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,

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