Every Wednesday evening since early January, I’ve had the joy of teaching a class on C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. A local Episcopal church invited me to do so, and I accepted the offer with relish. A group of eager learners comprises this class (approximately fifty each week), which has made it one of the highlights of this new year for me.
I’d read Screwtape a number of times over the years. Lewis himself famously commented that a really good book should never be read only once. Yet I’ve never had to dissect Screwtape in this manner before. If I’m going to explain anything to a class, I need to go beyond an outline and provide depth of understanding.
Along with a deeper understanding of a book such as this one comes the conviction of the Holy Spirit, as He shows me areas in my life that need to be solidified in righteousness.
One caution for all Christians occurs in Letter 25, which I will be teaching about in a couple of weeks. It deals with the concepts of “Christianity And . . .” and “The Same Old Thing.”
Screwtape—the senior devil—instructs junior tempter Wormwood to lead his “patient” away from mere Christianity (where he will flourish) into something else:
What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And.” You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and 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 coloring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.
How often do we take our natural interest in something else, link it with our Christian faith, and then allow that other thing to become more important than the faith itself?
In American history, one example I can use is the very worthy cause, prior to the Civil War, of abolishing slavery. The cause was good. Many prosecuted it in the name of Christian faith, as they should have. Yet I am aware of some abolitionists for which the cause of abolition became primary and the faith merely a vehicle for attaining it.
Anytime we subordinate the faith to the cause it inspired, we miss the mark.
Lewis, through Screwtape, is asserting that we are drawn to this error through our desire to spice up, shall we say, the basic Christian faith, as if it is not enough inherently. Hell loves this attitude, as Screwtape explains:
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.
Man’s quest for novelty, which is not a bad thing, can become a very bad thing indeed when novelty takes on an exalted status: it must be “new” and “fresh” or it will be boring. And boredom must be a sin, right?
Change is not synonymous with progress. It depends what that change actually is.
Once they [the humans] knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and others again indifferent. We have largely removed this knowledge. For the descriptive adjective “unchanged” we have substituted the emotional adjective “stagnant.”
There are some things that never should change—eternal right and wrong, for instance—and Someone who never will. Change is not always good. Yet if those who seek change that isn’t for the better can win the semantic war—“let’s call it stagnant instead”—the perceptions of an entire society can be altered.
I’ll leave it for you to make application to the culture in which we live today.