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

screwtape-fake

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
SCREWTAPE 

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.

screwtape-quote

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.

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Sharpton Scary on Social Justice

http://serenitythruhaiku.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/alsharpton.jpg?w=1140

Interesting clip from the Rev. with the hair.  He insists that “the struggle [for social justice] is not over until we achieve equality…the dream [of Dr. King] was to make everything equal in everyone’s house.”

I’m no Glenn Beck, but I do think that the concept of social justice is nebulous at best and socially and economically harmful at worst.  I don’t know nearly enough about King to say if his ‘dream’ was absolute equality, not merely of opportunity – or even outcome – but of property.  (Or am I reading too much into Sharpton’s comments?)

If, however, Rev. Sharpton is right, we won’t see anything approaching social justice until Jesus comes back.  I’ve been saying this for a while now.  I don’t think ‘social justice’ as a concept is very useful for setting any real political agendas.  It has nowhere near the utility – or the Christian content – of something like a “preferential option for the poor.”  But hey, it does sound good.  Besides, as long as middle-class whites learn to despise their privilege at our institutions of higher learning, they will continue to shout the tropes of ‘social justice’ as a way of justifying their own existence.  Others will preach it and legislate it as a way of courting the masses to allow them to remain in power.

Rev. Al is right.  “We’re not there yet.”  We won’t be, either, not this side of the eschaton.  Social justice is here to stay…at least until Jesus comes back.

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Follow Up: Wallis on Beck

I don’t often agree with Jim Wallis – he is too much of a run-of-the-mill liberal Baptist for my liking – but it’s worth letting him have his say on the Glenn Beck statement I recently commented on.  Agree or not, Wallis is a passionate, intelligent man who practices what he preaches.  Literally.  As for Glenn Beck, well, let’s hope he catches severe laryngitis very soon.

See Rev. Wallis’ comments here.

Wallis is right: justice is at the heart of the gospel, of all the Biblical witness.  But there is both distributive justice and retributive justice.  For one, few of us have room in our political philosophies for both (most of us pick one).  For another, the distributive justice envisioned in the prophets and in the Kingdom have little bearing on how or if the power of the state should be used to those ends.  For those of us who are suspicious of both the power of the state and its ability to do anything effectively, the way that the church should effect distributive justice is through the church, and not the heavy hand of Caesar.

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I can’t stand Glenn Beck because…

….sometimes I have to hate myself a little bit for agreeing with him in even the smallest way. Case in point: I have to agree with him in disliking the terms “economic justice” and “social justice.”  But in his equation of this idea with Nazism and Communism, and his advising people to leave churches that teach and preach this, I cannot find words strong enough to condemn his virulent comments.

I’ve covered this territory before, but I’m guessing all the Beck-hate will garner a lot of new traffic thanks to a provocative title (yes, this means you).  Face the facts: no one can define what “social justice” or “economic justice” means.  This doesn’t mean they are super-secret “code words” for totalitarianism, though they are generally associated with people of a leftist persuasion.  Both terms describe various schemes for distributive justice.  Some conservative commentators have pointed out that anyone government powerful enough to establish a perfect state of “social” justice would be unjust by the sheer fact of its magnitude, coercion, and requisite violation of the private sphere of life.  In other words, if advocates of social justice had their way, the policies the would require to fulfill their vision would likely run roughshod over the rights of many others – particularly property rights – in pursuit of their ends.

This does not mean mean advocates of distributive justice are all totalitarians in our midst.  It is simply an undefined bit of language that some on the left use to denote a whole host of attitudes with no single definition.  On the right, an equivalently problematic and undefined phrase might be “family values.”  In my experience, most people who advocate social justice are good-hearted souls who want to help people, particularly the poor and oppressed (however defined).  If they are guilty of not thinking through all the presuppositions of their language, well, that makes them anything but special.

But Glenn, you’re a carbuncle on the face of American conservatism.  I wish you were in a less unsavory place, like the buttocks or armpit where no one would see you, but the fact is your brand of populist nonsense is front and center on the airwaves.  The sad part is, this is coming from someone who has watched his share of Fox News – so don’t go calling me a Commie.  You desperately need a lobotomy or a kick in the pants, maybe both.

We have enough people leaving churches.  Our modern suspicion of all institutions, traditions, and authorities, is taking care of that.  There are good reasons to leave churches – we all know this.  But social justice? Really?  Was it that slow of a news day?

Do us all a favor: crawl into a hole, shut your mouth, read the Bible until you have enough humility to realize it should stay shut permanently, and find something useful to do with your time that does not involve infecting American politics with your bleating lunacy.

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