Friday, January 07, 2005

Screwtape on Fashions and Vogues

C.S.Lewis' Screwtape Letters The Screwtape Letters has long been a favourite of Lewis fans. Yet the author found writing from the perspective of a devil to be difficult and unpleasant. He only returned to Screwtape a few times after writing the book, despite pleas for more. The book takes the form of letters from one Devil to another, with the older, wiser devil advising his nephew how to best go about corrupting the soul of an Englishman.
What we want, if men are to become Christian at all, is to keep them in the state of mind that I call Christianity And.' You know - Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Age Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Physical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some fashion with Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing. The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart - and endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship... The Enemy has made change pleasurable to them... but since he does not want them to make change and end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both together in the world He has made, by that union of change and permanence that we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year also the same.. Now just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty of familiarity of snowdrops this January, this sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas. Children, until we have taught them better, will be perfectly happy with a seasonal round... only by our constant efforts is the demand for infinite, or unrhythmical, change kept up. This demand is valuable in various ways. In the first place it diminishes pleasure while increasing desire. The pleasure of novelty is by its very nature more subject to the law of diminishing returns. And continued novelty costs money, so the desire for it spells avarice or unhappiness or both. And again, the more rapacious this desire, the sooner it must eat up all the innocent sources of pleasure and pass on to those the enemy forbids... Finally, the desire for novelty is indispensable if we are to produce Fashions or Vogues. The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and try to fix it s approval to that vice we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood... But the greatest triumph of all is to elevate this horror of The Same Old Thing into a philosophy so that nonsense in the intellect may reinforce corruption in the will... Once they knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and others again indifferent. We have largely removed this knowledge. For the descriptive adjective 'unchanged' we have substituted the emotional adjective 'stagnant.' We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favoured Heroes attain - not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes and hour, whatever he does, whoever he is. Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape

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