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,