On Creativity: thoughts from a demon

Wednesday, October 29, 2014 0 No tags

I want to share some very beautiful words with you. I feel like I should apologize because it is longer than a tweet, and less entertaining than a video of a dog chasing its tail, but I think it is worth sharing.

First, there are a few books in this world that hold a particularly strong grip on me. Usually because they are full of truth and wisdom spoken in just the perfect way to prick my soul and remind me of things I forget too often. The Screwtape Letters is one of those books to me. I have read it countless times, and will continue reading it until I die.

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Do you ever feel like you have too many interests? Or maybe you don’t have too many interests, but maybe you feel like being interested in things is on the verge of being selfish? Sometimes I feel that way about this blog.

These are the words I wanted to share, from C.S. Lewis’s book, The Screwtape Letters. If you are not familiar with it, let me briefly explain. This is a fictional book written in letter format. The letters are all from a senior demon, written to his young demon pupil, on how to bring a Christian to hell. He does not succeed, but the attempts made on the Christian’s soul are so eye-opening, so profound. Everything in it feels so familiar. Like, “wait a second, yes. Yes, I have had that exact same moment when I was sitting outside, about to contemplate the nature of God, when I talked myself into eating lunch instead.”

Of course, it is all speculative on Lewis’s part, but it rings with so much truth.

So here is a portion of one of the letters (keep in mind that in this context, the “Enemy” is God, and the “patient” is the Christian man). In this moment, Screwtape (the senior demon) is chastising his protégé for missing a wonderful opportunity to tempt his patient. Note that emphasis is added.


 

“As a preliminary to detaching him from the Enemy, you wanted to detach him from
himself, and had made some progress in doing so. Now, all that is undone.
Of course I know that the Enemy also wants to detach men from themselves, but in
a different way. Remember always, that He really likes the little vermin, and
sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of
their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will;
once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and
boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more
themselves than ever. Hence, while He is delighted to see them sacrificing even
their innocent wills to His, He hates to see them drifting away from their own
nature for any other reason. And we should always encourage them to do so.

The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the
starting-point, with which the Enemy has furnished him. To get him away from
those is therefore always a point gained; even in things indifferent it is
always desirable to substitute the standards of the World, or convention, or
fashion, for a human’s own real likings and dislikings. I myself would carry
this very far. I would make it a rule to eradicate from my patient any strong
personal taste which is not actually a sin, even if it is something quite
trivial such as a fondness for county cricket or collecting stamps or drinking
cocoa. Such things, I grant you, have nothing of virtue in them; but there is a
sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I
distrust. The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the
world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about
it, is by that very fact fore-armed against some of our subtlest modes of
attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or
books he really likes in favour of the “best” people, the “right” food, the
“important” books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to
social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.”

 


Doesn’t that kind of make your jaw drop? Or at least make you want to  go enjoy tripe and onions (tripe, I learned today, is the stomach linings of an ox…yum!)? Sometimes I think I should stick to one creative pursuit. That maybe it’s a problem that I want to learn to play the guitar and paint with pastels in the same breath. But God created the armadillo on the same day He created the cheetah, so I don’t think He is adverse to variety. And if creativity is self-expression, and God created humans and creativity, then what is our creativity truly expressing? Of course this demon mentor is instructing his pupil to distract his patient from even innocent pursuits.

By not caring “twopence” about what other people say about the harmless things we enjoy, we are, according to Screwtape, armed against some of the subtlest modes of attack. Therefore, if you want to become less of who God created you to be, less unique, with less of a personality, then by all means, skip your morning walk through the woods and ignore your desire to learn how to make homemade pasta this afternoon.

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If you haven’t read The Screwtape Letters, buy it now.

More posts about The Screwtape Letters: here and here.

And a post on another favorite C.S. Lewis book, The Problem of Pain.

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