Temptation & Realism: A Lewis Perspective

C. S. Lewis, in his Mere Christianity, has an interesting take on temptation that may run counter to what many think. Of course, he has interesting takes on quite a few concepts, but this one stands out to me today. He begins with this:

A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.

It’s the “good” people who have actually grappled with wrong desires; they are the ones who have engaged in the battle. Others have already surrendered before the battle has even started. He continues,

A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.

Lewis turns typical reasoning on its head by asserting that it’s not the Christians who are sheltered, but those who have never known anything but giving in to temptation. They are the ones living in a fantasy world, not those who are derided and mocked for being “sheltered” in a Christian environment.

We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.

When we follow Christ’s path and refuse the temptations offered to us by the world, the flesh, and the devil, we then become realists as well. We’re not the naive ones; rather, we know the reality of evil and embrace righteousness instead because we see results of both.

Hebrews 4:15 is an encouragement for all who have chosen the road to discipleship:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

A Century of Totalitarianism & Terror

This year commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. I use the word “commemorate,” not “celebrate.” There is nothing to celebrate in the establishment of the first Marxist communist state; that state, and all the progeny to which it has given birth, embodied the greatest scourge of the 20th century—and its pernicious beliefs and system continue to plague us today.

Russia was ripe for revolution while enmeshed in WWI. I won’t go into all the historical background; suffice to say there were genuine grievances. Yet, all too often, the chosen solution for grievances can be just as bad, or worse, than the original grievance.

The Bolsheviks came to power in late 1917, led by Vladimir Lenin, a man with no pity for anyone, who judged all people by whether they agreed with him on every point, and who introduced the modern concept of genocide, as he evaluated people not by individual guilt or innocence, but by their association with whatever group he deemed unfit to live.

Lenin became the model for all 20th-century revolutionaries. He devoted himself to developing professional revolutionaries who believed in total revolution, without any compromise.

He exploited the people’s war weariness and promised peace and bread for everyone. He controlled the Russian parliament by armed threats and intimidation. The press became a tool of propaganda; no dissenting voices were allowed. And he set up a secret police to inspire terror to any who might try to object to his goals. The czarist secret police were babes in terrorism compared to Lenin’s.

His method for total control can be outlined in this way:

  • Destroy all opposition outside the Party
  • Place all power in Party hands
  • Destroy all opposition within the Party
  • Concentrate all power in the Party in himself and his handpicked subordinates

The irony is that Lenin finally was undone by his own decree that the Party would oversee the health of its leaders. When Lenin had a stroke, his eventual successor, Josef Stalin, pushed Lenin out of power and grabbed the reins himself.

What is there to say about Stalin that most don’t know now? While we choose to highlight the obvious horror of Adolf Hitler (and rightly so), Stalin was conducting his own holocaust within his nation. He starved 7 million Ukrainians in the winter of 1932-1933; he held fake trials of Party officials, always leading to their execution (an estimated one million from 1936-1938), and signed a pact with Hitler in 1939 that allowed the latter to begin that awful world war.

Once that war ended, Stalin then proceeded to take over as many Eastern European countries as he could, giving rise to the Cold War. His long reign of 30 years led to the state murder of approximately 30 million of his own citizens.

From this horrific beginning, the communist vision of coerced utopia gave rise to a bevy of totalitarian states operating from that vision: China, North Korea, Cuba, etc.

No, I don’t celebrate the centennial of communism. My task is to educate others on its nature, based as it is on the rejection of Christian faith and the exaltation of man in all his depravity.

I’m also called to point out that it has never worked as advertised in any place it has been tried. A book needs to be written that neatly summarizes that reality. Perhaps this would be a good title:

Despite the hard facts about this ideology, some still say it is a wonderful vision of what man can be if only it’s tried the right way. I beg to differ. This “wonderful vision” is a vision of man without God and is, as Whittaker Chambers so eloquently explained when he broke from communism and found Christian faith,

What I had been fell from me like dirty rags. The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind—the luminous shroud which it has spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God.

