Last Saturday, I wrote about how C. S. Lewis warned against what he called a type of “band-wagoning,” in which we can, at the expense of our principles, decide to become part of a system with which we say we disagree. He continues the discussion in Reflections on the Psalms with what he believes are more subtle forms of the problem that can easily deceive us.
Many people have a very strong desire to meet celebrated or “important” people, including those whom they disapprove, from curiosity or vanity. It gives them something to talk or even (anyone may produce a book of reminiscences) to write about. It is felt to confer distinction if the great, though odious, man recognizes you on the street.
That motive is completely unchristian. But what about Jesus’ example of sitting down with sinners? One must keep in mind that when Jesus did it, His goal was to revolutionize their thinking, not to join in with it. There is a fine line here that Lewis works through carefully with these words:
But I am inclined to think a Christian would be wise to avoid, where he decently can, any meeting with people who are bullies, lascivious, cruel, dishonest, spiteful and so forth.
I could insert a certain political figure here as an example, but I will restrain myself.
Why avoid such people? Lewis continues,
Not because we are “too good” for them. In a sense because we are not good enough. We are not good enough to cope with all the temptations, nor clever enough to cope with all the problems, which an evening spent in such society produces.
The temptation is to condone, to connive at; by our words, looks and laughter, to “consent.”
If you seem to go along to get along, what happens to your Christian witness? Yet are we to become obnoxious in our response? Again, Lewis threads the needle:
What is one to do? For on the one hand, quite certainly, there is a degree of unprotesting participation in such talk which is very bad. We are strengthening the hands of the enemy. We are encouraging him to believe that “those Christians,” once you get them off their guard and round a dinner table, really think and feel exactly as he does. By implication we are denying our Master; behaving as if we “knew not the Man.”
Yet the opposite actions can be just as bad:
On the other hand is one to show that, like Queen Victoria, one is “not amused”? Is one to be contentious, interrupting the flow of conversation at every moment with “I don’t agree, I don’t agree”? Or rise and go away? But by these courses we may also confirm some of their worst suspicions of “those Christians.” We are just the sort of ill-mannered prigs they always said.
What is the solution, then? Lewis advises this course of action:
Disagreement can, I think, sometimes be expressed without the appearance of priggery, if it is done argumentatively not dictatorially; support will often come from some most unlikely member of the party, or from more than one, till we discover that those who were silently dissentient were actually a majority.
A discussion of real interest may follow. Of course the right side may be defeated in it. That matters very much less than I used to think. The very man who has argued you down will sometimes be found, years later, to have been influenced by what you said.
So it really comes down to the attitude we display. We can stand for truth, even argue for it, as long as our spirit is Christian. And it is that Christian spirit that may ultimately win someone to God’s kingdom. After all, isn’t that the goal, and not simply winning an argument?