Another Lesson from Screwtape

Another lesson from Screwtape, that articulate devil so bent on tutoring his nephew Wormwood:

…the parochial organization should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires.¹

Of course, it’s often easier – though not guaranteed – to be united with people we like and prefer to be around. We tend to naturally gravitate in that direction anyway. It’s much harder to become one with a diverse group of people who reside in different neighborhoods and who have had different life experiences. But that is the beauty of worshiping and serving together in a community of saints. As Terryl and Fiona Givens write:

…our present relationships are both the laboratory in which we labor to perfect ourselves and the source of that enjoyment that will constitute our true heaven.

What we call the virtues are precisely those attributes of character that best suit us to live harmoniously, even joyfully, in society. Kindness only exists when there is someone to whom we show kindness. Patience is only manifest when another calls it forth. So it is with mercy, generosity, and self-control. What we may have thought was our private pathway to salvation, was intended all along as a collaborative enterprise, though we often miss the point. The confusion is understandable, since our current generation’s preference for “spirituality” over “religion” is often a sleight of hand that confuses true discipleship with self-absorption.²  

¹Lewis C.S. The Screwtape Letters. The Macmillan Company. (1959). p. 72-73.

²Givens T. & Givens F. The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life. Ensign Peak. (2012). p. 112-3.

Throwback Thursday: Elder Hales on Responding to Accusers

elder-hales-in-an-interview-paast-bioLately, I’ve been impressed by the sermons of Robert D. Hales. From an address entitled Christian Courage in October 2008, he taught the importance of being Christlike in our conversations with others:

This is especially important in our interactions with members of other Christian denominations. Surely our Heavenly Father is saddened—and the devil laughs—when we contentiously debate doctrinal differences with our Christian neighbors.

I imagine the same is true when we engage in contentious debates with fellow Latter-day Saints or anyone else for that matter. After all, regardless of the subject matter or the parties involved, the spirit of contention has only one source.

I’ve had more than a few conversations with others who have been critical or dismissive of my beliefs. These interactions have made me think about how I could best respond, and often, I want to do and be better. Here are some additional takeaways from Elder Hales, all direct quotes:

  • Remember that Jesus Himself was despised and rejected by the world.
  • The Savior responded differently in every situation.
  • When we do not retaliate—when we turn the other cheek and resist feelings of anger—we too stand with the Savior.
  • “The world hath hated [my disciples],” Jesus said, “because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).
  • True disciples of Christ see opportunity in the midst of opposition.
  • As true disciples seek guidance from the Spirit, they receive inspiration tailored to each encounter.
  • And in every encounter, true disciples respond in ways that invite the Spirit of the Lord.
  • As true disciples, our primary concern must be others’ welfare, not personal vindication.
  • Without guile, true disciples avoid being unduly judgmental of others’ views.
  • As the Savior demonstrated with Herod, sometimes true disciples must show Christian courage by saying nothing at all.
  • We do not feel we are better than they are. Rather, we desire with our love to show them a better way—the way of Jesus Christ.
  • …to “love [our] enemies, bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44) takes faith, strength, and, most of all, Christian courage.

Photo credit: lds.org

 

Some Mormons Search the Web and Choose Faith

A lot has been written and discussed the last few months about Mormons who, upon finding unfavorable content on the internet, question their faith and leave the Church.

Likewise, writers and the individuals who comment at the New York Times seem to convey that those who express doubt or disaffect from the church should be celebrated, while those who express faith only do so because they live happily inside a bubble that resides somewhere between blind acceptance and sheltered naiveté.

I don’t mean to suggest that the crisis of faith experienced by members is not a serious matter. Having experienced a mild crisis of faith myself several years ago, I have sympathy for those who feel that they cannot find the answers they seek – either from others or from heaven itself. So without question, there are people who leave the Church. But a lot stay and stay informed. And a lot join too, having done a full load of honest investigating.

I recently read two sincere and candid conversion stories of two young adults who tell of their honest investigating and ultimate decision to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Why I Became a Mormon was posted a couple of weeks ago by Brittany, a good friend of mine, who spoke of her journey in becoming a Latter-day Saint. And the other came from a guy named Daniel, who went from being Jewish to being an atheist, and is now a full-fledged Latter-day Saint who served as a missionary in Russia and currently attends law school at BYU. Daniel maintains his own blog, symphonyofdissent, which contains thoughtful posts written before and after he was baptized.

Both Brittany and Daniel write how they read everything they could find about the church – both good and bad – and still felt confident in their decision to join the church. To me, their honest declarations of faith and testimony are more powerful, more convincing, and more encouraging than the expressions of skepticism by those who publicize their private doubts.

