher passage. But in his essay "Dangers of National Repentance" he writes something similar to what you describe. He writes:

The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbour... a Government which is called ‘we’ is ipso facto placed beyond the sphere of charity or even of justice... A group of such young penitents will say, ‘Let us repent our national sins’; what they mean is, ‘Let us attribute to our neighbour (even our Christian neighbour) in the Cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.’

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  • Thank you! I thought there was a passage that was more direct about it, so I'll hold out a day or so more before I mark this one as accepted, but this is a good answer too. Nov 16, 2023 at 16:12
  • Maybe just keep it open in case the right answer pops up.
    – sonfangos
    Nov 18, 2023 at 7:21

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