Extremely interesting

I recently acquired a book entitled “A Year With C.S. Lewis” which features short, daily excerpts from many of his great works. I thought this morning’s excerpt was especially apt.

It’s from The Screwtape Letters, the book where Screwtape, a senior demon in Hell, counsels his young nephew, Wormwood, on how to best distract and deceive the human he’s been assigned. This particular missive focuses on the value of extremism in faith … or by extension, politics…football…blogging…

To the Extreme
Screwtape explains the usefulness of extremism:
I had not forgotten my promise to consider whether we should make the patient an extreme patriot or an extreme pacifist. All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them. Any small coterie, bound together by some interest which other men dislike or ignore, tends to develop inside itself a hothouse mutual admiration, and towards the outer world, a great deal of pride and hatred which is entertained without shame because the ‘Cause’ is its sponsor and it is thought to be impersonal. Even when the little group exists originally for the Enemy’s own purposes, this remains true. We want the Church to be small not only that fewer men may know the Enemy but also that those who do may acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-righteousness of a secret society or a clique. The Church herself is, of course, heavily defended and we have never yet quite succeeded in giving her all the characteristics of a faction; but subordinate factions within her have often produced admirable results, from the parties of Paul and of Apollos at Corinth down to the High and Low parties in the Church of England…

4 thoughts on “Extremely interesting

  1. What I want to know is: have you finished that book on the fall of the Ottoman Empire that’s on your nightstand. Do they live happily after in the end?

  2. Wow. This makes me think I should delete some posts where I so strongly state my political beliefs, because of readers who come on, Christians who are more liberal minded. Your posts convict.

  3. Gabrielle – there’s nothing wrong, to my mind, with holding and stating strong beliefs, especially if one’s points can be made evocatively with minimal (if any) name-calling. Be thought-provoking, not just provocative. As my pastor said the other day, “You can lead a horse to water, but if you try to force him to drink he’ll fight you. If you salt his oats, though, you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish.” What I take from Lewis’s excerpt is that it is an all-too-human tendency to form up into us-vs.-them and that isn’t productive if it causes us to focus on “The Cause” rather than “The Truth.” Our enemy (not Screwtape’s) is not constrained by “sides” – he switches uniforms easily and without conscience to further his ends.

    King – no happy ending in sight, I’m afraid, but it is interesting to read how the political mistakes made 100 years ago make those of today look mild by comparison. Ultimately I don’t think there is a political solution to what is at root a spiritual divide. This all started with a “human solution” worked out by Abraham, Sara and Hagar and we haven’t been able to do any better in the last 100 or so generations.

  4. Yup, extremism is pretty dangerous. I find myself being less willing to engage in daily politics because it can so easily become about “the cause”. If God is on his throne, which he is, then we will do just fine even if the wrong party is in power.

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