Screwtape On Being On The “Wrong Side of History”

“You’re on the wrong side of history.” You’ve heard it from politicians, read it on Facebook, and have seen it on the signs of activists. This phrase is typically used to ridicule those who hold to traditional, Biblical values.

Believe what the Bible says about marriage being between a man and a woman? Reject the idea that murdering the unborn is a form of healthcare? Deny that human beings can choose their gender? Well, you’ll one day be looked on the same way that we look at American slaveholders from the 1800’s.

Or at least that’s how the “history” argument goes. To uphold Biblical morals is seen as a refusal to progress along with the rest of society, and it is suggested that future generations will look back on us with scorn.

Is this argument just the political maneuvering of secular liberalism? As C.S Lewis tells it, there is likely an even more sinister side to this view.

In Lewis’ classic work, The Screwtape Letters, a senior demon named Screwtape writes a series of letters to his demon-in-training nephew, Wormwood. In his correspondence he instructs Wormwood on securing the damnation of a young man in 1940’s England.

In the twenty-fifth letter, Screwtape provides a sobering perspective on the common concern about being “on the wrong side of history.”

Picking up at the end of the letter, we read:

 Of a proposed course of action He [God] wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? 

 Now if we can keep men asking ‘Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going? they will neglect the relevant questions. 

And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them make. As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on. And great work has already been done.

Once they knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and others again indifferent. We have largely removed this knowledge. For the descriptive adjective ‘unchanged’ we have substituted the emotional adjective ‘stagnant’.

 We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favored heroes attain–not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is. 

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE

As a society, we are often encouraged to consider “Is this the way history is going?” rather than “Is this righteous?” We are told to ignore the questions God wants us to ask regarding important issues and to focus on the questions that the world and the spiritual powers which fight against would have us ask.

The concern of the Christian should not be which position the culture considers to be on the “right side of history,” but on which position is aligned with the truth of God’s Word.

As Christians continue our pilgrimage in a land increasingly hostile to the things of God, we would do well to remember these words from Screwtape. We cannot allow a fear of being ostracized by the world to cause us to deny God’s Word. Even if we are faced with accusations or other adversity, we are to boldly speak the truth and stand firm in the faith.

As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:10-20)


Purchase The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

Clayton Kraby
Written by Clayton Kraby
I'm a Pastor in North Dakota and created ReasonableTheology.org to help make theology accessible for the everyday Christian. You can find me on Twitter @ClayKraby.