Sunday, March 20, 2005

Perils of the Herd Instinct

One of the great challenges of today's conservative evangelicalism is dealing with the tension between unity and doctrinal purity. We need to draw lines, but what are the right lines, and where are the right places for those lines to be drawn? What are the pitfalls of making the lines the "main thing"? For some of our brethren, the lines tend to become an idol, and those within the lines can become a comfortable clique.

To my shame, I have only recently returned to reading C.S. Lewis after nearly two decades away. Reading not long ago in his Screwtape Letters, I came across a passage in a letter from the demon Screwtape to his nephew and protege, Wormwood. It speaks poignantly to our tendency toward fear of man and the love of mutual adoration:
Any small coterie, bound together by some interest which other men dislike or ignore, tends to develop inside itself a hothouse mutual admiration, and towards the outer world, a great deal of pride and hatred which is entertained without shame because the 'Cause' is its sponsor and it is thought to be impersonal. Even when the little group exists originally for the Enemy's own purposes, this remains true. We want the Church to be small not only that fewer men may know the Enemy but also that those who do may acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-righteousness of a secret society or a clique.

C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, Number 7

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