Friday, August 7, 2015

A Screwtape Letter for Today

Recently, my small group discussed The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis. Apart from his Narnia books, The Screwtape Letters is probably Lewis's best-known work. It is still on the best-seller lists some seventy years after its first publication. As a learning exercise, I challenged everyone to write a Screwtape letter of their own. With apologies to the Lewis estate, here is my own effort:

My dear Wormwood,

Were I afflicted by what humans call “scruples,” I would apologize that I have not written to you in such a long time. As you well know, various political intrigues and misunderstanding have occupied both our full attention for a while. However, I am warmed to see that, after helping the authorities with their inquiries, we are both returned to active duty in our respective official capacities.

I observe that our job has never been easier than it is now. The vermin that it is our duty to shepherd past Hell’s wide gate practically stampede over us on their own way to destruction. Nevertheless, we can still do our part to prod the slower, more reluctant ones along to their eternal reward.

I should not have to tell you that the finest way to disguise sin is to dress it up as virtue. The opportunities for such mischief are limited only by your imagination. To give you one example, observe the creatures’ use of social media. One of our greatest triumphs of this young century is to subvert a means of communication into a means of preventing communication. Why, they do not communicate any more so much as they shout past each other. Here is the truly delicious part: They feel entirely vindicated in doing so.

Why do they engage each other in interminable, virtual shouting matches? Because they all believe that they are right, and that spreading truth and stamping out lies is a noble and necessary calling. And, as far as that goes, the Enemy would probably agree with them.

In fact, He would probably tell them that they are all right, at least in part. Our genius is to obscure the last part, and to convince them they they each know it all and the other knows nothing. Our triumph was to convince them that they do not look through a dull mirror—that, instead, they see with the absolute clarity and objectivity of the One who created them. You and I appreciate that their “sin” is not in being wrong, but in attempting to usurp God’s unique position as the Knower of all and the Judge of all. In that, the most righteous of them are nearly the equal of Our Father Below.

Yet even this is not our greatest triumph, because their sin is still tainted by a small amount of righteousness, by definition. We have discovered a means whereby we can encourage the creatures to generate more pure sin than ever before in history, unadulterated with anything like righteousness. Of course, I am referring to the seemingly limitless reserves of rage that we are now exploiting.

The creatures would call it “outrage,” when simple “rage” will do. Further, they think that it is a good thing! After all, what do they think they are doing, but fighting against injustice and for justice? Does not a Just God require His creatures to fight for justice?

Well, you and I both know, and they would know, too, if they knew Scripture half as well as the Devil does, how a Just God wants them to respond to injustice. He all but gave them the blueprint for a just society. The thing is, His solution is so simple that they cannot believe it. They confuse being simple with being easy, and they cannot imagine that justice would be easy, because of course it is not easy. Woe be to us if the creatures actually notice what is in front of their noses! Thankfully, there is as little chance of that as of a leopard changing its spots.

But, back to rage. You may have seen a report cross your desk that illustrates my point perfectly. The makers of a popular computer program, or “app,” redesigned their icon in the most seemingly unobtrusive, trivial way possible. What they did was, they changed the shade of green of the app’s icon. That was it. What had been green-yellow was now yellow-green. Social media absolutely exploded with rage, entirely out of proportion with the cause, which proves my point.

The creatures, unselfconscious idiots that they are, would say that their outrage is an effect, caused by outside events, unjust or otherwise. In fact, the rage is already there, seething within them; all they need is a convenient target to unleash it upon. The more that this cycle progresses, the easier and easier it is to maintain it. The more they see how good the rage feels, the less provocation they will need to indulge in it.

So, you see how perfectly the order of battle favors us. Your job is to prevent them from recognizing their path is leading down, not up, as it were. At all costs, the creatures ought to avoid seeing each other face to face. As you know, much to our indignation, these creatures are made in the Enemy’s image. There is a chance, however slight, that if the creatures look at each other, they might actually see—see the other, and see the Enemy’s image in the other. All sorts of mischief might follow from that.

There is a secondary reason to keep the creatures from meeting face to face. Even if they cannot see the other as a divine creation, and even if they cannot see their creator’s image in the sight of the other, still most of them will feel restrained from actually hurting each other in person. I am sure that you have noticed that they will act infinitely more cruel, more obstinate, more condescending, more dismissive, more imperious—well, more hateful, really—when they are safely ensconced behind a computer screen than when they have to say these things to another’s face. Something, be it good manners, or a fear of being disliked, or just a fear of being beaten up, restrains their natural impulses to dominate and negate the other.

Luckily for you, the vermin will make your job easy, not to say effortless. We are well on our way to ensuring that every man, woman, and child of them have a so-called “smart” phone, and that they are conditioned to stay tethered to it every second of every minute of every hour of the day. With every beep or alert, like Pavlov’s dogs, they feel an urgent need to respond immediately. They allow themselves to be taken out of the present moment perhaps literally thousands of times each day. The air of foggy befuddlement in which many of them now spend their entire lives is really quite amusing. They shut out the real world around them to attend to this blinking, beeping box to the extent that they are now commonly driving into trees and walking in front of buses. All you have to do is encourage them to keep up the bad work.

In your next letter, I expect to read a full report on your progress since returning to the front lines. Meanwhile, I remain, as always,

Your affectionate uncle,


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