Near the end of That Hideous Strength, Mark Studdock is traveling back to be reunited with his wife Jane, and he stops at an inn. At this inn, they have back issues of The Strand, and Mark — a real sign that his repentance has been genuine — finishes reading a serial story that he had quit reading when he was ten. He had done that because he had wanted to appear grown up — his joy in the story had been overwhelmed by a destructive lust, the approaching tyrant of his life, to be accepted, to be brought into the inner ring. He gave up something he loved, and for no good reason.
In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape gets angry with Wormwood for allowing his “patient” to read a book — just because he wanted to. He didn’t read it because he wanted to have something clever to say about it at a dinner party, for example. Screwtape regards this as a disaster.
And this brings us to the modern topic of the coolshame. As Lewis shows us, a susceptibility to peer pressure is a very old temptation — as old as dirt. Every generation has had to deal with it, and pressure from “the world” has always been present. In this sense, our generation is no different.
But there is something different about this temptation in our day. In the old days, someone would feel pressure to go along, and it would be acknowledged by them as pressure to fit in, go along, etc. People today who are capitulating to this pressure to fit in are telling themselves that they are striking a blow for individual choices and freedom. As they shuffle along behind millions of others, they are humming to themselves, “I gotta be me.”
There is one other difference. In previous generations, Christian preachers and moral thinkers were constantly warning against this problem. Today, preachers and “thought leaders” (what the heck?) seem to be singularly in the grip of this lust themselves, and do not seem to be aware of the allurements of “the world” at all.
But spiritually minded Christians are to be earthy, not worldly.