Posts Tagged ‘C. S. Lewis’

To Be Like Stalks

Summers Waning Days

You remember how one of the Greek Dictators (they called them “tyrants” then) sent an envoy to another Dictator to ask his advice about the principles of government. The second Dictator led the envoy into a field of grain, and there he snicked off with his cane the top of every stalk that rose an inch or so above the general level.

The moral was plain. Allow no preeminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser or better or more famous or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them all down to a level: all slaves, all ciphers, all nobodies. All equals. Thus Tyrants could practise, in a sense, “democracy.” But now “democracy” can do the same work without any tyranny other than her own. No one need now go through the field with a cane. The little stalks will now of themselves bite the tops off the big ones. The big ones are beginning to bite off their own in their desire to Be Like Stalks.” – C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Proposes a Toast” (The Screwtape Letters)

Screwtape offers this advice in the advancement of jealousy in order to keep humans from faith or to keep those with faith from productive lives. Earlier, he’d said,

No man who says I’m as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior.

I find Lewis’ discussion on this especially relevant today. The way social issues are framed is in terms of “income inequality” and “marriage inequality.” In other words, what is being appealed to in the way the debate is framed is the very jealousy that Screwtape is desirous of. And, like the tyrant in the story, our political class is wielding it with great skill. Don’t fall for it. Someone else’s success is not your failure and our political elite only care enough to knock them down if it keeps you in line. Real answers are more complex.

Aimed at Heaven

img_20130430_161623Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more—food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else more. – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Push Back the Crowd


The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to the other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, strong, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the the right parts of us. – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Truth and Beauty

If he had lived long enough to witness the relegation of Pluto to the status of a dwarf planet in 2006, Lewis would have been quietly pleased. He would have taken it as confirmation of his view that ‘a scientific fact’ is not necessarily the immutable, universal truth that it is popularly believed to be. The glory of science is to progress as new facts are discovered to be true, and such progress means that ‘factual truth’ is a provisional human construct. Which is why the wise man does not think only in the category of truth; the category of beauty is also worth thinking in. – Michael Ward, Planet Narnia, 27