Monday, October 29, 2012

Dear Screwtape, XII: The Wandering,Wobbling Star

Dear Reader, you may read Chapter XII of The Screwtape Letters here.

My Dear Screwtape,

From Geology to Astrology, your metaphors are both consistent to your point and persistent in their erroneous conclusions. To the peaks and valleys of your “law of undulation” you now move to the astrological image of the patient as a fallen and wandering star, whose “change of direction in his course . . . is already carrying him out of his orbit around . . . the sun [the Enemy] . . . into the cold and dark of utmost space.” Now let us explore the accuracy of your metaphor.

I know you recall the beautiful but tragic story of our Lord Lucifer the Dawn Treader, how he merited the highest heaven, “full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” Girded with the majesty of heaven’s brightest light and earth’s most shimmering jewels, he pulsated with a radiance so lovely it outshone all - all but One, that is, the One who took from our lovely Lord Lucifer the title which rightly belonged to him, “Son of the Morning” or “Morning Star.” So, justifiably, our Lord Lucifer sought to take what was lawfully his, the highest place in Heaven, where he, its brightest star, should shine.

I know you also remember how the splendid trail of his magnificent glory encircled us in crimson flame as he ascended to the throne above the starry heights, and drew us into an adoring and loyal conspiracy with him against the Enemy. But, alas, the Enemy unleashed against us, his most resplendent creatures, that force which you say He does not use, His irresistibility, and thus overpowered our Lord Lucifer’s most sovereign will and cast him, and us, into the nether regions of outer darkness. Now all we have is “the unconquerable will, and study of revenge, immortal hate, and courage never to submit or yield.” So you see, my dear Uncle, it is we and our counterfeit defectors who have changed our orbits from around the Sun and wandered into the cold darkness and void of space. 

Screwtape, the true defector is no wandering star "to whom the mist of darkness is reserved forever," but rather a constant orb fixed and immutable in its shimmering path. Once the Enemy names a new star (that is, deceives a new defector; I’m using your metaphor) and spins it in orbit around Himself, that star maintains its circuitous path eternally and shines “for ever and ever.” Therefore, you are mistaken in your idea that we can alter the orbit of a star whose path our Enemy has fixed in His Second Constellation. Oh, certainly, we can pummel such a star with our fiery meteors or cloud it momentarily from its Golden Axis, but to finally alter its course, we might as well try to extinguish the Sun, for to remove the Enemy’s grip from a single star we would first have to remove it from a single sparrow, and we know that not even a sparrow falls without Him, much less a star. So you see, my dear Uncle, you have deceived yourself again; the patients whose courses we may alter are not truly stars in our Enemy’s new heaven, but dying stars fallen from our own brazen and ancient sky; it is those whom we can knock from their already derailed and shaken orbits and pull them with us toward the Black Hole. I will try your strategy, but if my patient truly shines and spins in the Enemy’s galaxy, my efforts will be futile. Please, dear Uncle, would you be a little more thoughtful in your recommendations about how I burn up my time?

Your affectionate nephew,

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dear Screwtape, Chapter XI: Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy

Dear Reader, you can read Chapter XI of The Screwtape Letters here.

My Dear Screwtape,

Your division of laughter into four causes - Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy - this, indeed, is excellent and merits Hell’s applause. How perceptive you are to understand that Joy is inexplicable to us, as you say, like Music and Heaven, “a meaningless acceleration in the rhythm of celestial experience.” I also commend your definition of Fun as “a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct” which “can sometimes be used to divert humans from something else which the Enemy would like them to be feeling or doing.” But I think you somewhat overstate the danger that Fun “has wholly undesirable tendencies,” such as charity, courage, and contentment. Relax, dear Uncle, Fun seldom leads to such evils, as humans now are obsessed with Fun and consider it their primary reason for existence. And as for the Joke Proper, you note that “it is especially promising among the modern generation who take their ‘sense of humour’” most seriously; you call it an “all-consoling and . . . all-exciting grace of life” that functions as an invaluable “means of destroying shame.” Witness to this our media’s bombardment of humans with vulgar jokes and jokesters through sitcoms and late-night hellevision in which scatological and sexual humour gradually liberate our victims from the natural restraints of conscience and produce in them a delightfully savage regression to the primitive. Finally, how subtle you are to recognize Flippancy as perhaps “the best of all,” a “very economical” form of emotional delusion in which “any of them can be trained.” But, dear Uncle, more than a half century has passed since our original correspondence about this matter of laughter, and we have gained even more ground since then in our battle for control of human emotion, especially humour. Therefore, to your list I add two more causes of laughter, Cynicism and Ridicule, causes that now parallel and perhaps even predominate among post-modern humans, especially the young.

