In his work The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis chronicles the letters written from an Uncle Screwtape to his affectionate nephew Wormwood. Screwtape is in the service of “Our Father Below” who is Lewis name for the Devil, Satan, etc. In the first letter the conversation turns to the battleground and the perception among human beings that what they are seeing around them in the material world is “reality”. Wormwood makes the point that in earlier times humans understood what was true and what had been proven but in the modern, age as aggravated by the media, people have begun to weigh truth in gradients rather than in absolutes. They do not see things as true and untrue, right or wrong, but rather as “academic” or “practical”, “outworn” or “contemporary”, “conventional” or “ruthless”.
Lewis own words describe it better:
……. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” of “false”, but as “academic” or “practical”, “outworn” or “contemporary”, “conventional” or “ruthless”. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.
Lewis seems to be hitting on the concept of relativism. The idea that there is no solid truth but rather only shades of truth which determines the practicality or usefulness of the particular idea. How often have I found myself giving in to this notion. Sometimes it seems that prayer is just not practical. While on vacation or while visiting relatives it is just doesn’t seem practical to pray an office or go to Mass, or even read the Bible. It is so easy to slip into the idea that God must change his schedule to fit mine so I will not be inconvenienced. And, do those time worn doctrines espoused by the Church really apply in this day and time? Weren’t they developed in the cultural context of biblical times and shouldn’t they be re-molded to fit today’s world? Does God’s truth change from generation to generation, or is it our perception which changes?