Monday, November 19, 2012

Dear Screwtape,Chapter XV: Really Ticked Off

Dear Reader,

Wormwood's criticism of Screwtape's view of time summons references to Lewis' other statements about time in the work Mere Christianity, thus the footnotes. Your reading of those footnotes is important to understand Wormwood's criticism of Screwtape's ideas.

Your may read chapter XV of The Screwtape Letters here.

Dear Screwtape, Chapter XV:
"Really Ticked Off"

My Dear Screwtape,

Your Time Tactics have worked well with the truly sick, especially by fostering fear and false hopes through anxiety and naivete about their Future. I find difficulty, however, in discombobulating healthy Defectors about Time because of their persistence to do something called “redeem” it, coupled with their flat-out refusal to live in the past or take sufficient thought for the Future. On the other hand I have achieved a slight measure of success among Defectors by speeding up the world around them and thus accelerating their vorticist lifestyles, a tactic we must continue to explore and a weakness we should continue to exploit. But dear Uncle, I recoil at your own chronological disorientation. You remind me of a broken watch gone wild, springs sprung and hands waving wildly here and there, with no ability to point at Time. It’s one thing to deceive others about Time, but quite another to be deceived oneself. Here is the gist of your problem.

First, you misinterpret the relationship between Time and Eternity. If I understand you correctly, you believe that the Enemy simultaneously comprehends all Time--Past, Present and Future--and that this Time is an entity separate and distinct from His Person. You also suggest that humans and other material entities exist in Time, but you assert that the Enemy does not (1). Not only does this seem a contradiction of that long, dark shadow Omnipresence, which includes the immediacy of Deity in space and time, but it also seems to establish a false synthesis between Omniscience and Time. Just because the Enemy has perfect knowledge of all Time--Past , Present and Future--this does not mean that His Omniscient knowledge requires the simultaneous and ongoing existence of the Past, Present, and Future; if we admit this, then the same principle must be applied to a butterfly’s wing now deteriorated, a rose petal now faded, or a human torso returned unto the dust from whence it came. I ask you, “Do these forms of matter, now dissipated, continue to exist somewhere else intact in Time just because the Enemy has perfect knowledge of the Past?” (2)

Your theory erroneously asserts that Omniscience necessitates Being of the Known (the existence of that which It knows), and thus you imply that knowledge equals existence and thereby deny the finite nature of creation, including matter, time (if, indeed, time is finite), and space. This attributes to the Enemy’s Omniscience a property which He Himself does not claim. Even you admit that your understanding of Time derives, not from the Enemy’s handbook(3), but from the noble pagans. Are you so unwise as to fall into the same pit we dug for Plato  (4) and Thomas?(5) You should know by now, Dear Uncle, that no definitive understanding of Time can be derived from those sources, because a proper understanding of Time is necessarily bound up with a proper understanding of Eternity, which the noble pagans did not possess.  But this is by no means all your problem. Your “time-warp” also corrupts our understanding of the irrevocable and binding nature of human actions, especially sin and repentance. (6)

If your view is correct, then no Eternal Finality attends any human action or state of being; even death, and judgement after death, could be reversible through your view of Time. Here, no doubt, you echo one of our Enemy’s despicable patriots who also erred on this point.(7) Now, I admit that such a distorted view might work to our advantage because it could deceive patients into believing that their actions in Time were always recoverable and that, no matter what the moment--Past, Present, or Future--these actions could be recaptured and transfigured somewhere in Time or Eternity. In other words, if the Enemy is the Everlasting Now, then both damnation and salvation would be “eternally potential” for every individual in the human race, even fallen angels, even Our Lord Lucifer (Hajuelellah!). Besides this, no finality would attend the judgement of our Enemy against sin (Would that it were so!). Volitional creatures would stand always on the brink of Heaven and Hell, and might at any moment plunge into the one or fly into the other, or at another moment return from whence they came. Indeed, this absurdity is worth publishing.

No, Screwtape, Chronos eats his children, and Time consumes all except the Timeless. I cannot countenance your error when its conclusions reach such depths of absurdity as to embarrass even some of our younger assistants in our Department of Philosophy and Vain Deceit.

Really ticked off,


(1) In Mere Christianity Lewis writes, “God is not in Time. . . . and every other moment from the beginning of the world --is always the Present for Him” (146); he continues, “God, I believe, does not lie in a Time-series at all. His life is not dribbled out moment by moment like ours: with Him it is, so to speak, still 1920 and already 1960. For His life is Himself” (Mere Christianity 147).

(2) Lewis’ understanding of Time necessarily involves this conclusion, as Lewis himself perhaps unconsciously admitted when he wrote this passage from Mere Christianity (note the present active participles): “What we call ‘tomorrow’ is visible to Him in just the same way as what we call ‘today.’ All the days are ‘Now’ for Him. He does not remember you doing things yesterday; He simply sees you doing them, because, you have lost yesterday, He has not. He does not ‘foresee’ you doing things tomorrow; He simply sees you doing them: because, though tomorrow is not yet there for you, it is for Him” (Mere Christianity, 148-9)[Lewis is terribly confused and confusing throughout the remainder of this passage.]

(3) Lewis admits that his view of Time “is not in the Bible or any of the creeds” (Mere Christianity 149).

(4) Richard B. Cunningham remarks, “The idea of timeless eternity is of crucial importance for Lewis’s approach to numerous apologetic problems, and his arguments to some extend either stand or fall with its validity. But the idea of timeless eternity is at best difficult to defend, is most certainly derived from Platonic and not biblical thought, and suffers from what Lewis himself charges against many non-Christian ideas; it is too simple. It is a boy’s approach to difficult problems. . . . Lewis’ view of time and eternity is one of the weakest links in his apologetic chain, and, unfortunately, it is one of the most important” (C. S. Lewis: Defender of the Faith. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1967).

(5) Thomas Aquinas, the greatest of Catholic theologians, sought to synthesize Greek philosophy and Christian Theology in his monumental work Summa Theologica. Wormwood here suggests that such synthesis deceived Thomas Aquinas theologically, and he warns Screwtape not to fall into the same “pit.”

(6) No doubt some will argue that, in other places in Lewis’ writings, he recognizes Divine judgement, finality of human actions, and Eternal accountability. The author does not deny that this fact. But the point is that Lewis’ view of time herein expressed is inconsistent with those views.

(7) Charles Williams, Lewis’ fellow Inkling whose writing and ideas Lewis greatly admired, also accepted this theory of time. But, apparently unlike Lewis, Williams did recognize the implications of this theory of God and Time. Williams logically (but erroneously) asserted that any soul at any time throughout human history--Past, Present or Future--could be saved by God because of His “eternal simultaneity with Time.” Williams fictionalizes this doctrine in his novel Descent into Hell when the principal heroine, Pauline Anstruther, experiences an anachronistic substitution and exchange with an ancestor martyred 350 years earlier. Williams also asserts the anachronistic salvation of the pagan poet Virgil in his poem "Taliessin on the Death of Virgil.”

1 comment:

Julia said...

FANTASTIC! =) Thanks for a great read.