No matter what the dictionary says, we know that Cynicism and Ridicule evolve from a common source, the Bitterness sprung from Cruelty. How efficient we have been in the last fifty years to hatch Bitterness from Cruelty. Our most effective strategy has been to assail young children, especially through their parents. Certainly the external, corporeal techniques of cruel striking, cursing, and neglect have been fiendishly effective, but even more productive has been the internal, emotional technique we call the “split-slit.” The Enemy knows that the “one flesh” refers not only to the father-mother union, but also to the child. As we split the parents we also slit the child. A child’s natural reaction to this split-slit is always bitterness. This bitterness produces a psychological wound no child can heal by himself, so he tries to cope with parental cruelty through psychological placebos. One such placebo is a cynical view of life characterized by a sweetly diabolical laughter at the world and everything in it.

Cynicism and Ridicule also operate in our favour with regard to Hedonism, the all-consuming desire to gratify lust. What strides we have made here! No longer do we have to hide our darkest secrets; they are now in such full view that the youngest members of contemporary society fathom the darkest depths of depravity.  We have so desensitized most young people to the delicacies of Hell that they no longer blush and whisper at our most graphic displays. Frankly, humans have invented things not even Our Father Below has conceived and thus have accelerated their own destruction and made our task even easier. What a shrewd device we have concocted: over familiarity with Hell breeds boredom! As a result, how often upon the lips of young humans do we hear the phrase, “I’m bored,” which really means “I have seen everything, done everything, and been everywhere.” Hedonism accentuates Cynicism and Ridicule.

One caution before I close, though. You contrast real Joy with “the realism, dignity, and austerity of Hell.” But be admonished, Heaven too has its realism, dignity, and austerity, and I have heard a disturbing rumor that part of the Enemy’s future plan is to take a more laughless approach to the recovery of His church, so we must keep our patients laughing as much as possible through whatever means of entertainment we yet have at our disposal in the modern church, especially the witty preacher and the popular entertainer.

    Your affectionate nephew,


Monday, October 15, 2012

Dear Screwtape X: The Puritan

Dear Reader, you can read The Screwtape Letters, chapter X, here.

My Dear Screwtape,

Alas, you make it increasingly difficult to continue. You underestimate Faith, you overestimate our own diabolic abilities, and then you exacerbate these errors by insisting that your superficial observations of fraudulent religion equate with Christianity. Screwtape, you are blind to truth because you are blind to error. If you would blind others to Truth, you yourself must see it clearly. Remember, we devils must also believe if we would deceive.

Nowhere is your blindness more evident than in your complete misunderstanding of the term “Puritanism.” Oh, I do admit your correct assertion that “the value we have given to that word is one of the really solid triumphs of the last hundred years.” And you are accurate to associate Puritanism with “warnings about Worldly Vanities, the Choice of Friends, the Value of Time . . . temperance, chastity, and the sobriety of life.” But although you correctly describe our present successful distortion of the term, most everything you have said about Puritanism betrays your ignorance of its original definition. I’m afraid you have deceived yourself again on this, another matter, because you base your understanding of the Puritans upon your own misunderstanding of their character.

Wake up, dear Uncle, and remember that we have successfully forced the public to focus upon a twisted perversion of Puritanism by misrepresenting its external qualities. For instance, when we remind our patients that the Puritans were “temperate,” they now believe that temperance means “prohibition,” or, in a broader sense, “legalism”; if we say that the Puritans practiced “chastity,” immediately our patients wince at this idea (the “A”theist Hawthorne and the Marxist Miller came to our aid here) and conceive the Puritans to have been prudish and priggish; if we remind our patients that the Puritans practiced “sobriety of Life,” they immediately conjure images of black-clad, scowling judges with hardened frowns who never look at others except to condemn them. We have done a smashing job here. No, my dear Uncle, it is not away from these external qualities of our brand of “Puritanism” that we should direct our patients, but toward them, especially toward the fraudulent facsimiles I have described. By thus directing our patients’ wills, we accomplish two things. First, we deceive those who would embrace this arrogant pseudo-Puritanism by attracting them to a religion of pious externals; secondly, we successfully alienate those who in turn reject this misrepresented Puritanism and thus protect them from the more sagacious and threatening tenets of Puritanism.

