19 August 2007

Christianity And... --Wisdom Sunday

This week’s installment comes from C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (Letter XXV). Written in the person of a demon named Screwtape to his dear nephew, these letters exhibit much of Lewis’ thinking on spiritual growth and maturity.

My dear Wormwood,

The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them is the state of mind I call “Christianity And.” You know – Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity of the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity of Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart – an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship.

[…]

The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm; a century later, when we are really making them all Byronic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of the mere “understanding.” Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism; and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.


Exegetical note: As Lewis uses the term here, “Liberalism” is not synonymous with “Leftism”; it is probably closer in meaning to what we would think of as Libertarianism with a conservative streak, or maybe conservatism with a libertarian streak.

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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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