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"Their amusements bore them . . . their devices for saving time have banished leisure from their country."

July 8, 2009

In C. S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress, a character who serves as a Guide tells the characters John and Vertue of a modern-like country. This quote may be a bit confusing, especially at first, since I’m pulling it out of the midst of a specific context (what happens when people do that with the Bible?), but if you stick with it, you will see its wisdom. Note especially how Lewis describes the irony of the modern machine. Vertue wonders if these modern-like people can ever return from their “radical change,” and the Guide assures his auditor that there is no inevitability about the modern situation. There is much else to love in this citation, and in the book itself, which I heartily suggest you add to your reading list.

There’s nothing like C. S. Lewis for dispelling the myths of the Enlightenment and Scientism.

“The same things is happening all over the plateau and in Mammon’s country: their slaves are escaping further north and becoming dwarfs, and therefore the masters are turning all their attention to machinery, by which they hope to be able to lead their old olife without slaves. And this seems to them so important that they are suppressing every kind of knowledge except mechanical knowledge. I am speaking of the sub-tenants. No doubt the great landowners in the back-ground have their own reasons for encouraring this movement.”

“There must be a good side somewhere to this revolution,” said Vertue. “It is too solid–it looks too lasting–to be a mere evil. I cannot believe that the Landlord would otherwise allow the whole face of nature and the whole structure of life to be so permanently and radically changed.”

The Guide laughed. “You are falling into their own error,” he said, “the change is not radical, nor will it be permanent. That idea depends on a curious disease which they have all caught–an inability to disbelieve advertisements. To be sure, if the machines did what they promised, the change would be very deep in deed. Their next war, for example, would change the state of their country from disease to death. They are afraid of this themselves–though most of them are old enough to know by experience that a gun is no more likely than a toothpaste or a cosmetic to dot he things its makers say it will do. It is the same with all their machines. Their labour-saving devices multiply drudgery; their aphrodisiacs make them impotent: their amusements bore them: their rapid production of food leaves half of them starving, and their devices for saving time have banished leisure from their country. There will be no radical change. And as for permanence–consider how quickly all machines are broken and obliterated. The black solitudes will some day be green again, and of all cities that I have seen these iron cities will break most suddenly.” — C. S. Lewis, Pilgrim’s Regress, 239-40.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 9, 2009 1:38 am

    I’ve just started the Regress. I am reading it concurrently with Lewis’ Letters and a biography by Sayer. It is very interesting.

    The quote above reminded me of the problem of space junk. Apparently we have in orbit a whole lot of dead satellites and bits and pieces of rockets etc. NASA (or someone) keeps track of everything. It is a real problem, one of many that must be kept in consideration when NASA plans their flights. They still think they can make it to Mars though…

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

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