The future disappears into memory
With only a moment between
Forever dwells in that moment
Hope is what remains to be seen
- The Garden, Rush
The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis
The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point at which time touches eternity.
Religion and politics. I will look at two different letters to examine this topic of religion and politics. I am glad that Lewis has introduced this topic in this way, because this song from Rush is – in my opinion – one of the most beautiful and meaningful songs from this band. I have long wanted a reason to include it in a post.
Given this destiny of eternity for man, the task for Wormwood is to get the patient thinking about anything other than eternity or the present moment. Understandable about eternity, but why is the present of concern to Screwtape? The present is the only “point at which time touches eternity.”
Thinking about the past is OK, but not great, for Screwtape’s purposes – it is already done and the patient already knows it. It is on the future where the patient should be led to obsession. Not in terms of planning for the future – Lewis offers that planning for tomorrow is a task for today. But it is planning for “acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow.” It isn’t a call to change the world, but to plan for one’s own action toward one’s own duty.
Lewis offers that the future is least like eternity – less than the past and less than the present: the past is frozen and no longer flows; the present is most like eternity, “all lit up with eternal rays” according to Lewis. “Forever dwells in that moment,” according to Rush.
Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead. …But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future – haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell on earth – ready to break the Enemy’ commands in the present if by so doing we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other….
Get man focused on the future – schemes that will bring heaven down to earth: “Creative Evolution, Scientific Humanism, Communism, which all fix men’s affections on the Future.” We can add things like global warming to Lewis’ list. Communism (meaning all manners of socialism) is going to bring heaven down to earth; dealing with global warming is intended to avoid hell on earth. Both have man obsessed with the future instead of working on the present.
We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now….
We certainly have a political system geared toward this, a system that enables almost unlimited resources to be focused on such pursuits – driven and supported by those who for whom avarice and lust are highly valued characteristics; for those who are never honest, kind, or happy…not now and not ever.
For this, the patient must be filled with anxiety or hope: “it doesn’t matter which.” This gets the Patient out of the present, where “all duty, all grace, all knowledge, and all pleasure dwell….” A very undesirable situation, according to Screwtape.
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…even social justice.
The first task is to get man to “value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands…” after which man is convinced to value Christianity as a means to this end. But “the Enemy will not be mocked.” Neither men nor nations can revive the Faith in order to make a good society. Get humans to believe Christianity is true for any reason other than the true reason: “That is the game.”
This will take some unpacking. On the one hand, Lewis seems to be suggesting that Christianity should flow into political life, yet he warns that Christianity should not be used as a means to any end other than the “true reason”: (he offers: “a single historical fact (Resurrection) and a single theological doctrine (the Redemption)). How to deal with this?
I read Lewis’s words as a call to action – Christian action, action consistent with the actions of Jesus. Such action is not conducted by force or coercion. There is nothing is Jesus’s teachings that supports such an idea. It has taken a bad interpretation of Romans 13 and avoidance of the numerous Biblical passages that are contrary to this bad interpretation of Romans 13 to come to such a conclusion.
But where is Jesus in this bad interpretation? Nowhere to be found.
Christianity cannot be elevated by force – political or otherwise. Augustine doesn’t make this right, Constantine doesn’t make this right, Charlemagne doesn’t make this right. It is the meek that shall inherit the earth; it is the peacemakers who are blessed.
There is a “true reason” for Christianity, and it is for the Faith. It is not for political power; it is not for theocracy. That Christianity also offers the only foundation for man’s liberty to flourish on this earth is a welcome effect (and the reason for my focus).
I cannot read Lewis’s words in any other way. As Screwtape said: “The Enemy will not be mocked.”