Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dear Screwtape, Chapter XIX: Screwtape, the Deist

My apologies to our readers for being two days late on this post; internet problems, of course.

Dear Reader, you may read The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 19, here.

Numbers in parentheses represent footnotes (below).

Chapter XIX

My Dear Screwtape,

I perceive that in all things you are too superstitious, and, in one particular thing, too prone to Philophobia (1). You shudder and shout “impossibility!” because of your “utter failure to find out that real motive” of the Enemy’s Love for humans. And nowhere is your ignorance of Love’s Cause more obvious than in your vain jangling about the Enemy’s foresight. First, you erroneously suggest that, when the Enemy “mooted” the creation of man, He “confessed that he foresaw a certain episode about a cross.” I take objection to your choice of terms, for you underestimate our Enemy and overestimate your own understanding of Him. I assure you, he does not “moot” [in any sense of that term]; that is, He does not argue, debate, wonder out loud, or speculate about the creation of man or any other matter. So, please, spare me from any more vacuous anthropomorphisms (2). 

Secondly, you are a bad theologian (and you know we must be good theologians), for you know nothing of the Enemy’s foresight. You speak as if the Enemy foresaw the Future, or perhaps several futures at once, and then proceeded to choose the best possible world (3) into which He might channel all His energies in an attempt to create and govern it (4). But my Dear Uncle, the Enemy neither schemes nor labors after this fashion. If our Oppressor devised and developed His plans as you describe, then His intentions and actions would be contingent upon, first, what he foresaw and, second, what he wished to avert or accomplish in what He foresaw. By this scheme He would be no foe (or force) at all, but a mere Pawn of the Foreseeable who subjected His will as Creator to the will of the creature (a popular myth! Would it were so!). To the contrary, the certitude of the Enemy’s foresight derives from the magnitude of His will; His omnipotence achieves what His omniscience conceives (5). He does not work His counsel and will after He perfectly foresees all things; He foresees all things perfectly because He “works all things after the counsel of his own will” in strict adherence to His own pleasure (6). 

But I must say that I do rejoice at your attempt to make “the episode of the cross,” as you call it, an unavoidable necessity to the Enemy’s Man-plan. This truly warps His so called Good News. However, I’m afraid that the “episode of the cross” is not secondary to the Enemy’s plans as you suggest, but primary, the very first cause of all His purposes and to which all His other purposes are subjected. The cross was not designed to accommodate the creation; the creation was designed to accommodate the cross. It is not merely a foreseen “episode.” 

Peace, be still, dear Uncle; be not distraught over your failure to discover the Cause of the Enemy’s Love. We have changed our strategy. No longer do we try to find out Love's Cause. Now we invoke a more subtle technique; we distort the public’s understanding of the Nature of the Enemy’s Love, an approach which has proven most effective and rivals even the Pharisees’ legalism in its effectiveness yet without its harshness. This makes our merchandise more accessible to the general public. In fact, Phariseeism would be an improvement over our current concoction. To “distort the public’s understanding of the Nature of the Enemy’s Love” means to pervert human understanding of Love's moral and discretionary quality. We must never allow humans to associate the Enemy’s Love with His Holiness. This will delude our patients with the idea that they may lay claim to the Enemy’s Love while embracing their sins, what we call the one-foot-in-Heaven-one-foot-in-Hell Syndrome. We accomplish this by infiltrating ecclesiastical hierarchy from whom we then spew forth what Sweetblood calls Hell’s Honey, a theology of Love most palatable to the human tongue and pleasant to the human ear.   

No, we must not permit the public to recognize that the Enemy’s Love constrains His people to reflect His Holy nature in their behavior. Not only would this startle most of our patients into an excited and dangerous confusion, it should also move some of them to earnest repentance of sin, something Hell cannot withstand. No, let us corrupt humans’ thinking about the moral nature of the Enemy’s Love by continuing to persuade them that His Love is separate from His despicable Holiness and warrants no radical, demonstrable, and persevering change in their behavior. 

Your affectionate nephew,


(1) Perhaps a coinage, “Fear of Love.”
(2) An anthropomorphism is a figure of speech which attributes human qualities to deity, such as “the arm of the LORD” (Isaiah 53:1); in this particular instance, the anthropomorphism is psychological, attributing a process of reasoning to God.
(3) The idea of “the best possible world” reflects the philosophy of eighteenth-century deists such as Leibniz, whom Voltaire mocks in his famous novella Candide. Unwittingly, Screwtape’s (and Lewis') misunderstanding of foresight makes his view deist, not Christian.
(4) The idea that God makes plans and then tries to execute them is also deistic. Deism distinguished between the antecedent--the which God intends to do, as opposed to the subsequent will of God, that which God actually is able to do. Tragically, much contemporary “Christian” thinking about the will of God is deistic.
(5) Wormwood here plays on the famous quote by the humanist Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich), who said, “What the human mind can conceive, it can achieve if it only believes,” a saying popularized by a number of modern “positive thinkers,” even among Christianity, such as Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, and Norman Vincent Peale. To their and Lewis' discredit, that saying is relevant to the Mind and Will of God but not the mind and will of man or angel.
(6) Wormwood here plays on the famous quote by the humanist Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich), who said, “What the human mind can conceive, it can achieve if it only believes,” a saying popularized by a number of modern “positive thinkers,” even among Christianity.

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