What C.S. Lewis Said and Didn't Say About Politics

            In the middle of the Second World War, English author C. S. Lewis wrote a small book called Screwtape Letters. You can consider this a Christian book but not in the conventional sense. The Screwtape Letters are a collection of letters written by a high-level devil named Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, a novice demon.

            Uncle Screwtape, sometimes patiently and often without patience, through his letters guides, counsels and rebukes his young nephew in the finer arts of distracting and discouraging a new Christian who is the charge of Wormwood. When you read the book, and you should if you haven’t, you have to remember that the “Enemy” in the book is the Lord God.

            The book created a sensation when it was published. Numerous clergymen of the time condemned it as diabolical. I am guessing that they never read it—too bad. For to read Screwtape Letters is to get a pretty fair sense of the unseen world of principalities and powers, as Paul calls them in Ephesians 6:12: “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” C.S. Lewis pulls back the cover of this reality and helps us see what we’re up against.

            In the last week, a quote attributed to this author and this book appeared on various social media sites. I read it and without really thinking too much about it, liked the sentiment of it. Here it is:

My Dear Wormwood,

Be sure that the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control. Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing. Ensure that the patient continues to believe that the problem is “out there” in the “broken system” rather than recognizing there is a problem with himself.

Keep up the good work,

Uncle Screwtape

             Nice quote, but Lewis didn’t write it and you won’t find it in Screwtape.

            Lewis did say something about the political arena and the Christian life. This is what he wrote in Screwtape:


About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that “only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilizations”. You see the little rift? “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.” That’s the game,
Your affectionate uncle

             Both quotes are helpful to me in these days of heated political discourse amid great division within our culture. I think Christians should be a part of bringing the good news of the Gospel into all areas of our lives. This means participation by voting, becoming informed, discussing, even arguing and marching. I can never be effective though if I am full of rage, resentment, and superiority -- something Uncle Screwtape knows.