Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Screwtape Thoughts

I've just finished reading (for the first time, believe it or not) CS Lewis' Screwtape Letters and the book was wonderful. I've always been a fan of Lewis, namely because he writes honestly and doesn't get tangled in theological squabbles. He writes about how regular Christians should live, and that's that. His musings on the other aspects of faith (like spiritual warfare in SL) are interesting though he doesn't claim to have any special authority on these matters. Screwtape reminded me very much of Frank Perretti's book, Piercing the Darkness.

So, my thoughts. Well, I'll start with my concern for modern Christians in general. I worry that by living in the world we do, we too often forget that God is not material. We think of God like we think of a physical person. He isn't, and our concept of Him is skewed mainly because we have no better way to envision another rational being apart from ourselves. Not only do we picture God as a physical being, but we limit him to our physical world. We either err on the side of Deism and think that God is just sitting back somewhere watching the world unfold, or we forget about Him all together. The God of Christianity (and many monotheistic faiths) is personal, yes, but He is also active. His activity is not confined to this physical universe. Why should it be? But Christians today are hesitant to talk of anything too spiritual, lest we turn into mystics or something. Well, we're wrong. God is a spirit. God works in a universe that is not physical. So, why shouldn't there be goings on in a spiritual universe? Personally, I've never bought physicalism in any form (even the most lenient), because I'm convinced that this world is effected by forces we can't detect.

Now that you think I'm crazy, let me explain. Have you ever wondered if maybe the cliche image of the good angel and the bad angel on your shoulder are real (sort of). I mean, have you ever felt so torn inside (or compelled to do something that is 1. not in your interest 2. nothing you would ever rationally consider or 3. felt no will to do what you know you ought to do) that you are paralysed. Have you ever had someone say something that was the perfect thing to hurt you? Something that they could never have known to say, nor would they would ever normally say, yet it hit you at your most vulnerable spot? Have you done that to someone else? Have you ever felt super distracted by things that aren't worth your time, that you don't even enjoy? Have you ever focused so hard on being "close to God" that you loose sight of him completely?

I think it's easy to go through life and be blissfully unaware of what drives your thoughts/decisions/etc. But, the more conscientious you become, the more you see that half (or more) of what you choose to do and say are not what you really want to do or say. Why is that? Often I can't even pinpoint the cause to some sort of personal gain. I do things that are completely useless and counterproductive (in every sense). And the more I think about it, the more I sense that I'm not alone in my own thoughts. I'm influenced in good and bad ways by things outside of myself.

In the Screwtape Letters, Lewis writes about an uncle demon who is teaching his nephew how to make his "patient" (human) turn away from God. The advice he gave him was so creepy because most of what he told his nephew to do are things that I've struggled with. Not even general things, like very specific struggles. Here are some examples of the parts that stood out the most in my mind:

"Keep his mind on the inner life. He thinks his conversion is something inside him and his attention is therefore chiefly turned at present to the states of his own mind -or rather to that very expurgated version of them which is all you should allow him to see. Encourage this. Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious."

"[God] really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself -creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and overflows."

"He can be made to take a positive pleasure in the perception that the two sides of his life are inconsistent. This is done by exploiting his vanity. He can be taught to enjoy sitting beside the barber on Sunday just because he remembers that the barber could not possibly understand the urbane and mocking world which he inhabited Saturday evening; and contrawise, to enjoy his friends all the more because he is aware of a "deeper" "spiritual" world within him which they cannot understand...[He thinks he is the] complex man who sees round them all."

"As long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian he can still be made to think of himself as one..."

"One of my patients said on his arrival down here, 'I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.' The Christians describe the Enemy (God) as one 'without whom Nothing is strong.' And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man's best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them..."

"It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one -the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."

"You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption 'My time is my own.' Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours....The assumption that you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defense. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels."

"Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that 'only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations.' You see the little rift? 'Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.' That's the game."

I'll let the passages speak for themselves, and I'll leave it up to you to figure out why these particular parts struck me the most. If you haven't already, go read it yourself.

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