You may The Screwtape Letters, Chapter XVII, here.
My Dear Screwtape,
I complement your discriminating taste in victims. Your gourmet’s tooth distinguishes a slight but savory difference between Gluttony and Delicacy, and gives us appetizing opportunities to devour humans in the name of “good taste.” Not only does Gluttony remain a word quite foreign to Christian tongues, its more subtle synonym, Delicacy, feeds upon a new Hedonism in the church’s body, particularly among its more affluent members. Yes, Vanity in the name of Good Taste still excites more decadent religious palates. But while I rejoice to confirm this increased success in the area of Delicacy, I am even more excited to report another victory of monumental proportions. The minor skirmish you detected in the field of Exercise and Health has now become one of our most successful battlegrounds.
The “grand lie” to which you refer - “physical exercise in excess and consequent fatigue are specially favourable” to Chastity - is almost universally accepted among our patients today. All Hell knows that bodily exercise, in and of itself, is of only secondary significance to the Enemy’s eternal strategy because it profits patients so very little temporally and almost nothing eternally, but we have effectively brainwashed many patients into thinking that bodily exercise is of paramount importance to the Enemy. This has produced a number of most gratifying results in our patients. For instance, care for the body now vastly exceeds concern for the spirit. Naturally, this is the result of other battles we have already fought and won, such as the sexual revolution, the Narcissist takeover in the fashion industry, and the psychological sabotaging of fortyish baby-boomers with an inordinate and subconscious fear of impotency, ageing, and death. But, more importantly, this exaggerated emphasis upon the physical body has reoriented many patients’ thinking about their time so that, whereas the older, more formidable, Christian rose at dawn to the rigorous discipline of agonizing prayer and deep meditation upon the Enemy’s War Manual, the younger, more fashionable, Christian begins his day with fiber and fruit, calisthenics and jogging. If the post-modern Christian exercises himself to Godliness at all, it takes up very little of his time compared to the many hours swallowed up weekly in physical activity.
One of our standing jokes is some patients’ naive idea that, to make their bodies healthy, they should consult professional physicians, therapists and athleticists for advice about physical activity and that they must do the physical exercise themselves if they are to derive any real and lasting benefit from the energy expended; but when it comes to spiritual exercises, patients do not merely consult their professionals; their professionals do their spiritual exercises for them, and thereby patients grow spiritually weak and co-dependent (we like this new word) upon their professionals. Today’s patients tend only to observe the action in the Christian arena rather than actually to participate in it but, Lord Lucifer be thanked, they faithfully follow the diets prescribed by most of their spiritual trainers. These diets healthily enhance our strategy, since they consist mostly of spiritual milk and toast and therefore benefit only the younger and weaker patients while retarding and even decimating the health, growth, and strength of the older and, presumably, more mature who by now should be meat-eating teachers. But besides this victory in diet and participatory athletics, we have also triumphed in a new realm of gluttony, “observatory athletics.”
By observatory athletics I mean that form of athletics in which the patient participates only vicariously. Male patients are particularly vulnerable here. The effectiveness of this strategy produces a fascinating and, frankly, quite stupid psychological delusion in the male patient by making him think that the success or failure of a given athletic participant or team has real and special value for himself as an observer. The patient’s emotions rise and fall with the triumph or tragedy of his favorite team or player; emotional investment in this moronic behavior reaches crescendo proportions around “big games,” and can even contribute to minor psycho-somatic disorders such as high blood pressure, indigestion, and headaches, not to mention more serious effects, such as dangerous outbursts of temper and bouts of depression. This strategy has tremendous value for us, not only because it effectively deceives the patient into thinking that he has a personal relationship with an athlete or a vested interest in a particular game, but also because this strategy seduces the patient to evade reality, become submerged in a herd mentality which swallows his individuality among others similarly deluded, and, finally, waste an irretrievable amount of precious time in a vacuous event to which the patient falsely attributes a sense of worth.
So you see, Dear Uncle, the ground you gained in Gluttony is not lost, and new territory has been reconnoitered, attacked, and taken with only the slightest resistance and no casualties on our side.
Your affectionate nephew,