Yet far too many never face up to the obvious: this is totalitarianism, plain and simple.

This false ideology, this attempt to make man into a god and annihilate genuine Christianity, doesn’t deserve a second chance.

The Probe Boomerangs

I’ve never had a problem with the Russia probe. I believe in investigating all possible connections between a foreign power that would like to create havoc in our elections and those in our country—Republican or Democrat—who may have colluded with that enemy. And let’s make no mistake about that: Russia is not a friend.

Indictments in the Robert Mueller investigation are supposedly coming down today. As of this morning, I have no idea who is being indicted, but the probe is not over, to be sure.

What’s bothering Democrats, who were the main instigators of the probe, is that it seems to be taking a different direction, and actually may be fair after all. The latest info points to themselves, and in particular, the Clintons, especially the Hillary campaign during the presidential election.

 

And this time, a clandestine meeting with an attorney general may not get the desired result:

Why are both Clintons concerned? It appears that while she was secretary of state, a deal was concluded that gave Russia control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States. That deal led to a flow of cash from the Russian-controlled company into the coffers of the supposedly charitable Clinton Foundation.

Then there’s the issue of the dossier that was released during the campaign on Trump’s connections to Russia and his moral behavior while in Russia. True stories or concocted rumors? That’s what the probe is attempting to decipher.

However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Hillary Clinton campaign was behind this, paying big time for what they endearingly call “opposition research.” I think it went well beyond that.

 

As I said, this is not what Democrats expected:

The media isn’t too thrilled with this turn of events either. How can you tell?

This doesn’t put Trump or any of his people in the clear, of course. All the facts have not yet come to light, but the light does need to be shining on both sides of our political divide.

Stay tuned for more.

Lewis on the Ancient vs. the Modern

C. S. Lewis exchanged Oxford for Cambridge in 1955. He never received the recognition he deserved at Oxford; Cambridge offered him a special professorial chair designed with him in mind. It was a major event when he gave his inaugural Cambridge lecture, speaking to a full house about the distinctions between the ancient and the modern.

It’s in that lecture, De Descriptione Temporum,” that he made his oft-quoted comment about being a dinosaur because he was an Old Western Man, a type he claimed would not be around much longer.

Another passage in that lecture that is well worth contemplating is the part where he critiques the idea that just because something is new it must naturally be better.

“How has it come about,” he queried, “that we use the highly emotive word ‘stagnation,’ with all its malodorous and malarial overtones, for what other ages would have called ‘permanence'”? He continued,

Why does the word “primitive” at once suggest to us clumsiness, inefficiency, barbarity? When our ancestors talked of the primitive church or the primitive purity of our constitution they meant nothing of that sort. . . . Why does “latest” in advertisements mean “best”?

Acceptance of Darwinian evolutionism as applied to all aspects of society was one answer, he affirmed. We are all supposedly evolving and getting better all the time. But along with that, the coming of the age of the machines helps explain it more fully.

It is the image of old machines being superseded by new and better ones. For in the world of machines the new most often really is better and the primitive really is the clumsy. And this image, potent in all our minds, reigns almost without rival in the minds of the uneducated.

Technological improvements, Lewis opined, become milestones in people’s lives. He used examples from his day: the development from an old push-bike to a motorbike to a car; from gramophone to radio to television. Today, we can use other examples: the latest I-Phone simply must be purchased because it’s so much better.

This way of looking at things—this approach to life—has left “footprints on our language,” Lewis asserted, and is the very thing “that separates us most sharply from our ancestors and whose absence would strike us as most alien if we could return to their world.”

What if those ancestors could somehow make a trek into our modern world?

Conversely, our assumption that everything is provisional and soon to be superseded, that the attainment of goods we have never yet had, rather than the defence and conservation of those we have already, is the cardinal business of life, would most shock and bewilder them if they could visit ours.

As a historian, I love Lewis’s analysis of the differences between the past and the present. I agree that we have changed our language and definition of terms sometimes in a downward direction.