We will always have questions. And perhaps we will occasionally struggle with doubts. But Christ never seemed to place too much of a premium on the doubt or disbelief of skeptics. As I noted last week in my Throwback Thursday post on Elder Holland’s repeated message, in the eyes of God, Thomas’ publicized doubts were not deemed superior to the quiet faith of those who believe. Remember too, that Jesus promises to manifest himself by the power of the Holy Ghost to all those who believe in him (2 Nephi 26:13). Brittany’s and Daniel’s experiences underscore this point extremely well.

Little Children Are Not Capable of Committing Sin

I’m a young father with two little kids. Parenting is tiring, especially when your one-year old has been teething for months – like mine has been – but parenting is also a lot of fun. I always enjoy hearing my 3-year old say something funny, such as when he prayed like this. Or when my wife told him last night that she was so impressed by how nice he was to his sister all day and he responded back, “I’m impressed too, Mom!” Or earlier yesterday when my wife was getting him more milk from the fridge and he yelled, “Hurry up, Mom! This is a thirsty boy!”

My short experience as a parent has taught me that little kids are, well, special. I guess I always knew there was something special about little kids – an innocence, sweetness, guilelessness – but I sure have a lot more time to observe them firsthand and reflect on their personalities and natures.

Yesterday afternoon, I was reading a few verses in the Book of Mormon and began looking up scriptures that describe little children. Here is a portion of what I found:

  • Infants who die in their infancy do not spiritually perish (Mosiah 3:18).
  • Little children have eternal life (Mosiah 15:25).
  • Jesus took the little children, “one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. And when he had done this he wept again; and he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: ‘Behold your little ones'” (3 Nephi 17:21-23).
  • little children are wholeLittle children are whole; they are not capable of committing sin; and the curse of Adam is taken from them in Christ (Moroni 8:8).
  • Repentance and baptism are for those who are accountable and capable of committing sin (Moroni 8:10). Thus, it is solemn mockery before God to baptize little children; they need no repentance, neither baptism (Moroni 8:9,11).
  • It is awful wickedness to deny the pure mercies of God unto little children, for they are all alive in him because of his mercy (Moroni 8:19).

Elsewhere, prophets and even Christ himself taught that we must become like little children: submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love and so forth. These qualities seem to be embodied by little children while other, perhaps less-desirable traits seem to be acquired over time as we get older.

Several years ago, after speaking with a man who was quite cynical about life, I had the realization that cynicism is not something we’re born with – it’s something we learn as we grow into adulthood (or learn to overcome). On the other hand, children are accepting, believing, and optimistic. Perhaps that’s just one reason Jesus taught that we need to become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of God.

A Lesson from Screwtape

Screwtape

Not long ago, I pulled from my bookshelf a 1961 copy of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and began to read the first few chapters. This particular copy had belonged to my dad when he was a teenager and was the same copy I read when I was in high school 12 years ago. As you can see, the binding’s a bit loose and the title page has been reattached with some tape – can’t remember if that was my handiwork or if I inherited it that way – but most impressive, the jacket says this book originally cost $0.95, which I’m told by this website is worth $5.70 in 2013 dollars. Oh, the good ol’ days!   

I think many people are familiar with this book, but if you aren’t or simply don’t remember, Screwtape is a senior devil writing letters to his nephew and junior tempter, Wormwood, offering professional guidance on how to successfully lead a human soul or “patient” to hell. This one excerpt from Screwtape’s first letter impressed me:

you don’t realise how enslaved [humans] are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the British Museum. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter…I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control, and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably bade the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what he says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line, for when I said, “Quite. In fact much too important to tackle at the end of a morning,” the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added “Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,” he was already halfway to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of “real life” (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all “that sort of thing” just couldn’t be true.

My experience leads me to believe that we are indeed slaves to the pressure of the ordinary, perhaps even more so today than in 1942 when Screwtape was first published. Nowadays, it’s so easy to let our phones, the news, and other gadgets consume our time, thought, and attention. I’m certainly not perfect at shutting off and powering down the electronics in my life, but I have found that there is immense value in taking some time each day for personal solitude. Sometimes I’ll write down some recent learning experiences, the things I’m grateful for, or my desires and goals. Other times I’ll write questions or observations I’ve had. Combined with prayer and reflection on some meaningful scriptures, I find these practices make it easier to arrive at a spiritual center.

This aligning of our souls creates an environment where we just might receive the messages God wants us to receive. Doing so likewise strengthens our capacity to recognize destructive influences which may initially seem so subtle and harmless.