It might be said that there is an over use of the Screwtape Letters on this blog. However, I find Lewis’ demonic alter ego to be not only pity, and insightful, but a real delight to read. As such I will use him to accentuate the ongoing thinking on pleasures as a gift from God, and a lack of gratitude to God as stock feed in growing the cultural bull of jealousy wrecking the china shop.
God has not only given many pleasures he has also given the ability to enjoy them. At no point has he required to create tastebuds that can enjoy the tart, creamy, sweet taste of lemon cheesecake one moment and delight in the deep leathery chocolate spice of a good maduro cigar. Yet he did. He literally gave us the cake and let us eat it too. Pleasures range from simple to complex. The devil hates this lavish generosity because he hates the giver at whose right hand are “pleasures for evermore.” Satan has sought to degrade them and has been met with some sucess in that Solomon in all of his wisdom pursued them and found them empty and at best a salve for the cruel world we live in. To abuse this gift is to abort its efficacy. Very few will have the opportunity of Solomon to over indulge in every pleasure under the sun. Instead what the Devil has in store for us is the creation of ascetics.
“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 or convention, or fashion, for a human’s own real likings or 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 is something quite trivial such as a fondness for country 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.” – Screwtape, Letter XIII
There is no pleasure that is deemed to small that it can be left alive. The real play that is to be run is first to substitute the gifts of God for inferior counterfeits by means of pressure. The game that is played by saying “you can’t possibly like that thing because I say this thing is superior” followed by a long look down the nose. Snobbery*, it is everywhere, and it robs us of enjoyment. Recently a trailer for the second season of Star Trek Picard was released and I made the mistake of reading the comments section. Not one person was willing to admit to being pleased. It seemed a race to see who could express the most disdain the fastest. The message was clear, we can not enjoy this good thing because to have one real positive pleasure would show weakness and humanity.
“The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people think about it, is by that very fact fore armed against some of our most subtlest forms of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favor of the ‘best’ people, the ‘right’ food, the ‘important’ books.” – Screwtape, Letter XIII
Finally, Screwtape shows the best thing for the devils. A society of Ebenezer Scrooges alone staring into their empty fire grates. Or to update the picture, endlessly scrolling Netflix, bored out of their minds but never watching anything. You can’t afford what has been deemed the best scotch, but you won’t deign to drink the cheap one you actually like, so you will have neither. And naturally you would never turn to the one who made pleasures and longs to pour them out if you will just have them.
“You no longer need a good book, which he really likes to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterdays newspaper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but starting at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” – Screwtape, Letter XII
*Hat tip to Rex and Daniel of the whiskey tribe for fighting this in their niche.