The Screwtape Letters: Twenty Through Twenty-Five

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through three books by C. S. Lewis, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2018. The schedule is online.

This week we’re looking at letters 20 to 25. Two passages caught my attention this week.

I was struck by how contemporary Lewis’s comments on sexual temptation in letter 20 seem, even though he wrote this book nearly 80 years ago.

We have engineered a great increase in the licence which society allows to the representation of the apparent nude (not the real nude) in art, and its exhibition on the stage or the bathing beach. It is all a fake, of course; the figures in the popular art are falsely drawn; the real women in bathing suits or tights are actually pinched in and propped up to make them appear firmer and more slender and more boyish than nature allows a full-grown woman to be. Yet at the same time, the modern world is taught to believe that it is being “frank” and “healthy” and getting back to nature. As a result we are more and more directing the desires of men to something which does not exist—making the role of the eye in sexuality more and more important and at the same time making its demands more and more impossible. What follows you can easily forecast! (letter 20, page 243)

It was indeed easy to forecast, but now we need merely look around. Sexual dysfunction plagues our society. A study that appeared this week (Pornography Use and Marriage Entry During Early Adulthood: Findings From a Panel Study of Young Americans in prepublication) found that “higher levels of pornography use in emerging adulthood were associated with a lower likelihood of marriage by the final survey wave for men, but not women.” Lewis called it.

The other passage which stood out to me was from letter 21, and I confess it struck uncomfortably close to home:

Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered. Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tete-а-tete with the friend), that throw him out of gear.… They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen.… The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon his chattels. He is also, in theory, committed a total service of the Enemy; and if the Enemy appeared to him in bodily form and demanded that total service for even one day, he would not refuse.

That is so true. If God asks for fifteen minutes, I’ll give it to Him gladly regardless of what I am doing. But if someone chats with me for fifteen minutes while I’m trying to get a task done, I become impatient and irritable. Yet Jesus clearly said “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). I need to change.

Anyway, that’s some of what I got from this week’s readings. Only two weeks of reading remain!

Things Glen Found Interesting, Volume 148

On Fridays I share articles/resources about broad cultural, societal and theological issues. Be sure to see the explanation and disclaimers at the bottom. I welcome your suggestions. If you read something fascinating please pass it my way.

