It’s an odd thing to write about a mistake made by someone so influential to my life and faith.
When I interviewed dozens of C.S. Lewis fans and scholars, often the most interesting and diverse answers came when I asked them about an area they disagreed with Lewis. We tend to tread lightly when discussing what we consider to be the mistakes of our mentors and heroes.
With that in mind, I do believe Lewis made a mistake in part of his cultural analysis, but one can hardly blame him. In reality, the fault lies more with us than him.
Part of what made C.S. Lewis so brilliant was how insightful he was about culture. This lead him to be phenomenally prescient of future cultures, but in one key instance his assumptions about society proved false.
In one section of Mere Christianity, Lewis uses an analogy in an attempt to demonstrate the ridiculousness of our perspective on sex.
You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act—that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?
He wants the reader to see the blatant absurdity in how we view sexuality. The Oxford don believes he is reasoning with people who will instantly recognize how bizarre it would be to have a food peep show.
That may have been Lewis’ initial audience, but that assumption can no longer be made in 2016. We have so completely divorced God-given pleasures from their God-given parameters that his absurd analogy no longer seems absurd.
I realized how Lewis had underestimated our depravity and ability to ignore the Giver and pervert His gifts when I read about the AspireAssist weight loss device.
The pump connects to a tube that has been inserted directly into the stomach. After eating whatever you’d like, you can then suction much of your meal out of your body, through the tube and into the toilet. You essentially get to have your cake and weight loss, too.
Now, I recognize the appeal of such a device. I understand wanting to lose weight and attempting to find a way to do so and still enjoy foods that you love. But literally putting a hole in your body to avoid any need for willpower or a change in habits displays a disregard for the boundaries God has placed on the pleasures He has given us.
It’s not only the AspireAssist and eating, though. With virtually every good gift from God, we are seeking ways to move it from its rightful place. And we are using technology to do this at an alarming rate.
We want to personal benefits of friendships and the aura of having deep relationships without ever truly investing in another’s life. We keep up with them on Facebook and social media and feel as if we truly know them.
We want to appreciate stories and entertainment. We want to experience rest and relaxation. So we lay on our couch and binge watch hours upon hours of TV to the harm of our friends, families, and ourselves.
None of that even touches the obvious perversion that Lewis is addressing in the quote from Mere Christianity. We constantly find new and worse ways to remove sex from its good place.
Name any pleasure we can experience in this life. If we thought for any length of time, we could point out ways in which it is currently being perverted from God’s original intent.
We recognize this because we do this. We want to see ourselves as the heroes of the story, but we are at best the damsels in distress. Most often, we are the villains seeking to do subvert and undermine the good that God is doing.
We should see ourselves in the Tower of Babel builders. We will attempt to use our technology to reach God, overthrow Him and use all His good pleasures for our personal benefit.
Oddly enough, C.S. Lewis can help us recognize this. While he may not have understood his absurd analogy would cease being absurd, he did know how humans treat pleasure.
In The Screwtape Letters, here is the senior demon telling his young protege how to use pleasure to tempt humans.
Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures; all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable.
In trying to wrench as much pleasure out of something in our timeframe, we actually destroy the good gift and consume a rotten fruit.
None of our technological advances will ever be able to remove a pleasure from God’s will and make it completely enjoyable and beneficial to us.
We may have pushed our culture beyond Lewis’ idea of absurdity, but we will never go past his God-given wisdom.