“Filthy atrocities”

I ran across this quote recently, from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity.

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible?

If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything—God and our friends and ourselves included—as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

The phrase “filthy atrocities” caught my eye, because these were often attributed to enemies in the context of World War II propaganda, at a time when Lewis wrote his book and Orwell was writing 1984. And the process which begins where Lewis describes seems to end in Orwell’s Two-Minute Hates and the rest.

Unfortunately, the process also seems to characterize the end point which current political discourse is quickly approaching, particularly among politically engaged Christians. Some are drawing the boundaries of Christian brotherhood ever more narrowly, in order to justify the vilification of those who fall on the other side of line, whether they profess Christ or not; others seem to think that “hate the sin, love the sinner” is excuse enough for going after anyone, regardless of where the line is drawn. Accusations are leveled, and maintained even in the face of unequivocal denials. Rarely have I seen the benefit of the doubt offered, much less heard the sigh of relief that Lewis mentions. More rarely still do I see Christians begin their investigations with the assumption, “Surely this can’t be true.”

Mickey Kaus regularly pokes fun at salacious stories that gain currency in a crowd because they are “too good to check.” Pulling the plug on Grandma? Creeping socialism? Birth certificates? Palling around with terrorists? I think that Christians ought to at least check—and even that is probably setting the bar too low.


2 thoughts on ““Filthy atrocities”

  1. “Mere Christianity” is a brilliant work. And, unfortunately, I know I have in the past–and probably still do to this day–“wish[ed] the black was a little blacker”… Good reminder.


  2. “Pulling the plug on Grandma? Creeping socialism? Birth certificates? Palling around with terrorists?”

    Last time I checked, people were checking up on this stuff, so if you’ve heard something new let us know!

    And Snopes doesn’t always count!

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