Monday, January 28, 2013

The Courtesy of Listening to Vapid Talk

Dear Reader, you may read chapter 21of The Screwtape Letters here.


My Dear Screwtape,

I hesitate to embarrass one whose epistolary skills have evoked such praise from a public so comfortably adept to the pedestrian pen, but in your most recent letter the difficulties that characterize your frequently bland style and disappointingly superficial observations are compounded by a splintering of fragmented ideas which could frustrate even your less astute pupils. For instance, you suggest a “subordinate attack on the patient’s peevishness” to intensify our primary assault on his libidinous lusts, yet you give no proof hint of the relationship between this peevishness and sexuality, or of the significance of the two in relation to sexual temptation. Moreover, you identify this attack on the patient’s peevishness with “the darkening of the intellect,” but you offer no explanation of the nature of this intellectual darkness, its causes and effects, or its the implied connection between intellectual darkness on the one claw and peevishness and sexuality on the other (I suspect that you mean for me to make a connection between these ambiguous ideas and your previous vagaries about Reason). And suddenly, as if blown off course by some hellish wind, you swish away from this unmade nest of confusion towards a new but clouded horizon, a disconnected discussion of selfishness. However, my major concern with your last letter, as with the others, does not involve your minor rhetorical flaws, but your insistence upon false presuppositions which underestimate our Enemy and thus subvert our best strategies against Him.
I agree with your contention that what angers men most about their misfortunes is not misfortune alone, but “misfortune conceived as injury,” especially those injuries that make patients feel “a legitimate claim has been denied.” I also concur with your observation that the “me generation” is also the “my generation,” who deceive themselves into believing that they possess a general ownership of all that surrounds them: their bodies, their possessions, and, especially, their time. Certainly, death provides an infallible proof that patients really own Nothing. And I think that your recognition of the two primal roots of the “my” mentality, pride and confusion, attest to your shrewd insight about a perverse sense of ownership. Certainly, pride and confusion always move the heart that moves the hand to seize forbidden fruit which stems from the root of self-interest. But dear Screwtape, once again you miscalculate our Enemy’s strength. You fail to recognize two unscalable obstacles which He has put in our way to subvert your strategy. First, you falsely presuppose that a sense of ownership is actually detrimental to patients, and, secondly, you presume that the Enemy never interferes with this sense of ownership in His patients if it threatens their allegiance to Him.

To prove that a sense of ownership is detrimental to patients, you cite four specific examples: taxes, charitable contributions, the physical body, and time, the latter to which you devote your most serious attention. The patient’s source of monetary income, you say, must be perceived as his “personal birthright.”  If we can achieve this delusion, you suppose, we can then convince patients that taxes are “grievous” and charitable contributions are “generous.” But you overlook a simple fact: the Enemy tells His patients otherwise, and they believe Him. He convinces them that what is Caesar’s is Caesar’s, and what is theirs is His. And as for their bodies, the Enemy inhabits them, renovates them, and constrains them by that despicable force, Love, so that our invasion of this biological territory is not only difficult but, some say, even impossible. Don’t underestimate the capacity of our Enemy to directly impede our ploys. Where He perceives in His patients an unhealthy, selfish attitude towards money or body, He rudely butts in and takes away their wealth or health. This changes patients’ attitudes quickly. But what you perceive as most offensive to humans is an invasion of their time, especially through what you call “demands on [their] courtesy.” Therefore, you insist that I must “zealously guard” in my patient’s mind “the curious assumption ‘My time is my own.’"

