Does God want us to be liberal or conservative?
How do the demons vote?
We get a pretty clear answer to the second question in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. The book takes the form of a series of letters that have been written by a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew and junior tempter, Wormwood, on the best means by which to bring a soul to dwell for all eternity with “Our Father below,” as they refer to him.
In the seventh letter, Screwtape explores the question of whether to make Wormwood’s patient an “extreme patriot or an extreme pacifist.” This was the question on everyone’s mind when the Letters were published in 1942.
Screwtape is quite clear that the devils are not interested in whether Christians support or oppose World War II. Neither side is inherently Christian, it seems. As a matter of fact, Screwtape seems to see more possibilities to lead him astray through pacifism.
Today, the specific circumstances are different, but Christians are still struggling to answering the same general question. The contemporary question has us wondering between liberal or conservative, Trudeau or Scheer, Democrat or Republican, Trump or someone else?
If Lewis is correct, the minions of hell can use our conservatism just as easily as our liberalism to gain possession of a soul for all eternity.
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Screwtape explains the process:
Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion.
It is clear that the position the Christian takes is of no consequence; the goal of the forces of hell is to erroneously connect our position on the political spectrum with our faith. From much that I read from Christian writers on the internet, it is apparent that the devils are having a very easy time of it. We are very willing to take the first step.
Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part.
Again, it doesn’t appear as if we are having the demons work very hard. I’ve heard many stories of people who can no longer associate with, let alone fellowship with, brothers and sisters in Christ who occupy a different position on the political spectrum as they. The “camp” to which we belong is so obvious and it is not coloured by any qualification involving all the other dimensions of the Christian faith.
Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism.
C. S. Lewis never read a single blog post or online article, and yet it is as if he’s read the same religio-political diatribes and tirades that I can only escape in the shower.
But there is hope. Screwtape reveals the means by which we might reverse our steps toward the eternal flames.
The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience.
This is Lewis’ real point. Whether left or right, we ought to treat our political positions as primarily material for obedience to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Our position on the environment, taxes, deficits, size of government, guns, immigration, abortion, LGBTQ, education, is secondary to obedience. In the fifth letter, Lewis makes this point, through Screwtape:
The Enemy [God] disapproves many . . . causes. But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew.
It is more important for us to be obedient than it is for us to be right. And yet, because we have allowed the faith to be slave to the cause, we find it easy to hate our political opposites.
Back to the seventh letter:
Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours-and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here,
And here we have it. This is a dire warning for those who have made faith a means to an end.