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,


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