Friday, April 15, 2011

Psalms which speak to our conniving ways (Part 3)

Charlie Sheen in Toronto with Russell Peters The Psalmists were not quite wrong when they described the good man as avoiding ‘the seat of the scornful’ and fearing to consort with the ungodly lest he should ‘cat of’ (shall we say, laugh at, admire, approve, justify?) ‘such things as please them’. As usual in their attitude, with all its dangers, there is a core of very good sense. ‘Lead us not into temptation’ often means, among other things, ‘Deny me those gratifying invitations, those highly interesting contacts, that participation in the brilliant movements of our age, which I so often, at such risk, desire.’
    Closely connected with these warnings against what I have called ‘connivance’ are the protests of the Psalter against other sins of the tongue. I think that when I began to read it these surprised me a little; I had half expected that in a simpler and more violent age when more evil was done with the knife, the big stick, and the firebrand, less would be done by talk. But in reality the Psalmists mention hardly any kind of evil more often than this one, which the most civilised societies share. ‘Their throat is an open sepulchre, they flatter’ (:io), ‘under his tongue is ungodliness and vanity’, or ‘perjury’ as Dr Moffatt translates it (10:7), ‘deceitful lips’ (12:3), ‘lying lips’ ( 1:20), ‘words full of deceit’ (36:3), the ‘whispering’ of evil men (41:7), cruel lies that ‘cut like a razor’ ( 2:3), talk that sounds ‘smooth as oil’ and will wound like a sword (55:22), pitiless jeering (102:8). It is all over the Psalter. One almost hears the incessant whispering, tattling, lying, scolding, flattery, and circulation of rumours. No historical readjustments are here required, we are in the world we know. We even detect in that muttering and wheedling chorus voices which are familiar. One of them may be too familiar for recognition.

C.S. Lewis, “Connivance,” Reflections on the Psalms (1958) as republished within C.S. Lewis: Selected Books (London: HarperCollins, 2002) 348-349.

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