Archives For Temptation

Do you practice anodyne writing? Or, perhaps you enjoy reading anodyne literature?

Talk about a phrase with two different meanings!

I must not be reading the right publications, because until recently I was only aware of the medical sense of the word. Apparently I’m not alone in having forgotten the second usage (if I ever knew it). One “publication coach” writes:

I always welcome the chance to learn new words—or to cement the knowledge of words I should know already. Anodyne falls into this latter camp. I probably confer with my dictionary at least once a year to determine the meaning of this word and yet, despite the frequent checking, I can’t seem to hold the definition in my brain.

Like so many words, anodyne enters English, via Latin, from Greek. It’s literal meaning is “without pain.” Thus, it typically refers (as a noun) to medicines or medical treatments devoted to eliminating pain.

By extension, anodyne is also applied (as an adjective) to other things, such as writing. In this context it would refer to writing where the purpose is to comfort, or to alleviate pain. This is the good sense of the word.

An example of this use appears in “L.M. Montgomery’s The Watchman and Other Poems, a Review.” There, Brenton Dickieson expertly describes the value good-but-not-great poetry by affirming its reassuring essence in its historical context. “Any one of these poems is quite nice on its own and an anodyne to the negative poetry of many of the WWI poets.” A positive, and astute, assessment.

There is, however, a second sense in which anodyne is applied to literature.* It may mean something so inoffensive, so innocuous, that it becomes boring.

At one university writing center they describe this evolution of the word.

[An anodyne word] lets a disturbing idea be described in a soothing manner. . . .

The OED Online lists several definitions, all about a procedure or medicine that eases pain, the oldest dating from the 16th Century. Only more recently has the word come to include anything that may avoid a strong response. It can mean something so inoffensive as to be bland, the cafeteria pudding of language.

So, as for anodynic writing, it is admirable when it relieves pain and suffering. If its primary goal is to be innocuous, that’s another matter. Essentially, comfort—good, pablum—not so much.

Lewis’ Use of Anodyne

Unsurprisingly, C.S. Lewis uses this word in its positive sense of alleviating discomfort. Two occurrences in The Screwtape Letters will illustrate. (Remember, these words of the counsel of one demonic tempter to another.)

But hatred is best combined with Fear. Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful—horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember; Hatred has its pleasures. It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear.

The more he fears, the more he will hate. And Hatred is also a great anodyne for shame. To make a deep wound in his charity, you should therefore first defeat his courage.

Not only do the demons seek to foster hatred in their human targets, they encourage us to seek counterfeit solace in destructive places.

In the first place I have always found that the trough periods of the human undulation provide excellent opportunity for all sensual temptations, particularly those of sex. This may surprise you, because, of course, there is more physical energy, and therefore more potential appetite, at the peak periods; but you must remember that the powers of resistance are then also at their highest.

The health and spirits which you want to use in producing lust can also, alas, be very easily used for work or play or thought or innocuous merriment. The attack has a much better chance of success when the man’s whole inner world is drab and cold and empty. . . .

It is the same with other desires of the flesh. You are much more likely to make your man a sound drunkard by pressing drink on him as an anodyne when he is dull and weary than by encouraging him to use it as a means of merriment among his friends when he is happy and expansive.

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s [God’s] ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is [God’s]  invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.

Having read the majority of what C.S. Lewis published, I assert with certitude that his writing is anodyne—it is healing. Some of it may be discomforting (for a moment), and much of it may be demanding (in the sense of requiring our mental and spiritual focus to understand it), but it was all written to edify.

Postscript, Star Date 73890.7

There is one more use of the word anodyne which I did not include above, due to its fictional source. In the Star Trek universe, the starships rely on a massive number elements, including the ubiquitous “anodyne relay.”

The circuits invariably appear to be perfectly reliable during routine missions. However, they are prone to malfunctioning at critical moments and threatening the lives of everyone aboard.


* Anodyne is also applied—in both its positive and negative senses—to music and other activities.

Readers of C.S. Lewis possess differing opinions on the film adaptations of the Chronicles of Narnia. One element from the latest film that is presented quite faithfully, is Eustace’s transformation into a dragon.

“He had turned into a dragon while he was asleep. Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” (Voyage of the Dawn Treader).

With his brilliant insight and typical mirth, Lewis reveals for us a powerful dynamic of human existence. Two, in fact.

First, what we are inside—our genuine essence or spirit—will ultimately be revealed. This is true for most of us during this life. And, it will be experienced by all humanity as we stand before our Creator.

Second, what we desire—the longings upon which we focus our hearts and energies—shape that very essence. In a sense, Lewis is saying, we become what we covet!

What a wonderful lesson for us. It resounds with echoes of the Scriptures.

The title of this column suggests that we beware of the dragons to which we are particularly vulnerable. They vary from person to person, of course. And, they frequently shift, dependent on our biological age circumstances.

