My reading group read The Screwtape Letters recently. One of my big goals for myself was to finish all of the books before the meeting. Up until Screwtape, I had a perfect track record, and it’s still nearly unblemished (probably until this weekend!) because I finished all but the last twenty pages or so.
If you aren’t familiar with Screwtape, it’s a CS Lewis book written from the point of the view of the devil who is mentoring his young nephew in the art of tempting humans and ultimately leading them to Hell. You know… a light read.
Anyway, I have since went back and am finishing those last few pages. During this reading, one thing struck out. In a speech the devil is giving, he mentions how it is actually difficult to lead people to mortal sin these day because so many people are so blasé about matters concerning faith that they are actually ignorant of the sins they commit, not caring enough to learn about their faith to be fully informed on anything.
This reminded me of a quote from one of my favorite WB Yeats poems, “The Second Coming,”
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity”.
I’ve pondered that Yeats line frequently. I wrote a paper partially centered around it in grad school, and I’ve never been able to get it out of my head. After all, all too often in the world around us, I see it come to fruition. And I also see it in the everyday lives of everyday people. Most notably, myself.
How often do I make decisions without pondering the consequences?
How often do I push important issues to the back of my mind because caring slightly is impossible, and I feel much too fragile to care deeply.
How often do I sense deep conviction seeping in, and I push it away because it can overtake me?
How often do I train my thoughts on matters of little significance while letting the great matters slip?
And how often do I let my doubts silence my voice because I fear speaking with authority when there is always the chance I could be wrong?
I don’t watch the news. I can’t – it’s too much for me. Instead, I read my news. For the longest time, it kept me up to date, and it gave me a bit more background, but most importantly, I would only read about global or national issues. I’d leave all the shootings and kidnappings unread.
But lately even the written news — sometimes even just headlines — leave me despairing.
Intellectually, I understand this is a broken world with broken people, and no amount of anything is going to change that. On the other hand, so much of it is just caused by pure cruelty and hatred and close mindedness. Our world is necessarily broken, but does it necessarily have to be as broken as it is?
If more people cared, if for more people put aside their fear, if more people gave more of themselves, couldn’t it be a bit better?
Couldn’t we make a difference if we gave some of what we have?
And I get that we can’t all work at a global level. Very few of us have the resources or the calling for such work. But what about in our own homes and our own lives and our own communities?
I’ve always believed that the one thing most people truly crave deep down is to be known and to be heard and to be understood.
What if we started there? What if we just closed our mouths more and opened our ears? What if we actually did try to seek first to understand. What if we saw conversations as a way to connect rather than a way to inform or to persuade or to impress?
These are my weaknesses. These are the areas I struggle with. Perhaps that’s why these are the areas I focus on. But I think it’s a good start for us all.
After all, we can’t heal the world, but we can make it a better place.