Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

A Dreary Flickering of the Mind

From our current readaloud, The Screwtape Letters, as the devils strategize about how best to handle a human who has recently had an experience of grace (letter 13):
It remains to consider how we can retrieve this disaster. The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilising the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will. As one of the humans has said, active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened. The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the the long run, the less he will be able to feel.
And from letter 12, always one that convicts me:

As this condition [reluctance to think of God because it means truly repenting] becomes more fully established, you will gradually be freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday's newspaper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and out-going activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at least he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, 'I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.' The Christians describe the Enemy as one 'without whom Nothing is strong.' And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man's best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off. 

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the an away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
We are in a slight post-vacation malaise, which consists of listlessly scrolling through dreary social media posts. We both of us know that we would feel better if we would settle down to write, but writing feels like so much effort, with so little to show for it at the end of the night. The present effort, however, matters -- trying, however weakly, to tap into God's creative powers, is always going to be a more eternally significant endeavor than hitting "refresh" one more time.

If you're feeling the malaise, read The Screwtape Letters along with us. 


Christine said...

Oh man, as a procrastinator I relate to this way too much!! Welp, time to get up and do something productive :)

Christine said...

*not that I'm trying to say reading your blog is a waste of time, lol. Mostly watching random mediocre YouTube vids, etc.