You rightly observe that the source of time comes to my patient as “a pure gift,” a commodity he may spend but, once having spent it, cannot receive any reimbursement. Therefore to aid my patient in wasting time, you instruct me to cultivate in my patient the idea that “my time is my own,” and to “let his sense of ownership-in-Time lie silent, uninspected, and operative.” You also forbid me to “furnish him with arguments in defence” of the “my time is my own” mentality; “there aren’t any” such arguments, you say. But dear Uncle, such arguments do exist. For instance, you warn against our patient’s impatience with such Time Bandits as “the unexpected visitor,” a “friend’s talkative wife,” or the “conversation of a foolish woman.” You suggest that the Enemy would prefer that a patient listen to such rude ramblers as a matter of courtesy and thereby fulfill at least part of the Enemy’s plan. But you are wrong in this suggestion that “courtesy” to rude, invasive, verbose, and probably vacuous conversation is pleasing to the Enemy. To the contrary, rather than the Enemy approving of such squandering of time, He condemns it and expects that, when beset with babblers, His patients should guard their ears from “foolish and unlearned questions” and “perverse disputings” and thus redeem their time. It seems that you have confused the cultural courtesy of the Queen’s Court with the ethical responsibility of the King’s children. It is not the ownership of time that we must fear, but its stewardship. Indeed, it is in our best interest to allow patients to kill time and therefore injure eternity. But even this is not your most serious underestimation of the Enemy.
Your final and most serious error is your absurd idea that in the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say “mine” of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong - certainly not to them, whatever happens. At present the Enemy says “mine” of everything on the pedantic ground that He made it: Our Father hopes in the end to say “mine” of all things on the more realistic and dynamic grounds of conquest.” Screwtape, do you actually believe that any ownership of anything whatsoever will belong to Our Father Below when time is no more and eternity is forever? Not only shall all patients finally belong to the Enemy as obedient children or conquered and condemned rebels, but even we must finally fall under the shadow of His scepter. We have only a short time and we are unalterably destined to the pit, two horrifying things you should know by now. Believe and tremble. In the meantime, do the worst you can to steal, kill, and destroy.
    Your affectionate nephew,

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Woman's "Right" to Choose

(Photo courtesy of

The issue of "rights" cannot be discussed in a vacuum that ignores either the history of what "rights" means or the philosophical and political underpinnings of "rights." Just because someone says, "I have a right" does not mean that s/he does. Nowhere in the writings of Enlightenment philosophers, and nowhere in the recorded annals of pre-Constitution documentary history, does any thinker or writer even hint at a "right" to abortion; contrarily, the "right" of self-defense is documented and defended consistently by the Enlightenment philosophers from whom Jefferson derived the language and ideas of the Declaration of Independence, and from whom the framers of the Constitution derived the Bill or Rights, most especially Montesquieu whom the Founders quoted more than any other philosopher, and who asserted that the "right" of self-defense is inherent to the "right" to life; that's why those amendments fall one and two in the Bill of Rights. So to speak about a "woman's right to choose" is an abuse of the term "rights" that has no historical or philosophical vindication; it is vindicated only by law, which is not the same thing as a "right." The only inalienable "right" that has a bearing upon the issue of abortion is the "right to life," first among rights listed by the framers; that's why abortion advocates ever debate the chronology of pregnancy and what constitutes a "viable fetus." It may be "legal" for me to drive an automobile, but that privilege can be taken away by the government, and thus I do not have a "right" to drive, for a government can neither bestow nor take away a "right," hence the Founders' use of the term "inalienable." Just because a government legalizes something in no wise makes it a "right." Rights transcend law and government. Jefferson did not say that governments exist to "bestow" rights, but rather to "secure" rights previously and inalienably bestowed by God. Abortion may be legal, but it is not a "right."