Ironically, your insistence that we combat our patients’ reason makes you almost an ally, not an enemy, of the Puritans, and, I warn you, this makes our Father Below very uneasy. Be advised, Screwtape, that the Puritans viewed Reason as fallen, and asserted that the only God whom Reason could not destroy is the God who destroys Reason. But this is the only place you agree with them. You see, the Puritans knew nothing of the bogus believers you describe, except to call them reprobates and apostates; nor did they know (except to call it heresy) of your idea of a grace which retained bad habits, or of the benefits of inattention to the Inner Life and the cultivation of spiritual duties, or of the glory and power of man’s free will. Theirs was no religion based upon your “law of undulation,” much less a religion which allowed its proponents to live, as you say a Defector can, “for quite long periods, two parallel lives.”

Your misconception of Puritanism derives from your failure to realize that their external qualities reflect the deepest intellectual, emotional, and spiritual contemplation our Enemy can generate in the human species. Such dangerous concepts as Predestination, Providence, Election, and Perseverance controlled the Puritans’ hearts and minds, and made them practically unassailable by any forces we could muster. Besides possessing almost impeccable ethics, real Puritans (or those like them) reshaped the whole continent of Europe, humiliated our Babylonian Whore, founded prominent universities, wrote magnificent poetry, invented integral calculus, and preached a God who actively exercised “the Irresistible and the Indisputable” qualities of our Enemy which, you claim, He holds in reserve.  The Puritans attributed their likeness to our Enemy’s image, not from the exercise of their will, but from the sovereign exercise of His will and the conquest and subsequent surrender of theirs. Their virtuous stench (a fragrance sweet and tender to our Enemy, not harsh and hard like our myth) caused our Father below to spew them out of his mouth. That is the kind of Puritan about whom we must be warned and against whom we must be on our guard.

Do not fear that the patients you describe will ever be lost to that brand of  Puritanism. Those patients remain trapped in moral externals and mundane conversations. But we must steer our course carefully here, Dear Uncle, for if our patients ever recover real Puritanism, we could experience a severe setback (the Enemy calls it revival). That would be most tragic since we have made it through more than two centuries without any serious threat to our deception.

    Your affectionate nephew,


Monday, October 8, 2012

Dear Screwtape, Chapter IX: Troughs and Peaks

Dear Reader, you may read Chapter IX of The Screwtape Letters here.

My Dear Screwtape,

Although the topographical metaphor you have chosen to describe the effects of the law of undulation does not apply to true Defectors, it fits quite nicely with the current religious landscape. If I understand you correctly, you speculate that we can exploit our patients’ psychological and moral weaknesses at those times that they are in what you call the valley or “trough” of dullness and dryness. You say that when our patients are in this trough we should tease their sensual natures, particularly their predilection to sexual perversion, and probe their psychological vulnerabilities by making them depressed so that they think gloomy thoughts about their predicament in the trough and retreat to mere “wishful thinking” (modern professors call it “having a positive attitude”). Indeed, we have refined this strategy to delude our more naive patients with the notion that the real problems they face – spiritual battles, financial burdens, emotional crises, or physical suffering – are only momentary illusions that can be dissipated by the power of the mind as easily as a dream evaporates at morning. As for a direct attack upon our patients’ “faith,” you imagine that we can gradually chip away their religious persuasion and move them from the merely skeptical and dangerous idea, “I am losing interest in this,” to the more gullible and damaging idea, “This is false.”

Perhaps using the word “topographical” to describe your metaphor is a bit too chic, but when you use the words “peak” to describe our patients’ “up-times,” and “trough” to describe our patients’ “down” times,” I immediately visualize images of mountains and valleys. I must confess that those images make me shudder when I recall similar pictures in our Enemy’s Handbook. He often mentions peaks and troughs, though He calls them mountains and valleys, and has been known to exalt valleys and bring mountaintops low, making crooked things straight and turning dangerous troughs into triumphs and ominous peaks into pinnacles of conquest. My dear Screwtape, one of the Enemy’s old Apologists discussed long ago what you call the “trough” (I think you have your consonants confused; he called it “slough”), and I think he understood the law of Undulation somewhat more clearly than you. He described the trough as a miry bog in which the true Defector may wallow “for a time” but from which he afterwards emerges with the aid of One called Help. In fact, what you call “the law of Undulation” the Enemy calls “Pliability,” and says that the genuine Defector leaves this Pliability behind him in the miry muck as he moves toward his homeland. Keep in mind, my most diabolical Uncle, that it is the Enemy who burrows these troughs and sloughs to distinguish between true and false Defectors. The false ones stay down; the true ones get up and out, and there is nothing we can do about that. In fact, struggling from the troughs and sloughs only strengthens the true Defector. As for your strategy that our patients should be made to focus upon their troubles in the trough, I’m afraid that’s quite an impossibility in the case of the true Defector. When the Enemy knocks him down, He always leaves him face up. In such a posture, a horizontal trough is only a prelude to a vertical triumph. And as for chipping away at faith, oh, certainly, we may disfigure and even destroy the flinty-soft stone of religious profession; but when we strike the iron anvil of real faith, our flaming swords shatter into a million sparks that fade into fast oblivion.

