I was recently attracted by a quotation on social media that someone attributed to C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors. The quotation (supposed to be from the Screwtape Letters) is as follows:
My dear wormwood, Be sure 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.
I thought this quotation was interesting and it gave me a moment of pause. A little research, however, brought me to the conclusion that this quotation was actually NOT written by C.S. Lewis. So, of course, I had to spend a little time researching what Lewis’s real take on politics was, especially given our present circumstances in the U.S.A.
I found an interesting article on Lewis and politics (here,) which gave me some food for thought. To summarize, the article suggests that Lewis felt a sort of tension about politics. The article points out that on one hand, Lewis abhorred politics, writing in a letter, “Our papers at the moment are filled with nothing but politics, a subject in which I cannot take any interest.” However, later in the same letter, he criticized the Labour government in a “well-informed manner.”
The article goes on to say that Lewis was involved politically from a young age, writing letters and teaching– not specifically about politics– but about the “natural law” underpinning politics. I found this entire article to be fascinating, especially when examining Lewis’s thoughts about how a democratic country gets to totalitarianism– and I quote from the article– It could take the form of “a benevolent scientific bureaucracy, which destroys or damages mediating institutions such as the church and the family, and makes genuine freedom … difficult to achieve.” (I got some chills when reading this.) But, I digress.
C.S. Lewis did not like politics as such and did not want to become a political figure. But, from my understanding of his writings and from research about the man– he couldn’t help but speak out on political issues because politics, after all, are only an extension of our deeply held spiritual beliefs.
Here are some further quotations that explore Lewis’s thoughts on power and government:
From The Allegory of Love: “The descent to hell is easy, and those who begin by worshipping power soon worship evil.”
From God in the Dock: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
And finally from God in the Dock: “He who converts his neighbour has performed the most practical Christian-political act of all.”
From my brief research, as well as from my prior readings of Lewis, here is my conclusion. A Christian’s end goal should never be political, but in our duty to speak the truth in love, we are going to undoubtedly run into politics.
I’m not sure exactly how this should look in the 2020 election, but I think we have to keep in mind the spiritual realities that are underneath “this present darkness.” As such, when I am tempted to yell at politicians I hear on the radio or t.v. (not that I would ever!) it may be better for me to remember that these are real people who are very often lost souls. It may be better for me to pray for our “leaders” than for me to get angry. It may be necessary for me to speak up, attend political rallies, and vote, but even if I do those things, I have to keep in mind that Politics Are Never Going to Solve Spiritual Problems.
The lack of a belief in God and the unwillingness to follow something other than our own inclinations are pulling our society apart. What this country needs more than anything is not for a certain party to win our election, but for a revival. If we are going to “Make America Great Again,” we need to examine our worldview and get back to the basics.
I’m going to close this off with another Lewis quote to consider: “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.” Let’s keep the end in mind!