Wednesday, March 31, 2021

CS Lewis, Ulster-Scots and "social justice"

CS Lewis used the term Ulster-Scots in his writing, was fully aware of men on the Belfast steamers speaking "low Scotch", and peppered many of his books with meaningful cultural references to the Scottish dimension within Ulster life. This is no surprise given his maternal Hamilton roots (he adopted the name Clive Hamilton for some of the books he authored) his great mentor William Thompson Kirkpatrick (who Lewis described as an Ulster Scot) and his love of the work of George MacDonald. Weaving together all of Lewis' Ulster-Scots threads is another big project that nobody has done yet.

The Screwtape Letters (1942) is one of Lewis' most famous books, a series of hypothetical conversations between a junior demon 'Wormwood' and a more senior experienced demon 'Screwtape', who is passing down to his protege advice on how to undermine the faith of a new Christian that he has been assigned to, known as 'The Patient'. 

So much of it is brilliant. Here is an extract from Letter 23 (bolds are mine) –

“We do want, and want very much, to make men 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 thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy [God] demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. 

For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. 
Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that ‘only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations.’ You see the little rift? ‘Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.’ That’s the game.”   

There is a lot wrong with the world we live in. That's the core of Christianity. Much of it can, and should be, fixed. But the ultimate source of all of these problems isn't the system, but what we call 'the human condition', or, in old money, what the Bible calls 'sin'.

Therefore the ultimate answer is not another activist campaign or programme. 'Social Justice' is only a limited outworking of the far bigger universal eternal cosmic message that Christians simultaneously fully rest upon, and are also tasked with sharing – Divine Mercy – provided solely and sufficiently through Jesus Christ.