Screwtape, on Twisted Pleasure


Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it’s better style. To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return—that is what really gladdens Our Father’s heart. And the troughs are the time for beginning the process.
—From C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters

Honestly, I had to look up the word redolent, as only it’s correct meaning adequately conveys Screwtape’s loathing for his Enemy. In case you’re no more literate than I am, imagine driving merrily along a country road, enjoying the fresh, country air with your car’s windows open. Suddenly, you detect an off-color, organic odor, and as it gets stronger, you feel like retching. Without seeing its source, you know there’s a dead animal rotting in the long grass next to the road. That’s what Screwtape meant by natural pleasure being redolent of its Maker.

I can easily imagine the enemy of our souls clinging to that attitude. It’s also the way much of the unchurched world thinks of religion, but I can’t say that I blame them; tragically, religion’s stereotype of cruelty and prejudice is largely well earned. You see, people make religion, and while many of them start out with the best of intentions, passing time and human moral frailty rot its roots, turning it into a dead-standing tree, all brittle and porous, with limbs just waiting to fall on an unwary passerby.

Regarding the natural pleasures that Screwtape considers so repugnant, as usual, Lewis nails it. Such pleasures are our loving God’s tools, dedicated to our happiness and joy. But like our power and hand tools, we can easily misuse them, leading to grievous injury. And also like tools, we can get away with misusing and abusing them for quite some time, until the “accident” happens, taking out a finger, an eye, or worse. Accidents, by the way, are never planned.

That explains the Christian emphasis on chastity until marriage, and moderation when feeding our physical appetites. We aren’t just a bunch of prudish, spoil sports(for the most part), but simply wish to keep unwary pleasure-seekers from experiencing their careless quest’s inevitably painful end.

Okay, time for some self-examination: Is that really why Christians speak out against promiscuity, drug abuse, pornography and such? And what do we hope to gain by harping on sin in the world?

The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 5:9-12

(9) I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—
(10) not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
(11) But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.
(12) For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?

So, we must not even seem to judge outsiders for their depravity, but rather, love them as God does, and be willing to sacrifice ourselves as Christ did to show that love. I’ve often said that those of the world, and children, have better B.S. detectors than we religious Christians. They know when we’re just making a show of caring, but when they see personal sacrifice for their benefit, well, that’s a whole different matter.

Unregenerate people—that’s all those who haven’t trusted Jesus for their salvation and rebirth—naturally seek pleasure outside of God’s perfect plan, exactly as demon Screwtape described, so our enemy already has them in his pocket. In point of fact, we are his target! When—not if—we misuse worldly pleasures, Satan wins, and we loose.

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