During one of our discussion groups over the Screwtape Letters, I was arrested by a passage where Uncle Screwtape appears to be quite the Christian personalist:
To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense.1
Obviously, he’s got the whole thing twisted around backwards and inside out, but his understanding that good and evil are grounded in the relationship between the self and another reveals a personalistic understanding of love.
Frequently people say that love is willing someone else’s genuine good. While I think this is certainly an essential part of it, I believe that this definition does not get the essence of love quite right. Instead, I have learned from Christian personalist thinkers like Karol Wojtyła (see his magisterial Love and Responsibility) that love involves the free gift of one’s very self to another. If you’re interested, I’ve compiled a number of scriptures that I believe support this deeper definition of love here. This comes out as Screwtape loathingly describes God’s attitude in contrast to his own:
One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself— creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.
The opposite of this is not hate or malice, but rather Augustine’s libido dominandi, the lust for gaining power over another, which Lewis insightfully describes here as a kind of eating or absorption. This attitude does not primarily seek another’s harm so much as his subordination to one’s own self. This contrast, I believe, is at the very root of the difference between good and evil, the divine orientation versus the demonic, which Lewis summarizes with his special way for stating profound truths in perfectly apt and direct English:
We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself; the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.
C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (MacMillan, 1961), sec. 8.↩︎