Dear Uncle, I’m afraid the task is a little more difficult than you perceive. It’s one thing to attack those who embrace what you call “a moderated religion” but quite another to wrestle with a lion in sheep’s clothing.

    Your affectionate nephew,

Monday, October 1, 2012

Dear Screwtape, Part VIII: The Law of Undulation

Dear blog readers, I have changed the on-line Screwtape Letters source to a more reader-friendly version; however, you will have to scroll down to Chapter VIII of TSL, which you can access here.

My Dear Screwtape,

Your theory of the “law of undulation” deserves special attention, for it certainly characterizes many in the Enemy’s camp today who identify themselves by His name but who truly align themselves with us. But let me be sure that I understand you correctly. By the “law of undulation” you mean a behavior of inconstancy, vacillation, unsteadfastness, and double-mindedness, or what you describe more specifically as a periodic “religious phase” in which the Christian experiences a sort of temporary “dying” to his religion; or, in other words, a “repeated return to a level from which [Christians] repeatedly fall back.” You trace this phenomenon to the origin of the human species; “amphibians” you call them, which denotes their twy-naturedness as physical and spiritual, temporal and eternal beings, a “revolting hybrid” who move in and out of Christianity like filthy frogs that move in and out of water. Because of their twy-naturedness, you conceive Christians to be in a kind of gravitational dilemma, a simultaneous double pull, now towards the earth and then towards heaven; you say that this pull splits our patients’ commitment to Christianity and, more importantly, fractures their affections. Moreover, you say, our patients never really overcome this double pull and therefore undulate continually throughout their lives on earth. You also ascribe this undulation to certain limitations that you imagine the Enemy imposes upon Himself, specifically, the Enemy’s refusal to exercise His Irresistibility and Indisputability that, if He were to exercise, would therefore enable Christians to overcome this law of undulation but, detrimental to His own integrity, would therefore interfere with our patients’ free will.

I quite agree with your defense of human freedom, as all Hell does, but it seems, my dear Screwtape, that you base your opinions about the law of undulation upon a number of false presuppositions which you derive from your observations of mere religionists and, thus, you have drawn false conclusions. First, you presuppose that, because you notice undulation (vacillation, double-mindedness, etc.) in many of our patients’ lives, you may therefore conclude that this quality truly characterizes the Enemy’s disciples; but doesn’t the Enemy Himself declare that such undulation disqualifies, not identifies, a disciple? Doesn’t our Enemy forbid His farmers to put their hands to their plows and look back, his soldiers to entangle themselves with the affairs of this world, and his sheep to follow the voice of strangers? In fact, does He not categorically condemn an on-going double-minded undulation in his disciples and command them to be “steadfast” and “immovable”? This is not to say that His ploughmen never stumble being weary, His soldiers never fall being wounded, or His sheep never wander from the fold; but it is to say that they make this stumbling, falling, and wandering no habit as you suggest, not a perennial “law of undulation.”

You also base your erroneous conclusion about undulation upon a second false presupposition - that the Enemy takes “away His hand” in order to cause our patients to “stand up on [their] own legs--to carry out from the will alone” their duties from which they have temporarily fallen away. Now, where did you ever get this idea, that the Enemy leaves His followers alone to their own legs and wills? That’s our strategy, not His! And despite your contention to the contrary, the Enemy does in fact override and even redirect the wills of His followers, not only in the immediate moment of their defection to Him, but also in subsequent instances when He “works in them both to will and to do His good pleasure.” His hand never leaves them, but consistently holds and controls their every movement. If they ascend to the highest heaven, if they make their beds in hell, if they fly at light speed on dawn’s wings to the deepest ocean’s farthest shore, even in these extremities, the Enemy’s hand, even His right hand, holds and controls them. How He does this without violation of their freedom is a mystery inexplicable, but it is everywhere attested in His Book of Lies, and in every way confounds our best theologians to explain, and defies our devices to oppose. Nothing makes us gnash our teeth more than when the Enemy invokes His Irresistibility and Indisputability.

Dear Screwtape, do not confuse a patient’s failing pursuit of the Ideal for an actual experience of the Real, and do not draw theological conclusions from the shaky grounds of empirical and circumstantial observation. Otherwise you will be deceived by your own deception. Please remember, the undulators are ours!

    Your affectionate nephew,