C.S. Lewis on Why World Pleasures cannot Satisfy Us, but Our Inner Heaven Can
All men, addicts or not, struggle to some degree with the insatiable craving of the human soul. The great need for completion and meaning.
We all medicate ourselves with intoxicants and relieve stress and pain with work, food, alcohol, drugs, exercise or sex at times in our lives. For some, this is an insidious coping mechanism, for others it is the beginning of a violent descent into the loss of one’s very soul.
In C.S. Lewis’s timeless classic Mere Christianity, a review and insight into his journey into and understanding of Christianity, he touches on the fundamental core of how our inner spiritual life holds the key to wisdom, judicious living, and a freedom from intoxicating, destructive worldly pleasures.
Mere Christianity is the definition of hidden gem in a society that highly derides the Christian values of patience and restraint. In fact, I doubt I would have read it myself had it not been highly recommended by an alcoholic friend of mine who’s recovery I greatly respect.
In the chapter ‘Hope’ in Book Three, Lewis opens with a stark aphorism on how to model your mode of being in life:
“Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
In this statement, Lewis is articulating that we as humans striving to grow as individuals, as spiritual beings, as men, that we need to have an approach favouring the holistic (i.e. Heaven – the abstract, the everlasting) rather than the specific (i.e. the earth – the physical and transient).
The Unquenchable Thirst
Lewis utilises the notion of becoming obsessed with physical health to the detriment of your life itself, despite health being a ‘positive’ pursuit. An ominous warning for the recovering addict:
“Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you.
“You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more – food, games, work, fun, open air.”
Lewis opines that this obsession with achieving satiation in pursuit of an ideal can cause us to lose civilization itself in our bid to cultivate it.
The solution? We must learn to want something else even more than our strongest cravings and worldly desires, for in that sits our sanctuary from the chaos of suffering for satisfaction.
That thing we must desire is Heaven itself, according to Lewis. But this is not some abstract notion of heaven detached from our being, but the presence of heaven within you now.
Aiming for Heaven
Lewis writes: “Heaven is present in us, we do not recognise it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world.”
Is this a key driving force behind the addict? And why so many souls ravished by worldly ‘pleasures’ find recovery in the maintenance of a spiritual life?
Lewis continues: “There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it [Heaven] to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us… are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy.”
The Three Paths
In this quagmire of deceptive worldly pleasures, Lewis states there are three courses of action you can take:
- The Fool’s Way
- The Way of the Disillusioned Sensible Man
- The Christian Way
The Fool, Lewis writes, “…puts blame on things themselves. He goes on all his life thinking if he only tried another woman or whatever it may be he would really catch the mysterious something we were all after.
“Most of the bored, discontented, rich people of the world are of this type. They spend their whole life trotting from woman to woman, hobby to hobby, [drink to drink, we could add] always thinking that this latest is ‘The Real Thing’”
The Fool, states Lewis, always ends up awash in despair – his inner craving for Heaven never met.
Lewis opines The Sensible Man is quite different in nature than the fool. He is measured and cautious, but passionless, repressed and without awe: “This… is a much better way than the first and makes a man happier [and]… it would be the best way a man could live if [if we did not have spiritual natures].”
The Sensible Man bows out of life playing a safe hand, yet never finds the beauty of Heaven, and is something of a precursor to the model of atheistic bureaucracy of the spirit that governs Western culture presently.
The Christian Way
Finally, Lewis comes to The Christian Way, arguing: “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists… If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
“If none of my earthly pleasures [drink, drugs, sex] do not satisfy it, that does not prove the universe is a fraud… earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to the real thing.”
Lewis concludes the duty of his spiritual life, acting as a makeweight to worldly addictions, is to “make the main object of life to press on to that other country [i.e. Heaven] and help others do the same.”
A powerful note on which to end. For as men in recovery from addiction, or men looking to grow as individuals, the commitment to helping others from the depths of despair is paramount.