Blogger’s Note: This is the third post I’ve written in the style of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. The first two can be found here and here. All are based on various, real, personal events. All are written with apologies, respect, and affection to Lewis and his original work.
My Dear, Foolish Benoth,
There is no use in shielding you from the truth, and if you were wise, you would not wish me to do so. But there is no wisdom in you—none that is useful to us, at any rate. Your recent actions have proved disastrous, and have dashed my high expectations for your cause. I am inclined to recommend you for the House of Correction for Incompetent Tempters; recent events have proven you more than worthy of an indefinite stay.
Clearly you were desperate, else you would not have made such clumsy, transparent errors. That will not help you avoid proper punishment. Your patient could not be persuaded to cease believing in our existence, of course, but you might have done better to hide your influence. (She may continue to have doubts about that, at least.) The ridiculous creature, moved to greater piety in the realm of her imagination, has not only appealed to the Enemy for strength, but has become more active in resisting your power. It remains beyond me why the Enemy should consider her of any value, and indeed, I am at a loss to understand why she is of much value to us. But that is for the lower orders to know fully. I am determined we shall have her in the end—indeed we might have had her already, if she had been saddled with one more capable than yourself.
She was well within your grasp, was she not? Quite willingly, by the sound of it. Your reports of the fantasies and mental habits she cultivated, in flagrant rebellion against the Enemy, were enough to set one to salivating. Even her moments of repentance were superficial enough to be mere amusement for us. Alas, you grew idle in your arrogance, allowing the Enemy to woo her back, exposing her to the influence of her fellow Christians, religious texts, and church sermons. Was there nothing she could have found more appealing than that? It is enough to make me wonder whether you are even acquainted with your patient at all!
Instead of falling back on this front and pursuing one less-defended, as I had suggested in past correspondence, you insisted on continuing to tempt your patient on the same ground. With more delicacy on your part, she could have been made to believe that any and all stumbles were her fault alone, and by this you could have drawn her back toward Despair, a sin she commits so easily. She may have sought relief somewhere other than the Enemy’s presence. Instead, when she began actively to resist you, resting in the Enemy’s deplorable Grace, knowing full well that she was doing the best that such a pitiful primate can do, you overwhelmed her slumbering mind with visions and temptations so crude, so blatant, that it could have come from no other source but yourself.
I cannot guess what else you imagined could result. Because of your idiocy, your patient is even more aware of you, weakening whatever sway you may still possess with her. She has been overcome, not by Despair over her condition or by Fear of you, but with a raw anger that has stirred up in her some sense of Justice and allowed her to call upon the Enemy with an even clearer conscience! Not that we have reason to fear such unrestrained emotion in these human animals (indeed, it has been very useful to us in the past), but you have allowed the Enemy to get there before you. He has turned it for His purposes when you could have harnessed it for yours.
You would like me to assist you in avoiding the repercussions of your errors, I suppose, but I shall do no such thing. I would expect, at the very least, that you would retrace your steps and see where you had lost your footing. One very plain error is the length of time your patient spent touring neighborhood churches. It was inevitable, I suppose, that this would come to an end, but if you had made a greater effort to sustain it, you might not be in your current predicament. You could have been more persistent in pointing out the flaws of the church where she received a new infusion of “inspiration,” as I suppose she would call it, that led to your grave error last night. You could have better fed her disappointment or encouraged her to give up her search “for a time.” Now that she appears to have made her decision and is seeking to find her place in that tedious gathering, I suppose the Powers Below can count this as yet another mark against you.
Still, you have been assigned to this girl, and I suppose you will be mewling for my help even if I refuse to give it. If I were to deign to offer you further advice, I would suggest that you relinquish this front for the time being. You might make better use of your limited abilities with more subtle efforts elsewhere. One possible target is your patient’s romantic desires. As that is an area in which the Enemy has left her fairly impoverished, and where she is most changeable and confused, it remains most open to your influence. See if she can be distracted by the presence of any suitable men in this new church of hers. The Enemy may reward your patient’s hard work, however, by closing off even this to you, and then we (I should say you, for I cannot be expected to bear any responsibility for your failings) shall be in a real bind.
You may be better off by tempting her to Pride. If you can convince her that she is really the one making the most effort in resisting you, that it is done by her human strength alone, and that she is not so dependent on the Enemy as she first thought, you may recover some lost ground. Do try to avoid being so conspicuous this time. I cannot over-emphasize how gradually this must be undertaken, now that you have made such a mess of things.
If you cannot tempt your patient to real sin, I hope it would not be too challenging for you to coax her into avoiding some good, particularly those pleasures that most draw her attention toward the Enemy. You may convince her to remain in bed rather than going to the new church she seems to enjoy so much, or to exercise. Perhaps she may be convinced not to bother cooking dinner, or taking an afternoon stroll. Distract her so that she neglects to return her friends’ correspondence or complete her French lessons. Surely you can be trusted with such rudimentary tasks. I expect a better report of your progress (that is to say, any progress at all) in the future.
Your Most Disappointed Cousin,