Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Screwtape Letters on Selfishness

Here is a book by C.S. Lewis that I thoroughly enjoyed, it is called Screwtape letters. It is a book about a senior demon "Screwtape" who teaches or trains his junior demon Wormwood how to bring down his christian patient. This book brought me great insight into how the devil can influence us in ways we never even knew were there. This portion from chapter 16 is about unselfishness and selfishness. My fiancee and I read this together and even recognized it as a fascinating insight into some aspects we can be aware of in our relationship. Lewis brings out a point I had not seen so clearly put before which I now see happening everywhere, so to find out read on.
Note: Since it is from the demon's point of view, when it speaks of the "Enemy" it is are referring to God.

Yes; courtship is the time for sowing those seeds which will grow up ten years
later into domestic hatred. The enchantment of unsatisfied desire produces
results which the humans can be made to mistake for the results of charity.
Avail yourself of the ambiguity in the word "Love": let them think they have
solved by Love problems they have in fact only waived or postponed under the
influence of the enchantment. While it lasts you have your chance to foment the
problems in secret and render them chronic.
The grand problem is that of "unselfishness". Note, once again, the admirable
work of our Philological Arm in substituting the negative unselfishness for the
Enemy's positive Charity. Thanks to this you can, from the very outset, teach a
man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them but that
he may be unselfish in forgoing them. That is a great point gained. Another
great help, where the parties concerned are male and female, is the divergence
of view about Unselfishness which we have built up between the sexes. A woman
means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving
trouble to others. As a result, a woman who is quite far gone in the Enemy's
service will make a nuisance of herself on a larger scale than any man except
those whom Our Father has dominated completely; and, conversely, a man will live
long in the Enemy's camp before he undertakes as much spontaneous work to please
others as a quite ordinary woman may do every day. Thus while the woman thinks
of doing good offices and the man of respecting other people's rights, each sex,
without any obvious unreason, can and does regard the other as radically
On top of these confusions you can now introduce a few more. The erotic
enchantment produces a mutual complaisance in which each is really pleased to
give in to the wishes of the other. They also know that the Enemy demands of
them a degree of charity which, if attained, would result in similar actions.
You must make them establish as a Law for their whole married life that degree
of mutual self-sacrifice which is at present sprouting naturally out of the
enchantment, but which, when the enchantment dies away, they will not have
charity enough to enable them to perform. They will not see the trap, since they
are under the double blindness of mistaking sexual excitement for charity and of
thinking that the excitement will last.
When once a sort of official, legal, or nominal Unselfishness has been
established as a rule—a rule for the keeping of which their emotional resources
have died away and their spiritual resources have not yet grown—the most
delightful results follow. In discussing any joint action, it becomes obligatory
that A should argue in favour of B's supposed wishes and against his own, while
B does the opposite. It is often impossible to find out either party's real
wishes; with luck, they end by doing something that neither wants, while each
feels a glow of self-righteousness and harbours a secret claim to preferential
treatment for the unselfishness shown and a secret grudge against the other for
the ease with which the sacrifice has been accepted. Later on you can venture on
what may be called the Generous Conflict Illusion. This game is best played with
more than two players, in a family with grown-up children for example. Something
quite trivial, like having tea in the garden, is proposed. One member takes care
to make it quite clear (though not in so many words) that he would rather not
but is, of course, prepared to do so out of "Unselfishness". The others
instantly withdraw their proposal, ostensibly through their "Unselfishness", but
really because they don't want to be used as a sort of lay figure on which the
first speaker practices petty altruisms. But he is not going to be done out of
his debauch of Unselfishness either. He insists on doing "what the others want".
They insist on doing what he wants. Passions are roused. Soon someone is saying
"Very well then, I won't have any tea at all!", and a real quarrel ensues with
bitter resentment on both sides. You see how it is done? If each side had been
frankly contending for its own real wish, they would all have kept within the
bounds of reason and courtesy; but just because the contention is reversed and
each side is fighting the other side's battle, all the bitterness which really
flows from thwarted self-righteousness and obstinacy and the accumulated grudges
of the last ten years is concealed from them by the nominal or official
"Unselfishness" of what they are doing or, at least, held to be excused by it.
Each side is, indeed, quite alive to the cheap quality of the adversary's
Unselfishness and of the false position into which he is trying to force them;
but each manages to feel blameless and ill-used itself, with no more dishonesty
than comes natural to a human.

No comments:

Post a Comment