I’m STILL Reading Too Much C.S. Lewis

Dear Benoth,

I am afraid I will have to begin this missive with an oft-spoken and common but necessary remark: I told you so. I warned you that the Enemy would eventually block your progress along a specific route. I warmly suggested that you choose your detour before you needed it. Yet you write to tell me how you are foiled in one attempt after another to recapture your patient, while I find myself lacking in sympathy.

Of course your patient is sleeping well, without interruptions, and without the need for pharmaceutical intervention. Of course she has recognized your grip on her thoughts and appealed to the Enemy for the strength to shake you off. The Enemy’s work, coupled with the self-awareness he gave your patient, has made things just as difficult as I warned you they would become. Judging by the most recent reports, I have been mistaken in thinking you capable of the role you were given.

The Enemy made you a fool in what should have been a great triumph. When she embarked on a holiday to England, your patient practically handed you every opportunity to lure her from Him. Yet all you managed were acts of impatience, the occasional loss of temper, and interrupted sleep, all of which were thoroughly uninspired and ultimately ineffective. There was no lost luggage, no delayed flights, no intoxication, no missed trains, no passport theft, no great excess in spending, no shadowy dangers as your patient and her friend walked through dark London streets. The Enemy did not even permit the weakest threat to your patient’s chastity, and she practically asked you for that! I cannot describe my disgust upon hearing that, in a certain notorious church in Clapham, the Enemy allowed your patient to meet Him in a way she has rarely experienced before, and certainly not since. Had I not been informed of your own whereabouts while your patient was abroad, I would have thought you had not gone with her to England at all!

You must have known I would be so displeased with your progress, as you have been working doubly hard since your patient’s return to the States. You fool—the damage is already done! Progress so convoluted and weak is undeserving of the name. Your patient’s holiday amounted to an entire week of experiencing not only the Enemy’s protection and basic provisions, but vulgar, excessive blessings (I make myself ill in thinking on it). Yes, she was consumed with anxiety and fears about what might happen, but now that the occasion has passed, now that she has experienced more of His love, she is even more inclined to turn to the Enemy in her times of need.

Still, I must concede that you have tried to give her times of need, however feeble. Alas, that alone will hardly restore you to your former position. Over the course of the holiday, and in the weeks since its conclusion, your patient experienced changes and disappointments, but these must have been permitted by the Enemy to turn her own ambitions into His. I will say, you did well in using this to assault your patient’s sense of self, causing her to question her identity, her desires, her entire existence. But this, too, has been futile, as your patient finally sought answers (and received them, it would seem) from the Enemy Himself. Am I not constantly warning you against such things? In every moment—in her times of uncertainty, of loneliness, of anger, of grief, when needing comfort, entertainment, laughter, or direction—your patient must not ask the Enemy to provide what she seeks. Frankly, I am appalled that I must reiterate such fundamental principles to you.

But I have vowed to help you, and so I shall, though I cannot say that you deserve it. Yet here I advise you: focus on your patient’s feelings of insufficiency. You tell me that recent conversations with some of her Christian friends and readings from the Enemy’s book, and the writings of others, are reviving her spirit. If she is the woman I take her to be, however, this encouragement is tenuous. Do not let her lose the belief that her actions, her words, and her place in the Enemy’s camp are unimportant.

This fulfills more than one aim. Initially, the patient is tempted to despair, which will draw her into ineffectiveness as she loses her “sense of purpose,” and thus loses focus on the Enemy. This, then, will encourage her toward further sin. If she gradually decides that her existence is utterly without consequence, she will come to believe that the morality of her thoughts and then her actions is also of no import.

This is best done by keeping her focus on her fellow Christians—but you must make sure that she is looking for our advantage, not the Enemy’s. He would have her see the best of her fellows with a mind to recognize His work and imitate them. He would make them examples of what He is capable of doing with her. You, Benoth, must tempt her to see “better” Christians as alien creatures, with talents and blessings and capabilities far beyond her. She must not be allowed to consider their pains and setbacks, some of which only the Enemy may see, leading her to believe that these Christians experience none of the frustrations she carries.

She also must not be allowed to dwell on the unique plans that the Enemy has in mind for her. You must take full advantage of your patient’s weakness for envy and comparison. Encourage her attention toward the praise heaped upon the most visible Christians. Lead her to believe that she must do exactly as they do, lest she be rendered useless to the Enemy’s camp. When celebrating missionaries who relocate to a foreign land and endure bitter inconveniences for the Enemy’s sake, your patient should conclude that a lack of desire to do the same shows a dreadful moral failing on her part. At the same time, the fact that she has not been called to the “mission field” should be taken as an indication, not that the Enemy has no use for her in that particular capacity, but that He has no use for her at all. When the church extols motherhood and children, your patient should cringe with shame that she lacks not only a partner with whom to engage in the act of reproduction, but the desire to bear children at all. Again, that she currently has no desire for children should be seen as selfishness and a lack of compassion. That the Enemy has not provided her with a holy means to bear offspring should mean that He considers her useless and without place in the Church.

Although your patient has been turning her attention more and more upon the Enemy, she remains delightfully weak in her identity. (Strange, that a creature with an excess of self-awareness would have such a flaw, but that is just another example of the Enemy’s cruel caprice.) He would have her live each day with the knowledge that every breath of her life, her person, her spirit, is from Him. Obviously, then, your duty is to thwart your patient’s development in this area. It hardly makes much of a difference where she places her identity, provided it is anywhere but the Enemy. You might experiment with a variety of options before you find one that is best, but I do have a few suggestions.

Appearance is a common source of identity in all human creatures, of course, and popular culture makes that very easy for us. The weaknesses of this you well know. Your patient has a changeable but entertaining streak of vanity that you might exploit. Her writing is another option. You have failed to keep her from her writing endeavors, I know, but that could make it better for us in the long term, since it is a strength that your patient knows she possesses. She may be induced to depend on it instead of Him, and when He does inevitably cut off your efforts here, He will have to (at least temporarily) cut her off from a talent that He gave her personally, and thus must impede His own work. Finally, as we have already discussed, your patient is vulnerable when it comes to her duties in the Church, to her fellow Christians, and to the Enemy. I have noticed that she has an insatiable desire to be valuable. Unfortunately, she means value to her fellows and not to us, but never mind—even you must be able to make something of that. Do not forget what comical standards your patient sets for herself, and to what gorgeous depths she is capable of falling.

As disinterested and disgusted we must be by these vile creatures, I do find it fascinating (though perhaps “amusing” is a better word) how they positively exhaust themselves in a scramble for their own identity, all the while showing their best and concealing their worst, yet striving to imitate other humans engaged in the exact same futile acts! Were it not for evidence to the contrary, one might wonder whether the Enemy created these ridiculous humans solely for us to torment for our amusement.

I am on tenterhooks, as they say, and I trust that your next letter will not disappoint me quite so thoroughly.

Your Affectionate Cousin,

Screwtape

(Again, written and posted with apologies and respect to C.S. Lewis)

2 thoughts on “I’m STILL Reading Too Much C.S. Lewis

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