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,

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