As a Christian, I resonate with his attachment to the permanent. Our society lives for the new, the more advanced, the latest novelty. Yet our society has little regard for that which needs to be preserved—ideas that permeated an earlier era: we are all made in the image of God; there are moral absolutes given by God; man, in society, needs to get as close to those absolutes as possible, and attain the moral character that they embody.

Will we see that kind of society again? It’s an open question.

Individual Choices, Not Impersonal Forces, Determine History

I’m teaching my American Revolution course this semester. Every time I do, I’m impressed with how character shapes history. In this case, the character of George Washington comes to the forefront.

As 1776 drew to a close, it seemed more likely than not that the fledgling nation was in jeopardy and that the Declaration of Independence was destined to be a silly footnote in history, another testament to man’s folly.

Washington’s army, such as it was, composed primarily of untested militia with short-term enlistments, had miraculously escaped the British noose on Long Island in August. Many would comment on the remarkable feat of ferrying the army from that island over to New York City in the dark of night.

Many others would remark with wonder at the almost-supernatural fog that descended on Long Island that morning, thereby allowing the retreat to end successfully. Divine Providence, many would say.

Yet after that, one might wonder where Divine Providence had gone. The ragtag Americans were pushed back in battle after battle, eventually losing the entire island of Manhattan and licking their proverbial wounds for the winter on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River.

Morale in the army and the new nation was at low ebb as Christmas approached. Would the army disintegrate completely? Was this experiment in independence over before it could even begin?

I’ve often taught that history does not revolve around impersonal forces (such as economics). Rather, it’s the individual choices we make that determine what happens next.

Washington took a risk. He knew the mercenary Hessian troops just across the river in Trenton, New Jersey, would be “celebrating” Christmas in their traditional manner—getting stone-cold drunk.

That’s when he made the decision—called rash by some in his ranks—to cross the river in the dead of night and march straight into the Hessian encampment, taking them by surprise.

Who hasn’t seen this famous painting? Leaving aside for the moment whether Washington actually stood up in the boat in this heroic pose, he nevertheless was embarking on a desperate and heroic endeavor.

It worked. The surprise was complete. The Hessians surrendered quickly.

British general William Howe was in the area and vowed vengeance for this brazen act. He attempted to surround Washington’s army, but Washington fooled him, again moving his forces during the night while keeping enough camp fires burning to make Howe believe the army was still there.

In the morning, Washington’s troops ran into a contingent of British near Princeton. At first, the troops were timid and started a retreat. Washington himself then rode to the front and rallied them. The result: another stunning victory.

When news of these back-to-back military successes found its way into the newspapers, the reeling nation’s morale rose immediately. Washington, by his personal courage and determination, had single-handedly revived their hopes.

Historians, of course, note that this was hardly the end of the trials and that morale would rise and fall throughout the next few years, depending on the circumstances. Washington would face more hard times, even to the point where some in Congress sought to remove him as commander of the army.

Yet this winter of 1776-1777 was crucial to the continuing struggle, a struggle that eventually saw the establishment of America’s independence.

I often call George Washington the indispensable man of this era. This is just one example of why that is true. And I repeat: individual choices, not impersonal forces, are the determiners for how history unfolds.

Grievances, Integrity, & the Moral Conscience

The cultural (and political) Left poses as the nation’s moral conscience. Building upon real grievances from our history, it refuses not only to let go of those grievances and learn what forgiveness is (especially when the current generation didn’t commit those grievances), but it spreads a root of bitterness that, as the Scripture says, “causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”

Innocent comments devoid of any tinge of racism are somehow found to be racist. Minorities are offended; women are offended; everyone is offended, it seems. We’re told to avoid “trigger words,” whatever those might be. It’s getting hard to keep track of all the traps we supposedly fall into with our speech.

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I’ve seen this at work against me personally. In a blog I wrote a couple of years ago, I referred to someone who had robbed a store and then charged a policeman and tried to take away his gun as a “thug.” Big mistake, apparently. I was accused of being racist because the individual was black. Actually, I was commenting on his actions, not his ethnicity.

