In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters, Wormwood, a demon in training, is being instructed in the finer ways of human manipulation. Wormwood has been approaching his human subject by trying to appeal to the materialistic mindset as if it were a ‘true’ stance to take. He is trying to argue the case that materialism is a valid and acceptable worldview to follow. He is instructed by Screwtape, his demon uncle , that arguments are no longer the way to go in influencing people. In an odd way, Screwtape is defining the problem of our society today. Listen to this quote.
“It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not…Your man has become accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false’, but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical’, ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary’… Jargon, not argument is your best ally in keeping him from the Church.”
How true, concerning our postmodern situation, is this quote today? When a person invokes reason into a discussion, all too often a charge of intolerance will quickly follow. The idea of evaluating a claim to see if it is true takes back row to whether the claim has made its way into the acceptable jargon of the day. Our society is often influenced by buzz words more than they are of truth.
When Screwtape reminds his young protege that humans are used to living within contradiction, this speaks clearly to the philosophical idea of progressiveness. It is often that a thing is judged not by the truthfulness of the thing but whether it appears to be a progressive move towards the current ideals of that present society. Socially or culturally driven morals and ethics drive decisions. A correspondence with truth is not what is being looked for. A link to the commonly held cultural ideas is much more important to some. Does this particular idea, stance, or philosophy cohere to the present values of the current culture? It is easy to see the danger here. In this type of framework, truth does not matter. The acceptable positions, morals and values change as culture changes. So truth changes with time. There are no transcendent moral values or truths to be sought. Relativism is the result, Our society may call it progress but is it? If there is a God, and I know there is, wouldn’t He, if He were a personal God, provide for us boundaries and moral parameters from which to anchor ourselves?
So argue for truth, we must. Screwtape knew that well based arguments cause us to reason out our thoughts. When we are presented with the facts, we are called out of a relativistic mindset and into a search for what corresponds with the way things really are. This is the definition of truth. So what we must bring to the world is well thought out reasons and not cultural jargon or buzz words or philosophies. But in doing so, do it with compassion realizing also, that your stance will bring opposition.