Sunday, September 24, 2023

A Christian in the dirty world of politics By Mark Landsbaum

 Some Christian believers say we don't need to know how the world works its evil ways.  This monkish tendency to withdraw from the world is dangerous, particularly as we enter one of the most ferocious of worldly seasons — presidential election campaigns.

"It is the worldly reader I specially want to catch," iconic Christian apologist C.S. Lewis said in explaining his literary approach in The Screwtape Letters.

Lewis understood that we are in the world, and that's where we ply our trade.  To be ignorant of how the world works only adds distance between a Christian and reality.  That makes accomplishing anything in this world only more difficult.

A tree falling in the forest may make a sound, but without ears to hear it, the event remains unknown.  For practical purposes, it didn't happen.  The same applies to unread words: unless someone reads them, no communication can occur.  The writer speaks only to himself.

When I taught journalism at a Christian university, one of the first things I shared with students, who for the most part were going to graduate to write news for worldly readers, was that they needed to know how to communicate.  "We've gotta speak the same language" was Landsbaum's theorem.

The meanings of words must be shared between writer and reader.  When we write "up," the reader must recognize it to mean up and not down.  So too with life's experiences.  Writer and reader must share an understanding, for example, of how gullible people are easily misled; otherwise, much of literature fails, from O. Henry to Shakespeare.  Dramatic irony, so prevalent in theatrical literature, requires the reader (or viewer in plays and movies) to be on the same page as the writer, understanding colloquialisms and peculiarities of different walks of life.  Otherwise, the dramatic effect fails.  The audience will not understand an incongruity between a situation and the play's accompanying speeches.  The play's characters may remain unaware of the incongruity, but that works in the play, from comedies to dramas.  But if the viewer is unaware, too, then the playwright has not communicated what he intended.  The entire genre of screwball comedies becomes meaningless — a tragic loss, indeed.

The world often intentionally resorts to confusion or ambiguity to leave people uninformed.  Do you wonder why the tax code has 4 million words but the Bible only 800,000?  It's not because politicians want you to understand it.  Worldly insiders can communicate with each other to prevent outsiders from knowing what is going on.  If we understood, we might complain.

Because so much of the world is intentionally deceptive, hiding its motives as well as its acts, Christians must be wise as serpents when dealing with secular snakes.

We sometimes can intuit ulterior motives, but usually we need help.  A slip of the tongue that gives away intention can be helpful.  But sly liars, like politicians (I repeat myself), are accomplished at concealing what they really are up to.  In the world, we need to recognize that fact.

U.S. Treasury agents are expert at detecting counterfeit currency.  This requires an intimate knowledge of the real thing and a close inspection of the forgery.  Obviously, a Treasury agent would discover no fake money if he didn't closely examine it.

You might say the agent is in the world of counterfeit money, but not of it.  It's not the faux currency that pays his bills, but he is up close and personal with it by necessity.

Likewise, believers are in the world, but not of it.  The world is not the reality that we rely on, but we need to be up close and personally familiar with it.  How else to call out the counterfeits and to protect against fraud?

It's not enough in life to recognize God's goodness.  The world's evil must be recognized to deal with it properly.

C.S. Lewis wrote about the world's ways.  His portfolio ranged from examining medieval life and literature to science fiction novels that drew out godly truth woven into society's fabric, including That Hideous Strength, which zeroed in on nihilistic science's threat to human values.

But Lewis's work also explained what it looks like to battle worldly conditions.  His enormously popular Screwtape Letters is a correspondence between Screwtape, a chief demon, and Wormwood, his demonic recruit, to whom Screwtape gives detailed worldly advice on how to corrupt his assigned target, a new Christian.

Screwtape cannot be read without coming away with a conviction that Lewis understood very well the worldly reality in which Satan and Christians compete while plying their respective trades.

Lewis's forensic knowledge of the fallen world forearmed him to pass on godly advice for generations of believers.  These, consequently, are better prepared to identify the world's wayward ways to defend themselves from the Screwtapes and Wormwoods that want our spiritual scalps.

Mark Landsbaum is a Christian retired journalist, former investigative reporter, editorial writer, and columnist.  He also is a husband, father, grandfather, and Dodgers fan.  He can be reached at