Screwtape on the Pleasure-Diminishing Desire-Increasing Demand for Constant Change

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The devlish Screwtape, writing to his nephew Wormwood, with counsel on how to get Christians to turn away from the Enemy (=God) by exploiting their fear of the Same Old Thing:

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship.

The humans live in time, and experience reality successively.

To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change.

And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating Pleasurable.

But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence.

He has contrived to gratify both tastes together on the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm.

He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme.

He gives them in His Church a spiritual ear; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before.

Now just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas. Children, until we have taught them better, will be perfectly happy with a seasonal round of games in which conkers succeed hopscotch as regularly as autumn follows summer. Only by our incessant efforts is the demand for infinite, or unrhythmical, change kept up.

This demand is valuable in various ways. In the first place it diminishes pleasure while increasing desire. The pleasure of novelty is by its very nature more subject than any other to the law of diminishing returns.

And continued novelty costs money, so that the desire for it spells avarice or unhappiness or both.

And again, the more rapacious this desire, the sooner it must eat up all the innocent sources of pleasure and pass on to those the Enemy forbids.

—C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (reprint: HarperOne, 2001), pp. 135-137.

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