Hugh Baker continues his examination of three of C.S. Lewis’s predictions about the future of secular society in the Screwtape Letters
The ‘Life Force’, the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful,’ writes Screwtape in the seventh of his Letters to young Wormwood, as he advises the lad on what may tempt us from a relationship with Christ. Let us examine the second of his three hopes.
The calm delight (to use Evelyn Underbill’s phrase) of knowing God is central to steady Christian growth, and any interruptions of such should only be those that God in his providence allows. In short, our lives should be ruled by Colossians 3.15: ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.’
Life, seemingly, now conspires against such calm. A recent television series on celebrated comics of yesteryear brought back fond memories, all very far from the emotional self-indulgence that now surrounds searches for genius such as Dancing on Ice, The X Factor or I’d Do Anything. Here, emotions are all. The exultation of the successful and the desolation of the defeated are scrutinized by up-close-and-personal camera.
Such rollercoaster rides are afforded us round the clock. The neurotic nurses and dysfunctional doctors of Holby City; the sniping, in-your-face nastinesses of Summer Bay and Ramsay Street; the depressingly feral behaviour of the denizens of Albert Square; none of them matter a fig, since none of them are telling us how to love the calm, mannered majority with whom most of us are able to share life for most of the time.
What is disturbing about them, however, is that they indicate a rising national Appetite for Adrenalin: enjoyment of life, they would indicate, comes not from the calm delight of knowing God’s love, nor from ‘the trivial round, the common task of family, work and fun, but from an unceasing round of feverish excitement; and here lie Screwtape’s hopes for ‘the worship of sex’, for sex (I seem to dimly remember, as my years advance) is an exciting thing for many.
The ability of sex to be a sacramental bond that unites husband and wife, and so strengthens God’s Kingdom, is lost once everything is seen to be there for no more than our excitement, for in the end God himself is what we are looking for, and should we indulge in the idolatry of ‘the worship of sex’, then we will be led down the sad corridors of adultery and perversion.
Behind all idolatry, of course, lies he who would draw us away from God by unhealthy fascination with the things God has made. Trainspotting and stamp-collecting will serve admirably, if we can be tempted to turn what should be recreation into worship; but an age less restrained by Christian presence will look for things less moral, and more empas-sioned, for their fixations.
There is nothing new in all this, of course. The idea that we can build an emotional Tower of Babel to the skies, constructed as the extremes of our emotional range merge into the psychic (and so, unwittingly, into the demonic), lay behind the attempts by the prophets of Baal to bring down the fire at Mount Carme. Here, Glastonbury Festival meets Summer Solstice at Stonehenge meets sado-masochistic sex. It was hype.
It had nothing to do with a God who comes to us in our need, graciously, lovingly and without our having to try. It has nothing to do with an incarnational God whose coming into this world cannot be controlled or directed by us, and that is why Screwtape was prepared to put money on it. It seems to combine us being placed in charge of things with fun: it actually enslaves us to our unredeemed fleshly nature.