I thought we were supposed to judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

The past few weeks have not been all that good for these liberal arbiters of morality. The whole Harvey Weinstein fiasco made painfully public what most people already knew about Hollywood culture, which is practically the center—along with institutions of higher education—of moral-outrage liberalism.

The hypocrisy was laid bare (no pun intended) for all to see.

Jimmy Kimmel, the voice crying in the wilderness of late-night television, lecturing us on healthcare and guns, suddenly lost his voice:

Since so many are taken with the idea of tearing down monuments, might I suggest another one ripe for destruction?

Meanwhile, on the political side of moral outrage, I’m waiting for the outcry against corruption represented by the Clintons, who have wallowed in corruption all their lives. An emerging story tells of their connections to Russia and how they profited financially even while Hillary was secretary of state. I remember something about a uranium deal a few years back, but now it’s beginning to come to light.

That Russia probe is not going where Democrats thought it would. But how much attention will be paid to this? Since it involves not only the Clintons, but also Obama and his administration, expect it to receive scant coverage in the mainstream media.

Rather than jump on the bandwagon of the Cult of the Perpetually Aggrieved, let’s focus instead on how God wants us to respond to grievances, both real and perceived (but not necessarily real).

In Christ, we are to forgive all who have hurt or offended us. That doesn’t mean we forget what has happened; we should always work to correct those grievances. Yet we must do so with a heart for healing.

One positive step is to avoid any connection with hypocrisy. I’ve used this blog today to highlight the hypocrisy of the Left. I won’t hesitate (and I never have hesitated) to point out hypocrisy on the other end of the political spectrum as well.

Integrity—a word that has become quite rare in our politics and culture—needs a rebirth. I believe it will come only through those who understand and practice the Lordship of Christ in all areas.

Hell As a Bureaucracy

“We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement,” advised C. S. Lewis, “where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”

Lewis wrote those words in his preface to the 1961 edition of The Screwtape Letters. Although Screwtape is, in one sense, a comical devil, Lewis never lets his readers forget what lies at the heart of hell: the self, with all its outcroppings of jealousy, bitterness, and backstabbing.

Yet his picture of hell is not what most would imagine. Instead, he compares it to modern bureaucracy. “I like bats much better than bureaucrats,” he mused. And you can bet he didn’t have any real fondness for bats.

Interestingly, I first ran across Lewis’s description of hell as a bureaucracy not in this preface (somehow its existence escaped me until recently), but in Ronald Reagan’s famous 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, the speech dubbed by some “The Evil Empire.”

Reagan quoted Lewis in the speech and referenced Screwtape in doing so. Yet I was puzzled at the time by the quote because I didn’t recall ever reading it in the actual letters. I was delighted, therefore, to come across it in this preface.

“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of ‘Admin.’” To Lewis, that was as close to hell as possible. He then expounded on that opening thought:

The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result.

But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.

Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern.

Hell, Lewis opined, is a “society held together entirely by fear and greed.” The “whole organisation” operated on the principle of “dog eat dog.”

Everyone wishes everyone else’s discrediting, demotion, and ruin; everyone is an expert in the confidential stab in the back. Over all this their good manners, their expressions of grave respect, their “tributes” to one another’s invaluable services form a thin crust.

Every now and then it gets punctured, and the scalding lava of their hatred spurts out.

Lewis, of course, is doing more than merely painting his portrait of how hell functions; he’s sending out a warning to us who live in a world that often resembles hell.

How do we function? Are we, behind our impeccable manners and outward show of civility, undermining our associates secretly? Do we operate on the principle of “dog eat dog”? Does our thin crust of respect for others occasionally reveal itself as a “scalding lava of hatred”?

As always, Lewis wants us to examine ourselves, to look into our own hearts and, if we see anything there that has even the remotest connection with hell, to expunge it immediately.

We must live in a continual state of self-examination (not obsessive, but realistic) and an eagerness to repent of anything we see amiss. We want the fragrance of Christ to show in our lives, not the sulfurous odor of hell.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17