Monday, September 10, 2012

Dear Screwtape, Part V

Read The Screwtape Letters, Part V, here.

My Dear Screwtape,

You chide me because I rejoice that, once again, our patients fight one another in what they call a war. You fear that “terror pictures of the future” will agitate my patient’s awareness about the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death (37). But, Screwtape, you must recognize that, especially in wartime, political opinions and patriotic passions easily disguise themselves in religious regalia. How easy it is to seduce our patients into the delusion that patriotism equates with actual defection to the Enemy’s cause. That old strategy still works splendidly. What success we attain when we wrap the cross in a flag, thus blurrig the distinction between civitatem Dei and hominis civitatem. One of the worst Defectors pointed out this absurdity to the humans nearly 2,000 years ago, yet they insist upon that error. By such tactics we divert the humans’ thoughts and passions from the Enemy’s real work to fleeting, temporal pursuits in the name of “God and country.” Such a device works especially well when we interweave human and religious concepts in advantageous settings, such as political rallies, news conferences, or military briefings in the context of crisis. As for my patient becoming an extreme patriot or ardent pacifist, the latter probably requires more reading than interests him, the former easily accomplished.

With regard to the patient’s sleeplessness in the face of war, don’t be over alarmed, Screwtape. That’s a normal gut reaction to the flash of gunfire, but insomnia rooted in fear usually works to our advantage, especially when war rages. I know the Enemy sometimes uses sleeplessness to leverage His position in the patient’s thoughts, but we win midnight battles as well. When trepidation supplants a patient’s sleep, we should cultivate that seed of fear. Seventy-five percent of the time we harvest bountifully on that soil. When the fowls can’t steal the seed, we simply throw a stumbling stone of self-preservation or sow a thorn of circumstantial angst in the Enemy’s garden, and the seed burns up or chokes before yielding fruit. When we nurture the wrong kind of fear, we prevail. I’ve seen this triumph over and over again since The Great War. Surely you have observed the descending moral vortex following the war-ravaged forties. Foxholes produce many False Defectors, but once the smoke clears, their “faith” and “virtue” fade and fly like a dying leaf in the autumn wind. Now we have such a foothold on that ground that a few thousand dead here and there produces religious fervor for about a week or two; then the humans turn to our business as usual. That strategy has been more successful than even our Jailhouse Salvation Program. I do acknowledge, though, your cautious warning that war has “certain tendencies inherent in it which are, in themselves, by no means in our favour” (38). But a delightfully humorous shift has occurred in more recent wars, a shift that is greatly to our advantage.

The shift to which I refer involves war’s relationship to soothsaying. Humans, as you know, especially the evil and adulterous ones, love to search out “the signs of the times,” but they have almost insurmountable intellectual difficulty transcending the sphere of sensory experience into the realm of abstract and symbolic thought. Especially problematic for the humans is our Enemy’s Strange Book of Signs; they think the book points primarily to a physical, not a spiritual battle. In fact, a great number of our patients relish the prospect of bloody war as a necessary step to fulfill our Enemy’s cosmic plan, and therefore they nervously rejoice at pending Armageddon. One predominant view even necessitates a Second Holocaust and probable nuclear devastation. Yum!

But enough about war. I’m quite annoyed by your self-contradictory rantings about faith and virtue. In one breath you claim that “a faith which is destroyed by a war or a pestilence cannot really have been worth the trouble of destroying,” but in another you tell me that I have the ability to undermine my patient’s faith and prevent “the formation of virtues” in him. Really now, Screwtape, which is it? Such virtues as you describe are no virtues at all, nor such faith any faith at all. Once the Enemy produces faith and virtue, His work cannot be undermined much less destroyed by war and pestilence. Bad times may demolish their counterfeits - mere belief, human goodness, and altruism - but I regretfully report that war and pestilence only fortify their dangerous opposites: genuine faith, real virtue, and sacrificial selflessness. As for your ridiculous contention that our Enemy “often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophisticated ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they know,” that is nothing but a toothless roar and, ecclesiastically speaking, a testimony to the tepid territory you roam. Never does the Enemy esteem or reward virtue grounded upon humanly conceived standards, as you imply; to the contrary, He rejects noble intentions wrongly conceived, no matter how earnestly pursued. Remember the first Pope’s noble concern for the Enemy’s Offspring when he forbade Him to speak about His death, or when he cut off Malchus’ ear? “Noble” actions arising from “good” intentions and “best” standards motivated Cephas, but what did the Offspring say? “Get thee behind me!”

Screwtape, more often than not, war is our ally, not our foe, especially when fear preoccupies our patients’ minds with earthly ballistics, politics, and ethics - these are incisive wartime swords and productive peacetime plows, fertile fields in which we continue to sow many tares.

Your affectionate nephew,

WORMWOOD

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