Will the Real C.S. Lewis Please Stand Up? (re: that fake quote)


A very popular quote – but it’s not from Lewis!

[Author’s note: the fake Lewis quote about politics is making the rounds once again following the inauguration.  It was originally passed around in the Fall of 2016, but I suspect it will pop up every now and again.  Thanks for landing here, and for sharing these reflections. I still believe the quote below, actually from Lewis, is more profound than the fake one that has been popularized.]

The quote to the right has been making the rounds on social media lately, purportedly from C.S. Lewis’ classic Screwtape Letters.  This is Lewis’ imaginative account of a senior demon (Screwtape) training up a younger tempter (Wormwood).  While the quotation in question sounds very much like the real thing, it is in fact not from C.S. Lewis.  It is what Mickey Efird, a retired professor from Duke Divinity School, would call “pious fiction.” I am not sure of the origin, but I would imagine it was made as an homage to Lewis, though with perhaps not enough clarification that it was essentially fan fiction.  I’m not sure if the author intended this connection, but it reminds me of a line from Eliot’s “Choruses from The Rock,”

They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.

Lewis did, however, conclude chapter 23 of The Screwtape Letters with this reflection on politics that says much to our contemporary situation:

About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that “only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations”. You see the little rift ? “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.” That’s the game,
Your affectionate uncle

To my mind, the real Screwtape quote is even more relevant today than the fictive pericope.  Certainly there is a word we need to hear from the latter about focusing on the drama and immorality of others instead of trying to increase in virtue ourselves.  The real Lewis, however, offers a subtler and more important point on the dangers of manipulating faith for our own personal and ideological ends.  Many, if not most, forms of popular Christianity (read: Protestantism) are proffered either a) as a means of personal advancement or b) as a means of societal advancement.  Both fit demonic desires. Screwtape tells Wormwood they want their victims to “treat Christianity as a means,” preferably to selfish ends but also to more noble ends if necessary.

This is a subtle but crucial point – a “little rift” as Screwtape calls it.  Christianity turned into a means is thus embraced not because it is true, not because, say, Jesus really is the Messiah of Israel and the world’s true Lord (N.T. Wright’s lovely formulation), but because Christian faith gets you from point A to point B.  Even if point B is something desirable like “social justice,” we (Screwtape’s victims) have successfully reduced Christianity from an end to a means, from the truth on which the world turns to just another way of achieving some desired outcome.


St. Augustine noted long ago, there are things that can be used and things that can be enjoyed.  Only God can be truly enjoyed, for all other things are to be used or enjoyed only in reference to God.  The temptation to make faith a means to anything else is to attempt to use God rather than enjoy God.  This makes the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob into little more than a glorified genie.

Much like fictive quotes associated with John Wesley, the real Clive Staples is better than the invented.  There is a reason he is still influential decade after his death.  Few have put so eloquently or so readably what is at stake in Christian believing and Christian living (which, in his brilliance, he did not divide).  So perhaps we’d be better off if we made this last quote famous, since it cuts to the heart of all our idolatries.  What better way to honor a teacher and writer whose legacy is the simple but radical project he named “mere” Christianity?

What are you other favorite quotes from Lewis?  How else do you see the temptation today to turn Christianity into a means rather than an end? Leave a comment below – and don’t forget to subscribe!

Source: Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, p. 253.

P.S. The first Methodist to say that social justice is a core aspect of the gospel because they’ve conflated it with social holiness loses points.

Comments ( 18 )

