The world an end, and faith a means

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis provide a narrative of an experienced demon, Uncle Screwtape, mentoring his nephew, Wormwood, in the family business -  luring people away from God. Lewis weaves in philosophy, psychology, theology and then-current events into his work and provides an evangelical look into temptation. Last night reading Letter #7, I came across a passage which brought to mind some of the pitfalls of the culture war for Christians. In 1942 wartime context, Lewis, via Screwtape, discusses the political debates between the Patriots (in favor of the war) and the Pacifists (those opposing Britain’s involvement in the war).  

Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the 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 at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, 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 pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, 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 down here.

Your affectionate uncle, SCREWTAPE

Screwtape encourages his apprentice to foster devotion to a cause. This then takes him further away from the real encounter with God and the faith relationship. Indeed, if Wormwood’s human “patient” can put movements and organizations and crusading ahead of all else then he is of no real threat to Screwtape.

I think this passage provides caution to those who believe fighting the culture war is Christian ministry. When fighting the culture war becomes more important than a witness to the gospel, then the mischief really begins. Specifically, in the past several years, I have seen people who are so concerned with the “gay agenda” that they overlook cult involvement in people because they are “ex-gay.” Some here in the US who are willing to tolerate the very unChristian stance of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill because, in Lou Engle’s words, “Uganda has become ground zero” in the fight against the gay agenda. In the upcoming documentary from Current TV, you will hear Scott Lively say very nearly the same thing in defense of the bill.

Some might argue that I am just as guilty because of my advocacy against the Uganda bill. And I would not take that criticism lightly. My view is that freedom of conscience is necessary for the Church to have the greatest impact. Advocacy for that position is important business but it is not the main business. I doubt that such advocacy will lead anyone away from the redemptive business of the church. On the other hand, my great concern is that culture warring lulls people into feeling that that the cause justifies the considerable offense that comes with vilifying those the church yearns to reach.


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