Monday, November 26, 2012

Dear Screwtape, Chapter XVI

You may read The Screwtape Letters, Chapter XVI, here.

Dear Screwtape, Chapter XVI

My Dear Screwtape,

I recall your displeasure that my patient “has continued to attend one church” for an extended period of time. You therefore requested a “report on the causes of his fidelity to the local church.” You also remarked that “unless [this church attendance] is due to indifference it is a very bad thing” because, you say, “if churchgoing can’t be cured, the next best thing is to send him all over the city looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.” Your concerns echo my own distress about this intolerable matter of churchgoing, and your suggestions, as always, are well intended. But certain obstacles exist of which you may be unaware, and which may thwart our shrewdest strategies in this case.

From this warning about the dangers of churchgoing, you proceed to analyze the two churches geographically nearest my patient, and the pastors who occupy their pulpits. First, you examine the parochial church, which you suggest “should always be attacked.” Your desire that we assail the parochial church stems from your anxiety that it poses a special danger to our devices because, “being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires.” But, I remind you, the parochial church has been under our dominion for quite awhile on both continents, and I think your apprehension about its potential danger to us represents a much overstated fear. Besides, I ask you, what do different class distinctions and psychologies have to do with the Enemy’s happiness? His joy derives not from the geographical proximity of a church’s membership or from its economic and intellectual diversity, but from the common faith of its members, which tends to erase the significance of such diversities among patients. You also suggest a weakness in “the congregational principle” which, you say, “makes each church into a kind of club, and, finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction.” No doubt your own assignment to infiltrate Anglicanism has warped your understanding of this matter. You have things backwards again, Dear Uncle; you fail to comprehend that common faith (not mere belief which you insist upon equating with faith) is the very thing that holds together the congregational church. Oh, I do not mean to suggest that all congregational churches are true to “the faith once delivered to the saints”; this certainly is not the case. But I do affirm that churches whose members assemble upon grounds of faith as opposed to geographical or denominational loyalty pose a greater threat to our subversive activities. Now as for the two pastors you mentioned.

The first Pastor you describe "has so long engaged in watering down the faith . . . for a supposedly incredulous and hard-headed congregation that it is now he who shocks his people with his unbelief, not vice versa. He has undermined many a soul’s Christianity." Screwtape, “the faith” as you call it cannot be “watered down” except where it exists in shallow hearts. Nor can Christianity be “undermined” except when it is only an empty facade erected upon cracked foundations. The process involves making patients “think” they have “the faith,” and then working quietly within their delusions to sustain the fantasy.

The second pastor you depicted is a more interesting case, a theological chameleon whose high-flown and colorful opinions are carried about with every wind of doctrine. Of this prating fool you say, “I must warn you that he has one fatal defect: he really believes.” Screwtape, two flagrant errors corrupt your thinking. First, you falsely assume that salvific belief is separable from dogma, and secondly, you insinuate that belief alone constitutes salvation. Indeed, there is a kind of belief separate and distinct from Truth, often mistakenly substituted for the real thing among humans; you and I believe in this way. But belief like ours scorns the Enemy’s mandate that He must be worshiped in spirit and in Truth. He requires a belief intermixed with a repentance that produces transformation of one’s nature from evil to righteousness and from ignorance to a knowledge of who He really is, a metamorphosis we detest in ourselves and resist in our patients. But to return to your request that I give an explanation of my patient’s fidelity to one church.

I’m afraid you must give up hope that my former patient will attend such a “church” as either of the ones you mention. He is truly sick, and one symptom of his illness is a sheepishness which has effected both his hearing and appetite. This sheepishness has deafened him to the voices of such hirelings as the pastors you mention, and it has spoiled his appetite for the kind of slop they sling. His fidelity to his church springs from that horrible metamorphosis I mentioned, and, just as despicable, from the Enemy’s relentless purpose to teach him through a Pastor whose mind and heart are bolted like iron doors welded with lightning (There still are a few of these, you know).

I know this discourages you, but I am pleased to report other significant victories through newfangled conspiracies. We have gained significant ground among false professors through increased budgetary emphasis upon our Association for the Advancement of Vacuous, Flamboyant Fools and Religious Racketeers. Our Media Department has also been especially helpful here. Where we have not been able to steal seed outright, we have succeeded in popularizing theological superficiality and moral mediocrity among stony and thorny hearers to the damnation of not a few. So all is not lost. Remember, even if we cannot divorce real Faith from Truth, we can at least marry faithfulness to falseness. Hell still has its Pharisees, Thank Appolyon!

Your affectionate nephew,

WORMWOOD

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