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Screwtape on Barack Obama and the Spirit of Our Age

October 23, 2008

Many readers will remember  The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis of Narnia fame. In it, senior demon, Screwtape pens evil advice to his querulous underling Wormwood. The question is how to defeat and generally mess up the plans of God, who they call The Enemy.

One passage has been frequently brought to mind these past years; I suddenly remembered the other day and realized how appropriate it is applied to our contemporary political situation:

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 fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under. Thus we make it fashionable to expose the dangers of enthusiasm at the very moment when they are all really becoming worldly and lukewarm; a century later, when we are really making them all Byronic and drunk with emotion, the fashionable outcry is directed against the dangers of the mere “understanding”. Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritansm; and whenever all men are really hastening to be slaves or tyrants we make Liberalism the prime bogey.

Let’s survey the outcry of the present: A post-modern age that can no longer hold that certain truths are self-evident rails against the dangers of “partisanship” i.e. having an idea about what is true politically;  the evils of Conservatism taking over are constantly decried, when all our culture is straining farther to the left than it ever has; Neo-Cons are accused of falsifying the reasons for war and branded as eavesdropping torturers while Muslim terror is downplayed or explained away via class and income disparity; racism against blacks is seen in every anti-Obama agument while hatred of white Christian conservatives goes unchecked and is even encouraged by liberal Christians; Fox News and talk radio are to be threatened with the resurgence of the Fairness Doctrine, even though their failure to influence this election has been a spectacular failure on every level, all the while the rest of the news media culture is overwhelmingly liberal; people who have lived together decrying marriage as “just a piece of paper” now equate refusing to give that piece of paper to gay couples as equivalent to denying voting rights to blacks and even slavery; the unilateralism of the United States is attacked even though international institutions have failed miserably in their goals; defense of democracy and freedom is derided and mocked as we hasten to once again make nice with thugs and dictators who will keep their people in line for us. And on and on.

But the mantra of change, argues Screwtape, is the most devlish of all:

But the greatest triumph of all is to elevate his horror of the Same Old Thing into a philosophy so that nonsense in the intellect may reinforce corruption in the will. It is here that the general Evolutionary or Historical character of modern European thought (partly our work) comes in so useful. The Enemy loves platitudes. [The Enemy is God– Ed.] Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking “Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?” they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make. As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on. And great work has already been done. 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 an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is,

Your affectionate uncle

The campaign of Barack Obama has been brilliant in it’s grasp of the sense of our times. Our country is about to rush to the left side of the boat, already gunwale under with the weight of academia, the media and legal establishment, in the name of hope and change, all the while presenting the world as it is as hopeless unless we finally give in to the tax-and-spend internationalism the left has been promoting for nearly a century. That’s why I pray.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Toayminator permalink
    October 23, 2008 4:03 pm


  2. Wormwood permalink
    October 23, 2008 4:33 pm

    I’ll even second that Amen. It used to take so much effort to divide you all, but you seem to be taking care of that for us. Keep up the good work!

    5 Stars!

  3. David permalink
    October 24, 2008 12:24 pm

    The biblical argument against gays is well documented, god hates them. As he hates adulterers (John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton, Rush Limbaugh etc etc etc etc). He hates deviant juveniles (Deut 21: 18-24). Hates people who don’t worship or believe in him; hates lying (George Bush are you reading this?!). He also hates pork and shell fish.

    The reason that Christian conservatives are disliked by the moderates and the liberals is because they have been able to call the shots in recent years. They’ve had the ear of incurious George for eight long, disasterous years. They hate science, because it tests their own preconceptions about themselves and their dogmatic believes (Nobody likes self-criticism) and the fact that the bible is not inerrant. Now I’m not saying there is no creator (because I don’t know), but every time science pulls the curtain, there is no white beard man behind it. Evolution is the prime, but not the only, example.

    They have push the unconstitutional litmus test (Rick Warren) and framed the debate. This country is a religious country, but nobody can agree on exactly what that strain of religion should be, and therefore we have the establishment clause.

    The Christian right do not own this country, but are part of an ecumenical union of people of belief and non-belief. We have to all live together, it is dangerous to have one group of people to have too much power, hence the checks and balances. It is up to the population to put the aggressors in their place (Ron Parsley, Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Rev Wright, Louis Farrahkan (sic), Pat Buchanan etc etc etc etc).

  4. David permalink
    October 24, 2008 12:27 pm

    Also, checks and balances are there to stop unbelievers from abolishing religion. What we can’t have is religion preventing good scientific inquiry.

  5. Timmy C permalink
    October 26, 2008 12:47 pm

    I think what you are seeing now is not so much change for change sake, but specifically change from the last 8 years of Bush’s leadership of the Republicans. 4 years ago, after Bush won a second term, the late Molly Ivins wrote this:

    “My friend John Henry Faulk always said the way to break a dog of that habit is to take one of the chickens the dog has killed and wire the thing around the dog’s neck, good and strong. And leave it there until that dead chicken stinks so bad the dog won’t be able to stand himself. You leave it on there until the last little bit of flesh rots and falls off, and that dog won’t kill chickens again.

    The Bush Administration is going to be wired around the neck of the American people for four more years, long enough for the stench to sicken everybody. It should cure the country of electing Republicans.

    I can think of nothing more likely to convince the people not to vote for Republicans again for a long, long time than four more years of George W. Bush.”

    If McCain looses, it will be that he didn’t paint a convincing picture of how he would lead in any way meaningfully different than what Bush and Republicans have done in the last 8.

    And this viral video describes that same feeling that I think a ton of folks are having, a lot like Molly predicted.

  6. October 26, 2008 10:40 pm

    David- Thanks again for proving my point!

    Tim- You are describing the “horror of the same old thing”. Not enough people have really considered what we are about to change to- nor has that full picture been articulated by Obama.

  7. The Countess permalink
    October 26, 2008 11:53 pm

    Brilliant post, Count. Your Screwtape analysis is a cogent one, the finer points of which have obviously been missed by most of your commenters. Indeed, the leftist agenda dominates academia and the media and threatens to undo the very fabric of our liberty, and yet the left is running around screaming that the right wing is taking over the country. Fire extinquishers in a flood. The left doesn’t even realize the darkness into which it is charging. And the “Future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain” pretty accurately describes Obama’s core message — and the left’s messianic view of the candidate himself. In fact, I think Screwtape may well be Obama’s campaign advisor.

  8. David permalink
    October 27, 2008 11:15 am

    Count. Which point are you talking about? The regressive agenda of the religious right? Checks and Balances?

    Countess. Which part of academia is the left dominating?

  9. Timmy C permalink
    October 27, 2008 2:29 pm

    “You are describing the “horror of the same old thing”….

    Actually I read Clive as describing the “horror of the same old thing” as a knee jerk aversion to established ideas or ideology purely because they are older.

    Surely there is a different between that an a specific rejection of a specific ideology FOR CAUSE…Wouldn’t that be more like the culture realizing that folly is to be rejected, and not returned to “like a dog returning to it’s vomit?”

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