  1. Will the Real C.S. Lewis Please Stand Up? (re: that fake quote) — Drew McIntyre | Plowshares Into Swords | Talmidimblogging
    […] via Will the Real C.S. Lewis Please Stand Up? (re: that fake quote) — Drew McIntyre | Plowshares Into … […]
  2. ReplyNickname ( required )
    Social justice is biblical. JAMES 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. MARK 10:21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." ACT 4:32-35 32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
    • ReplyJason
      The point is not that social justice isn't important or even commanded, it's motivation and direction. If we follow God because we want a better society (which undoubtedly would be true if we followed God) instead of because he is God, then we've turned the effect into the goal and the goal into a means.
      • ReplyTheophilus South
        What Jason said. To me, the crucial point statists often miss about these passages is that the generosity offered and recommended in Scripture was VOLUNTARY, not in response to the edicts of iron-fisted governments or even in response to the demands of church leaders. As Peter said to Ananias about the property he'd sold and then tried to appear more generous than he really was, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?” (Acts 5:4a, NASB). No one REQUIRED or DEMANDED believers be generous. If it's not from the heart, it's not generosity. It's compliance.
  3. ReplyJeff
    Thanks for the thoughtful piece. I find this an interesting excerpt as well - "Looking round your patient’s new friends I find that the best point of attack would be the border-line between theology and politics. Several of his new friends are very much alive to the social implications of their religion. That, in itself, is a bad thing; but good can be made out of it." Those who've posted the fake quote might unknowingly be falling for confirmation bias as they grapple with whether or not to engage in the political process.
  4. ReplyJim Lung
    My two favorite Lewis quotes: (At least I hope he wrote them; if he didn't, he should have: "Every disability conceals a vocation." God is so masculine that in relation to him, everything (we are all??) feminine."
  5. ReplyTraverse
    "Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
  6. Drew McIntyre: Will the Real C.S. Lewis Please Stand Up? (re: that fake quote) - Juicy Ecumenism
    […] article originally appeared on his blog.  Re-posted with […]
  7. ReplyAndy
    Thank you. I had shared this on Facebook before something rang an my head that it just didn't sound right. The thinking of this great man has had a huge impact on my own and I love your comments on his words. Cheers.
  8. ReplyA_Man_Named_Mike
    Wow. Thanks for posting. Before becoming Catholic as an adult, I spent 30 years mistreating God in my attempt to believe in Him. I did both the personal advancement (as an evangelical and a conservative) then after a bout with homelessness, turned liberal in the UMC and was introduced to Christianity as a means toward a just society via the modern version of the prophetic tradition. We have become very sophisticated in our idolatries, indeed. Now, I'm convicted of using prayer as a means in dealing with the crisis of unemployment. God is rich in mercy, but I'd love to just enjoy Him in every way. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
  9. ReplyL.Y. Mare
    I think you meant to type "most Christians" where you accused Protestantism of being used for societal/political advancement, or perhaps just forgot to complete your list since both are guilty of that crime. Your pope sways with the political tides like the most devout liberals I know and actively opposes or supports political candidates in ways beyond the normal human's right and he is just a human since Jesus is our high priest declaring no need for hierarchical clergy (Hebrews 8). While I appreciate your note on accurately representing Lewis, your analysis and subtle vilification of scripture-based Christianity (of which Catholics are clearly not) overshadows this article with agenda-pushing bias, feigning intellectualism. Catholicism is very political at it's highest levels (https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/clinton-trump-to-appear-at-annual-al-smith-dinner-in-new-york) and massively overrun with followers who twist it for cultural status and even votes, all the while showing little-to-none in their daily life in living out an exemplification of Jesus. I'm not declaring Protestants innocent, I'm simply reminding everyone here that ALL churches face severe apostasy in their bodies, of which none of you should ever feel immune to simply because you declare to be a Universalist (what Catholic really means by definition). As a brother, I say these things, not to condemn, but to caution and plead with you all; Be Aware, lest you be deceived by high and pious speech, false prophets, and devious leaders (Deut 11:16, Matt 7:15, 24:11, 1John 4:1). Trust no man, save one tested and proven worthy in conformity to the God's Holy Word. Don't worship idols whether statues, trinkets, people, or yourselves, but seek humbly our Abba, Father, made known to us through Jesus, the King who intercedes for us DIRECTLY that we may approach the throne with boldness, hallelujah! Lastly, if any of you had an experience in a church that did not honor Jesus as preeminent above all, I want to challenge you to return there and guide your mistaken brothers and sisters to the truth and away from sin (Jam 5:19-20), for the Spirit of the Yahweh is in us and calling us to harmony together in good works, producing light in this darkening world. Blessings to you all.
    • ReplyDrew
      Hi LY! As it happens, I am not Catholic.
  10. ReplyJay
    Hey the quote actually is pulled from his book The Screwtape Letters, I just read it the other day, word for word from his book. But! The other quotes are awesome too though!
    • ReplyDrew
      Jay, I believe you are mistaken, but if you get a page number I will retract.
  11. Replykfora649
    So this is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. What is the role of my faith outside of personal sanctification and drawing closer to my God? Does it have anything to say in regards to social justice, politics, economics? And if so, how much? And how do we guard against equating our faith to our political, social an economic viewpoints? In the current season, it's hard not to think about politics as being something that has corrupted our church whether that be left or right leaning. I am going to ponder more on this idea of using faith as a MEANS to an end, rather than the inspiration and gold standard with which i navigate my life and engage with the outside world. I don't know where to find that balance, but I have 2 extremes in mind that I would like to avoid. ONe would be my roots, where as fundamentalist Christians, we often excused our lack of engagement in social justice or anything other than the directly spiritual because the world was going to Hell in a hand basket anyway. Not only did this severely cripple my faith because it isolated to only one part of my life, but it damaged my witness to most unbelievers. The other extreme is what i see in college students (the generate right before mine) today. The belief that their faith can literally solve world problems to the point that I worry they will lose their faith should things not go as they expect. Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you have time. I know this is an older post.
  12. Replystephen
    The one that drives me *nuts* is "You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream." I have been reading Lewis's works since the mid-60s, and while I do not claim to be any kind of scholar, I could never recall anywhere that he said this. Perhaps in the Narnia series, I thought. But I don't find it there. Now, maybe it's in The Dark Tower, which I dispute as authentic, but if so, it is exactly the meaning of apocrypha. PS: It appears the complete text of SL is here, and I do not find this quote: http://www.truechristianity.info/books/the_screwtape_letters.doc
  13. (CCSLQ-32) – Fixated on Politics | Essential C.S. Lewis
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