Hugh Baker has been rereading the Screwtape Letters and is still much impressed by C.S. Lewis’s capacity for perceptive predictions on secular thought and culture
It was a quiet night in the Vestry, and no one was coming to see me about the occasional offices; so, my eyes wandered over the book shelves, and on a whim I took down a book most of us will have read, but maybe like me not for decades; C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. When you re-read a good book after thirty years you are, of course, a different person reading it, and different things stand out. Arriving at Letter Seven, Screwtape’s words to Wormwood (written in 1941) struck me as truly prophetic:
/ have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalize and mythologize their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, a belief in us (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The ‘Life Force, the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful.
I would like to spend three months looking at the three things Lewis prophesied: The ‘Life Force’, the worship of sex, and some aspects of psychoanalysis.
Life force practitioners
There was a time when we believed in Science: we were going to apply it to every aspect of society, rule the world, and bend it to our will. That the world has not been so bent has made us realize the world is not the mute, inert lump of observable, controllable stuff popular scientism told us it was. Rather than advance to a sacramental view of the world, in which the material can be inhabited by the spiritual, our culture has retreated into pantheism.
God is everywhere and everything; so (particularly if it seems to do you good) it must be God. ‘The Force be with you’ intoned Star Trek’s characters, signalling the acceptance into Hollywood thought of deity as impersonal.
The Life Force is now out there on the High Street, and being paid for by you and me through the Health Service. Does anyone question the long-term effects on us, not just physically but as eternal, spiritual beings, of acupuncture, reflexology and the like? A recent episode of Analysis concluded there was no scientific evidence indicating that reflexology had any discernable effect: but modern Western people, now conscious that ‘the drugs don’t work are queuing up for such remedies, for they are in pain; and the healing of Christ is either unavailable, in the hands of the inexpert, or inconveniently tied up with the reality of sin and the virtues of suffering.
You surrender nothing of your ego or your immorality when you consult Life Force practitioners. Like a man visiting a prostitute, the only conscious sacrifice is financial: the unseen sacrifices are the barriers raised between the punter and the good things of God.
The Bible is in no doubt that the Enemy of Souls has, for the time being, a certain amount of power, which he is willing to trade for our eternal destiny. Follow the story of the Gospel’s spread through the Book of Acts, and you encounter Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8. Study of this incident is instructive, for The Life Force is named as such here: ‘This man is the divine power known as the Great Power’ [Acts 8:10c]. The Scriptures look (through the eyes of Peter) into the heart, however: offering money for the reception of the Holy Spirit [8:18c] Simon is roundly told by the apostle ‘Repent of this wickedness… I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin’ [8:23].
To the early Fathers, Simon was the epitome of Antichrist. Irenaeus [Against Heresies i] states that Simon was the founder of Gnosticism; since Gnosticism was the very air the Greek world lived, this seems harsh judgement, but Simon is certainly held up as a type of all that is opposed to God. Justin Martyr [Apology i, 26] mistakenly ascribes an ancient inscription in the city of Rome to Simon. In the pseudo-Clementine Recognitions and Homilies the legend about Simon’s becoming the nemesis of Peter is greatly elaborated. Also, the apocryphal Acts of Peter tell how the Christians of Rome were corrupted by this man’s false teaching. All this maybe over-egging the pudding, but it demonstrates this: that in the early Church’s view, ‘The Force’ was not of God. Next month (if you feel equal to the task) we’ll look at Screwtape’s second hope – the worship of sex.