Physical minimalism, spiritual excess

Almost a year ago, I wrote about Seasons of Change and how, in the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis tells us that “(t)he horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable possessions we have produced in the human heart…” We hate monotony and sameness, and yet we also love permanence. The God that made us has also given us seasons – seasons of the year, seasons in the Church calendar, and even seasons in our lives.

Lewis gives voice to Screwtape, a senior tempter, saying that “(n)ow just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty.”

There is a recent revolt against this, in some ways, in the form of minimalism. We have found, in some parts of life, at least, that endless variety and change can weigh us down. We have too many possessions, to many clothes, too many food choices. Our homes, as well as our minds, become overwhelmed. We’re unable to focus long enough to appreciate or understand any one thing – especially anything of real, lasting value. Many of us have replaced quality with quantity, and some are starting to see and resist that.

“The pleasure of novelty is by its very nature more subject than any other to the law of diminishing returns,” Screwtape teaches. Some have fled from physical or mental overwhelmedness, seeking a “minimalism” or “essentialism” in work and home life. At the same time, our culture drives farther into spiritual variety. We invent new sexes. We move from art to blasphemy and from music to noise. We can object to no creed or culture. And we defend our novelty to the bitter end.

Screwtape strategies thus: “We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood…” And there is a flood. There is a spiritual flood wearing away at our culture, while we put out valid-but-lesser fires of physical and mental excess.

We are told how many books to own but not how many gods to worship. We cut our projects down but not our sins. We keep only 20 outfits in our closet but not 10 Commandments in our hearts.

Cutting down our possessions and our wasteful activities are good things. They are not enough, though, to solve the deeper problem. They are putting out small fires while we ignore a large flood, as Screwtape said. And we all know, hopefully, from our Bibles that when there is a flood coming, there is only once place to go.

Copyright 2019, Joe Wetterling

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Joe Wetterling

Joe Wetterling

Joe Wetterling is a professional educator, homeschooling dad, and writer. He's appeared at national conferences, both secular and religious, speaking on education, technology, and philosophy. Joe writes online for New Evangelizers, as well as his own blogs. He's taught in the Holy Apostles MOOC program and currently teaches Natural Theology at the new Dominican Institute. He's a member of the Militia Immaculata and current President of the Catholic Writers Guild. Learn more about him at

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