Martin Luther alludes to this in his broader comments about temptation and spiritual maturity:

To feel temptation is therefore a far different thing from consenting or yielding to it. We must all feel it, although not all in the same manner, but some in a greater degree and more severely than others; as, the young suffer especially from the flesh, afterwards, they that attain to middle life and old age, from the world, but others who are occupied with spiritual matters, that is, strong Christians, from the devil. But such feeling, as long as it is against our will and we would rather be rid of it, can harm no one. For if we did not feel it, it could not be called a temptation. But to consent thereto is when we give it the reins and do not resist or pray against it. (Luther’s Large Catechism).

Lewis reveals vividly what becomes of us when we surrender to our dragons. It’s not a pretty sight. And, sometimes it’s terminal. It would have been so, in Eustace’s own case, had not Aslan come to him with his healing grace

And so it is with us. No matter how dragonish you and I have grown, we can be healed of the affliction by the same Aslan, who is known in our world by a different name . . . Yeshua (Jesus).

I was recently reminded that February 2012 marks the seventieth anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece, The Screwtape Letters. Other bloggers have remarked on the anniversary, for example here and here.

Lewis dedicated the book to his dear friend and fellow Inkling, J.R.R. Tolkien.

If you’re unfamiliar with the letters, you really should rectify that gap in your knowledge. The letters are penned by Screwtape, a senior Devil, to Wormword, a less experienced tempter. They illuminate Satan’s demonic tactics and provide keen insight into our fallen human nature, replete with its countless vulnerabilities.

There’s even a graphic novel version of the collection which was published in 1994 by Thomas Nelson in partnership with Marvel Comics.

While the anniversary of the Letters in and of itself is certainly significant enough to merit a blog announcement . . . this post includes something quite rare. The fact is we’ve come into possession of one of Screwtape’s instructional emails, written to another subordinate demon.

For the benefit of those who would arm themselves against the snares of the Enemy, we reproduce it in full below.

(Oh, and as a reminder, when Screwtape refers to his Enemy, he is actually talking about the Creator of heaven and earth. Also, you can’t actually trust anything he writes since he’s a Liar, just like the archangel he followed so long ago. For example, note his incorrect reference to his own “immortality.”)

My Dear Esculentus,*

Another decade has passed since that puppet of the Enemy released to the world a portion of my correspondence with Wormwood. Of course, the lamentable Wormwood has had ample time to regret his carelessness in that matter, as I often remind you.

A decade’s but a snippet to immortals such as us, of course, but to the mortals it marks a significant portion of their brief lives. Why the Enemy loves those pitiable insects so much goes beyond logic!

Still, another halfscore has flown past and that damaging treatise remains in print. In fact, if anything, it continues to grow in popularity.

We simply cannot have our “patients” made aware of our treatment regimen for them. If they come to realize that our most successful deception is untrue, the relentless work of centuries will be undone.

We have labored tirelessly up to the present day to persuade humanity that all truth is subjective! Fortunately, the vast majority of the population in what are ironically labeled “enlightened nations,” has accepted our suggestion. This allows them to eagerly swallow the comforting lie that “all roads lead to god.” If they realize that all roads do indeed lead to a ‘god,’ they might abandon one of the many paths that lead to our Master who is ever-eager to “swallow” them in turn.

Better by far that those entrusted to our misleading, nourish our infernal Father than that you and I sate his appetite. (As you know, I say that figuratively, since our Father’s hunger for power can never be truly satiated. His all consuming hunger is one of his infinite qualities, which we rightly extol.)

But, back to your primary concern my appetizing friend, your patient. By all means keep him from reading The Screwtape Letters. In fact, the farther you keep him from anything written by Clive Staples Lewis, the better!

Keep him in the company of liberal companions who have embraced the myth of there being no objective truth. That way, we can prevent him from ever meeting the Enemy who proclaims himself to be—yes, disgusting isn’t it—the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Never pass up an opportunity to impress upon your patient that such a claim is politically incorrect to the utmost. Remind him he will be shunned by society if he argued there was a single truth. Indeed, make him think the very suggestion that anyone sincerely following another path might be lost, is repugnant.

Many of your fellow tempters have experienced great success in motivating the humans they treat to replace in their world views the virtue of Truth with the sentimentality of Sincerity. This you must do as well.

Persuade him that the eternal destiny of all who believe in something, is secure. Convince him that it is by their sincerity that they are saved. Oh how sweet it is when they accept this dark epiphany!

And it has never been easier to win humans over to this view than it is today. If you wish to embellish the doctrine with vague language about “God being love” and all that, so be it. Just see to it that they never open the Enemy’s book to recognize how grossly they have edited and distorted that concept!

Oh, and in closing, allow me to once again remind you of how I began this digital epistle. (We both know that it frequently takes a dozen or more reminders to make a firm impression on your dull mind.)

Do whatever it takes to ensure that your patient never reads the Letters! And, be wise to guard our own correspondence, lest you end up in the agonizing company of the afore-censured Wormwood.

Your affectionate adoptive Uncle,

Screwtape

*Esculentus translates from the Latin as either “delicious” or “succulent,” and if you have read The Screwtape Letters you know what that suggests about Screwtape’s interest in his protégé.