cs lewis quote

“Certainly we do not want [people] to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make [people] treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but failing that, as a means to anything – even to social justice.”

– the devil Screwtape in “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis

I found this quote a few years ago and it always reminds me of the dual temptation those of us involved in social justice have to fight. On the one hand, we have to convince people that faith should move us to act in the political and social realm, that our personal and inward faith also matters in a communal and outward sense. Then on the other hand, we have to ward off the temptation in others and in ourselves to simply use faith or Christianity to endorse anything other than Christ – we can’t lose focus and think that as long as we are going toward a kingdom vision that God would want, any means or practices we embody in order to get there are okay. The political realm challenges this dichotomy especially – yes, be involved and see personal faith as the grounds for advocating and caring for others in the political sphere; no, we can’t use forsake our allegiance to Christ and focus so intently on this sphere that it becomes our entire purpose or redirects our choices. Another reminder from Clive….

2 Thoughts on “cs lewis quote

  1. Ryan on 2005/11/07 at 12:48 AM said:

    Even before reading this post, I was recently reflecting on how apolitical I am. I research issues and try to vote my conscience, never sticking firmly to either party. In fact, I often find myself voting for the lesser of two evils rather than voting for someone who seems stellar. I’m not registered with either major party and I don’t support any political action committees. However, I realize that if I don’t actively fight for causes that are important to me and my set of beliefs, fanatics with un-virtuous agendas may get legislation passed to further their causes (and potential hinder mine). Other than voting for the best candidates possible, what role do you think politics should play in a Christian’s life? I typically prefer to volunteer or donate money to a charitable organization rather than using political means. I’m interested in any scriptural basis that supports the need for being a political activist rather than working through apolitical organizations to advance Christ’s good news of hope, mercy and charity.

  2. Liz on 2005/11/07 at 3:46 PM said:

    Thanks, Ryan, for your thoughtfulness. There are a lot of issues related to this area – which I might write on more soon – but the short answer is that the justice the prophets and Christ speak about always were meant to impact society, rules for living, and structural issues – not just personal salvation. The call for Sabbath laws, leaving fields for gleaning, reproaches to the greedy who did not represent the poor – these were all public policy issues, really. Political life, in one sense, is just anything that affects the whole of society. God cares about how we order our public life because its’s another arena where we can live out kingdom values. (Isaiah, Micah, and Amos all talk about this a lot, as does the NT). I, personally, also continue to be motivated toward faith action in the public sphere because often it is the more vulnerable people in society, like the oft-mentioned widow-orphan-alien in the OT, that are most affected or abused by political decisions. (As in, of course tax cuts that affect upper two brackets affect the wealthy in how much they can spend or save on luxuries, but not having food stamps or medicaid can mean homelessness or stinted child development for the poor – the cost of where we fund our budget is often much higher on the poor.)

    There is my short answer – and I would also include that the charity, compassionate, apolitical actions are also very valuable and biblical. Christ obviously also points to that – I just tend to stress the justice, structural issues because in our particular culture we have largely lost that aspect of biblical faith.

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