Monday, January 14, 2013

Dear Screwtape, XX: Terrestrial and Celestial Venus

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

Terrestrial and Celestial Venus
My Dear Screwtape,
I commend you for your excellent lesson about our exploitation of the male species through three types of women: “the statuesque and aristocratic type,” “an exaggeratedly feminine type,” and jazz-age type “women whose bodies are scarcely distinguishable from boys.” We have similarly ravished the female species over the last fifty years. In our post-modern age, the same animalistic and sometimes brutal lust which has traditionally throbbed among the male species now also palpitates among the once “fairer sex.” The contemporary cosmopolitan woman pursues her own fleeting erotic fantasies: the rustic, primitive bronze man who usually comes packaged as athlete or ruffian; the well-dressed, articulate yet decadent man of elegant taste, refinement, and wealth pretended or real; or the apparently innocent but virile boyish type who appeals to more neurotic females with warped maternal instincts. 
Our tools to debauch feminine sexuality have been the same as those with which we have duped the masculine, that very same “small circle of popular artists, dressmakers, actresses and advertisers who determine the fashionable type” and who show their wares through the “nude in art and its exhibition on the stage or the bathing beach.” Add to this that our presentation of nudity no longer even remotely resembles art but now ranges from the softly pornographic (available to all children with morally dazed parents) to the blatantly sadomasochistic and blasphemous; and, because of visual technology, such propaganda may be promulgated on a much more giant scale than we ever dreamed possible. But our most successful strategy, as you point out, is that “it is all fake, of course; the figures in art are falsely drawn.” In other words, we have created a mythological sexual paragon in the minds of humans which keeps them ever seeking a non-existent ideal.

Your interest in human sexuality as a means to corrupt the humans provokes some interesting ideas; however, I fear it reflects not only your own confusion about sex but also a popular delusion rampant among humanity: that we, and not they, are the perpetrators of sexual perversion. Screwtape, you remind me of a buzzard’s beak, which may be brimming with the salty flavor of fresh flesh and blood, but it is the buzzard itself, not the beak, that has the appetite for carrion and the perverse will to eat it. Even so we, like the buzzard’s beak, may feed upon and even relish sexual licentiousness and perversion, but it is human nature whose appetite, like the buzzard’s, savors the taste of dead flesh. Your error on this point reflects a myth which we have effectively perpetrated upon the species, namely that we operate primarily in sexual realm. We must perpetuate this myth, because it deceives our patients about the real origin of their lust and obscures our true dominion from their vision. Now you may ask what I mean by “our true dominion”? Let me put it in terms you understand.   
First, let us not be overly concerned with perverting human sexuality; the human heart, both deceitful and desperately wicked, takes care of that without any external interference on our part. Secondly, let us remember, we are spiritual creatures with spiritual interests, and our primary purpose is to deceive humans, not to deprave them (Adam accomplished this quite nicely, thank Abaddon). In other words, our role is more transcendental than humans conceive. We operate in realms higher than the merely physical. Indeed, our first business is metaphysical, specifically the perversion of worship in order to redirect humans’ hearts away from the Enemy as He truly is, towards an image of the Enemy as humans think He is or want Him to be. Now, transcendental perversion is like its terrestrial counterpart--sexual perversion--but much more deadly to the species and despicable to the Enemy, for sexual perversion destroys the flesh, but spiritual perversion destroys the soul. Indeed, there is a sense in which we accomplish this by adultery and fornication, but not as you misunderstand these terms.
The adultery and fornication we engender in the species is spiritual, not physical. Just as the human heart invents and seeks to embrace false sexual facades created by corrupt imagination, so also we invent false spiritual facades created by Our Father Below. This somewhat parallels your ideas of the two sexual Venuses so appealing to men: the terrestrial Venus, “readily mixed with charity, readily obedient to marriage, coloured all through with that golden light of reverence and naturalness which we detest”; and the infernal Venus, “prostitute or mistress,” whom the patient “desires brutally.” We have our own “celestial Venus” one might say; that is, some object of worship created by vain human imagination after the image of some bird or beast or creeping thing or, even better, after man’s own image; any image of any creature will do. This form of seduction is most pleasing to Our Father Below, for it lays human affection and adoration at his feet, and thus fulfills his original and ultimate aspiration: to be worshiped.

So, my dear Uncle, rethink your understanding of perversion. We are “seducing spirits,” not seducers of the flesh. Seek for the higher kind of perversion, the celestial; the terrestrial and infernal will prosper well enough own their own.
    Your affectionate nephew,