A century of evil enchantment

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Today, I received the following in an e-mail:

I was wondering if you could answer a question for me please? Early in “Weight of Glory” Lewis says “And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years”. I assume the hundred years would be about 1845 to 1945. Can you tell me what he is referring to by “nearly a hundred years”?

BTW, the quote he refers to comes from the fifth paragraph.

Here’s my answer:
In answer to your question, lets pick up the flow of Lewis’ thought in this part of the sermon. He is setting forth an aspect of what we call his “argument from desire.” It is an idea about the universe that there is a correspondence between the things we seem to desire or need and the existence – somewhere – of an ultimate satisfaction for that desire or need. Indeed, the existence of this ultimate, satisfying reality is the cause, as it were, for the existence of the desires and needs. In the case of our desire and need for God, Lewis likes to talk about what he elsewhere calls “joy.” Here, he uses the terms “suggestion,” a “reminder,” an “inner voice,” and “a longing for the transtemporal.”

He says in the sermon that, by bringing these experiences up, he is trying to weave a spell to counter another spell. He is setting forth a vision of the universe to counter another vision of the universe. He is using imaginative language, and reference to the experience of his hearers, to foster a vision of this reality to counter the one we have acquired from our modern, western environment.

Lets think about how he describes this other spell. He says it is an evil enchantment of worldliness. Now remember that he is preaching a sermon in a church to professing Christians. Worldliness is one of the 3 primary evil enemies of the church, the others being the “flesh” and the devil. Worldliness is conforming our way of thinking and our very thoughts to the pattern and ideals of the world around us, which are based upon ungodliness and thus evil. In effect, Lewis is here seeking to root out the sin of worldliness in his congregation. He wants them to wake up to an awareness of something they have “bought into” which is robbing them of a Christian interaction with our universe and the Reality behind it.

And how did this worldliness creep into their lives over the last century? Through the schools they have attended. You note that in the next sentence he begins to address education. He spends the rest of the paragraph exposing the agenda of modern philosophies which have tried to shut us off from our true selves and the truth of the universe we live in. He wants us aware of this false understanding of the world we have imbibed through our schools so that we will begin to resist it and be open to a truer vision.

Much of this is part of what Lewis writes about in The Abolition of Man. In The Abolition of Man, Lewis speaks of how it was that, before modern times, educators believed in an ideal correspondence between the material universe and a fitting or appropriate emotional reaction to it. In other words, our feelings corresponded to the reality of what is around us. We could thus talk about whether one emotional reaction to an object or event (say a painting or a coronation) were more appropriate than another. A break from this idea occurred when people began to deny any such ordering of our feelings, that there was a human soul that could have such a correspondence with Creation. Instead, humans and everything else in the universe were thought to be simply a random interaction of matter. One could point to the writings of Karl Marx as an important mile-stone for the popularization of materialism about 100 years before Lewis writes his sermon.

In light of the above considerations, I would say, in answer to your question, that his reference to nearly a hundred years is to the past century of education in the schools of England dominated by modern, materialistic philosophy. Materialism kills the ability to recognize what is happening to us when we experience the longing of that “suggestion” or “reminder.” It makes us think that it is only some psychological trick, based on our biological and genetic needs, instead of a spiritual reality, of something that is an indicator of the truth about what humans are and the universe they live in.

Do let me know if you have any other questions and thanks so much for writing!

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/funky64/2960218105/sizes/l/

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