I Win, You Lose

Screwtape“To be” means “to be in competition” – thus C.S. Lewis articulates the philosophy of hell in one of my favorite books of all time, The Screwtape Letters. Writing from the perspective of senior devil Screwtape addressing his amateur nephew Wormwood, Lewis explains, “My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses.” I don’t mean to belittle the value of a healthy spirit of competition. When I get out on the bike path to ride with some of the other members of Team Dallas, sometimes the competition is the only thing that keeps us going. But C.S. Lewis refers to an unhealthy form of competition that goes so deep as to damage the bonds of charity by which we support and encourage one another. Regardless of whether you believe in the existence of evil spirits who write witty letters and conspire against humanity, there are many ways in which Screwtape’s philosophy infiltrates human society and erodes the culture of life. Many societal distinctions are based on comparisons among individuals. Identifying one person as rich assumes that others have less. Declaring one athlete to be the fastest assumes that others are slower. Labeling one student as smart assumes that others must be less so. In my own field of education, teachers strive to unlock the unique potential of each child, yet this goal is often obscured by the endless comparisons of standardized tests and percentile rankings. We often confuse intrinsic value with instrumental value. In the pro-life movement, you may hear people say something like, “What if we already aborted the person who was going to find a cure for cancer?” But this claim denies the intrinsic value of each human life, replacing it with the instrumental value of finding a cure for cancer. While a cure for cancer would be wonderful, we need to acknowledge each human person has a fundamental worth, regardless of his or her achievements. When a woman is unexpectedly pregnant, society often presents her with the philosophy of hell: “To be” means “to be in competition” – the existence of a new life is a threat to the woman’s personal rights. We need to reject this philosophy in our daily lives if we are to promote a culture of life. [Cross-posted at Biking for Babies]

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