ChurchCurrent Events

The devil is in the details: on distractions and causes

By October 10, 2017 No Comments

In 1942, C.S. Lewis published the Screwtape Letters, a compilation of creatively crafted letters from a sinister fictional character, Uncle Screwtape, to his nephew Wormwood. The letters comprised instructions to Wormwood for him to frustrate, block, splinter, harass and lull the minions of his enemy so that the enemy’s work can be thwarted. It doesn’t take too much imagination to know that Uncle Screwtape’s enemy is God and his church and that he represents the work of darkness. His MO is to weaken the church’s work and focus by tripping up it’s members. Sound familiar? Well, it should since Scripture tells us we have an enemy who seeks to devour us (1 Pet. 5:8).

I was recently going through the letters and was struck by #7. There is an uncanny resemblance to what I see today. I won’t post the whole thing here but a couple of paragraphs really jumped out at me. He starts the letter off by reminding Wormwood that as long as the Church is unaware of their existence and work, particularly as it related to World War II that was going on at the time, they have an advantage to lure the enemy’s members (the church) into a web of partisan engagement as if it was the most important thing in the world.

“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 Apollos at Corinth down to the High and Low parties in the Church of England.”

Tumultuous times breed anxiety and orientation towards tribal concerns. It’s no different today with our cultural, socio-political wars. You can easily substitute Pacifism and Patriotism with today’s causes for right-wing interests, populist nationalism, white supremacy abolition, racial injustices and so forth. When Christians become so engulfed in these causes, it doesn’t take too much for the Cause itself into the barometer for righteousness. I think the last paragraph of the letter is particularly telling;

“Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursing. Provided that meetings, pamphets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours–and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful here.”

Note the way the Cause becomes a religion and lures the church away from its foundation and purpose. That’s exactly what Satan wants. As the writer of Ecclesiastes’ God-breathed pen noted, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

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