Read The Screwtape Letters, Chapter IV, here.
My Dear Screwtape,
I acknowledge a degree of insight on your part in the matter of prayer, especially your partial mastery in the art of vain jangling. Conjuring false mental images of the Enemy and taking refuge in superficial feelings associated with prayer - indeed, these facades effectively masquerade artificial prayers and deceive our patients into believing that they actually pray and that the Enemy truly hears such prayers. But why do you insist that mental images of the Enemy derive primarily from physical misrepresentations of Him, especially pictures and icons, and upon what basis can you discern between true and false feelings in prayer?
Indeed, portraits that disfigure the Enemy abound from bathrooms to board rooms. One would think that the Enemy had abolished His Second Prohibition. No Sunday School worth its denominational pablum operates effectively without a full array of papier-mache Messiahs. Not even the Louvre hangs better impressionism. Why, recently I saw a perfidious portrait of the Enemy on one of our leading religionist’s office walls; the garbled image looked like a Semitic version of a handsome thespian, but with a better tan and coiffure, nothing at all to do with “no form nor comeliness,” much less “no beauty.” The only thing more spurious than that exquisite distortion is this patient’s own warped mental image of the Enemy, roughly carved upon his mind twice every Sunday by a dull-bladed tongue. And this is the point you overlook, Screwtape. I ask you, what really constitutes an image, and what is the best way to distort it?
Be not deceived, although our patient lives in a visually-oriented world, his religion remains essentially oral and auditory - even televangelists can talk; therefore, contrary to all the currently popular anti-video sentiment among more thoughtful Defectors, my patient’s image of the Enemy derives largely from what he is told, not what he sees, so as long as we pierce his ear with prevarication, we do well. For example, when we press the Enemy’s propaganda to an extreme, we successfully desecrate the Enemy’s image in the patient’s mind, like our intemperate emphasis on “the Enemy is love.” That one really rocks him to sleep because it whispers the smooth things he desires to hear and easily excuses any old habits or compromised behaviors. Such imbalanced misrepresentations of the Enemy, in turn, misinform the patient about the Enemy’s attributes, misdirect his prayers, and misguide his worship towards, not a false material image, but a false mental image of the Enemy, erroneous ideas informed by spurious words. Do you see how this works? If the Enemy’s offspring is “the Word,” then our primary tactic is to bend words about the Enemy. By bending words, we effectively present to the patient’s ears and mind a distorted representation of the Enemy, and therefore we refocus his affections and devotions upon a delusory phantom of what he calls “God.” The patient thinks he worships the Enemy but in actuality he vainly worships he knows not what. Our success with this approach is not just within the Enemy’s camp but worldwide. Books and religious media have been especially helpful to that end. Remember, we are the “other spirits” who preach another Gospel and thus “another . . . “ [I shudder even to think of the name].
As for superficial feelings in prayer, I’m afraid your description underestimates the danger of feelings, at least for the truly sick patient. We must be most careful here. You see, not only do false images of the Enemy nauseate the True Defector, his emotions also run much deeper than those superficial feelings you describe. I warn you, do not be so confident where legitimately deep feelings are concerned. Indeed, among religious pretenders there are counterfeit feelings which we may easily and effectively exploit, but real feelings - emotions ignited by the Enemy’s Spirit - these pose a threat that can storm Heaven and stop Hell. We recognize such dangerous feelings by what happens after they become aroused. More threatening symptom are a heavy sorrow that breaks the patient’s heart, followed by a militant humility which makes drastic efforts toward repentance, an inflamed indignation that kindles vengeance against us and what the Enemy calls “sin,” and an inexpressible joy that buoys the patient above our reach, repulsive emotions indeed.
So, you see, dear Uncle, in order to achieve our most effective ends, let us not attack the eye to the exclusion of the ear, nor the feelings without due consideration of their inherent dangers. Let us continue to exploit false mental images of the Enemy and exacerbate shallow feelings to our advantage, but let us also recognize the limitations (and even impotence) of these strategies with the more truly dangerous patient.
Your affectionate nephew,