Things Glen Found Interesting

  1. This college professor gives her students extra credit for going on dates (Lisa Bonos, Washington Post): “She sees conversations about dating as part of the big questions her classes tackle, such as: How should I live my life? What kinds of relationships help me to become the kind of person I want to be? If students don’t learn how to date while they’re in college, while surrounded by thousands of peers all in a similar stage in life, Cronin says, it only gets harder to build those skills after graduation.” The professor in question, Kerry Cronin, is a philosopher at Boston College.
    • She has these rules for a first date: “The student has to ask in person (“texting is the devil; stop it,” she says in one of her YouTube videos), and the recipient has to know it’s a date. And if they say they’re busy and to check back with them later, don’t. Just move on. ‘That’s a great skill to build, so that you can have a thicker skin,’ Cronin says. She believes that the person who asks, pays. And the first date shouldn’t cost more than $10, include drugs or alcohol, or last longer than 90 minutes…”
    • Those are good guidelines. Read them again.
  2. I think the following two articles will prove to be among the most controversial I’ve ever shared. I also think they both contain much practical wisdom that will prove relevant as the weather warms:
    • For the gents: Dealing With Nuisance Lust (Douglas Wilson, personal blog): “Minimize the seriousness of this, but not so that you can feel good about indulging yourself. Minimize the seriousness of it so that you can walk away from a couple of big boobs without feeling like you have just fought a cosmic battle with principalities and powers in the heavenly places, for crying out loud. Or, if you like, in another strategy of seeing things rightly, you could nickname these breasts of other woman as the ‘principalities and powers.’ Whatever you do, take this part of life in stride like a grown-up. Stop reacting like a horny and conflicted twelve-year-old boy.”
    • For the ladies: Sister… Show Mercy! (Dan Phillips, Team Pyro): “Sister, if there’s one thing you and I can certainly agree on, it’s this: I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman, and you don’t know what it’s like to be a man. We’re both probably wrong where we’re sure we’re right, try as we might. So let me try to dart a telegram from my camp over to the distaff side.”
    • I am aware that these two articles only deal with things from a male perspective. Sadly, I haven’t come across any insightful articles that help ladies deal with their own lust or give gentlemen advice on how to be helpful to them. Ladies, if you’ve read something you found truly helpful, let me know.
  3. Jesus, Take the Control Wheel: Southwest Pilot Saw Flying as Ministry (David Roach, Christianity Today): “Tammie Jo Shults—the pilot who guided Flight 1380 to the ground April 17 after a midflight engine failure shot debris through a window, killing one passenger—is a recognizable figure at the Texas Hill Country church, which averages 900 in worship…. Multiple media reports have cited a blog post in which Shults stated being a pilot gave her ‘the opportunity to witness for Christ on almost every flight.’” You can glorify God in almost any profession — make it your ambition.
  4. Five Great Books on African American Evangelical History (Thomas Kidd, The Gospel Coalition): “If I had to pick one African American church leader I wish more Christians knew about, it would probably be [Lemuel] Haynes. A Revolutionary War soldier, Haynes went on to become a pastor of a largely white church in New England, a critic of American slavery, and an advocate of the New Divinity theology of Jonathan Edwards’s successors.”
  5. Donald Trump, Tragic Hero (Victor Davis Hanson, National Review): “Tragic heroes, as they have been portrayed from Sophocles’ plays (e.g., Ajax, Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Philoctetes) to the modern western film, are not intrinsically noble. Much less are they likeable. Certainly, they can often be obnoxious and petty, if not dangerous, especially to those around them.” Hanson is a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.
  6. The Facebook Trials: It’s Not “Our” Data (Alex Tabarrok, Marginal Revolution): “…I have hundreds of friends on Facebook, most of whom I don’t know well and have never met. But my Facebook friends are friends. We share common interests and, most of the time, I’m happy to see what they are thinking and doing and I’m pleased when they show interest in what I’m up to. If, before Facebook existed, I had been asked to list ‘my friends,’ I would have had a hard time naming ten friends, let alone hundreds. My Facebook friends didn’t exist before Facebook. My Facebook friendships are not simply my data—they are a unique co-creation of myself, my friends, and, yes, Facebook.”
  7. Google Will Now Answer Your Theological Questions (OpenBible.info): “Google just announced an AI-powered experiment called Talk to Books, which lets you enter a query and find passages in books that are semantically similar to your query, not merely passages that happen to match the keywords you chose. For theology- and Bible-related questions, it often presents an evangelical perspective, perhaps because U.S. evangelical publishers have been eager for Google to index their books.”

Less Serious Things Which Also Interested/Amused Glen

  • A Divided Country (Pearls Before Swine): this one actually made me laugh and not merely chortle sensibly.
  • Christ Chella (John Crist, Facebook): this is amazingly detailed and the more you know the evangelical culture the funnier it is

Things Glen Found Interesting A While Ago

Every week I’ll highlight an older link still worth your consideration. This week we have On Political Correctness (William Deresiewicz, The American Scholar): a long and thoughtful article. “Selective private colleges have become religious schools. The religion in question is not Methodism or Catholicism but an extreme version of the belief system of the liberal elite: the liberal professional, managerial, and creative classes, which provide a large majority of students enrolled at such places and an even larger majority of faculty and administrators who work at them. To attend those institutions is to be socialized, and not infrequently, indoctrinated into that religion…. I say this, by the way, as an atheist, a democratic socialist, a native northeasterner, a person who believes that colleges should not have sports teams in the first place—and in case it isn’t obvious by now, a card-carrying member of the liberal elite.” (first shared in volume 92)

Why Do You Send This Email?

In the time of King David, the tribe of Issachar produced shrewd warriors “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32). In a similar way, we need to become wise people whose faith interacts with the world. I pray this email gives you greater insight, so that you may continue the tradition of Issachar.

Disclaimer

Chi Alpha is not a partisan organization. To paraphrase another minister: we are not about the donkey’s agenda and we are not about the elephant’s agenda — we are about the Lamb’s agenda. Having said that, I read widely (in part because I believe we should aspire to pass the ideological Turing test and in part because I do not believe I can fairly say “I agree” or “I disagree” until I can say “I understand”) and may at times share articles that have a strong partisan bias simply because I find the article stimulating. The upshot: you should not assume I agree with everything an author says in an article I mention, much less things the author has said in other articles (although if I strongly disagree with something in the article I’ll usually mention it).

Also, remember that I’m not reporting news — I’m giving you a selection of things I found interesting. There’s a lot happening in the world that’s not making an appearance here because I haven’t found stimulating articles written about it.

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