Writing My Own Screwtape LetterSaturday, April 25, 2015
Friends, sometimes we have to step back from life to truly see it. We need to hear other voices to understand which ones we listen to.
I'm hopeful that many of you have read or at least familiar with C. S. Lewis' beloved book The Screwtape Letters. The fictional letters are a collection of correspondences between a head demon Screwtape and his young pupil Wormwood, a junior tempter. Lewis provides a series of lessons for the life of a Christian by exploring temptation from the devil's point of view — the result is a commentary on human nature and how the faith is commonly undermined.
For my class on Spiritual Guidance and Discernment, we took this book to a different level. We had to write our own letter.
Few projects have been so personally illuminating. I sat down one afternoon with a journal and found the words flowing as they pinpointed the sin in my own life. Sometimes it's easy to become too satisfied with where we are and, under the guise of "tolerance", we lose sight of personal progression, sanctification and practicing virtue. We focus so much on the personality types saying what we are (INTJ, thank you very much) and not enough time on the virtues showing where we could be.
Beware the danger of being too comfortable. This letter is a confession, a recognition, a reflection of where I am and what I hope to overcome through grace. I also did a photography project to go along with it. If this strikes a chord in you, I would encourage you to put this kind of exercise into practice — where can you grow? Where does temptation have a stronghold and how are you fighting it? Are you building virtue? If so, how?
My Dear Wormwood,
I applaud you for the work you have recently accomplished in your young patient. The specimen is showing a brief boldness in her defenses, but trust that her momentary zeal is not an illumination of peaceable resistance, the kind for which the Enemy is well known, but a stubbornness that comes from pride. You can use her close proximity to fellowship with other followers as a means of exhausting her tactics and ultimately desensitizing her to the ploys in which you have been instructed.
One key insight you will come to gain through your extended fieldwork is that the manner in which such patients are instructed to defend themselves is actually quite susceptible to our own whispers. We need not scream at them — they do the crying out, declaring a vile self righteousness they don’t even believe. Take the girl for example. She spends every waking moment working, going to classes, organizing events, writing, thinking about future plans. Reading the texts of the Enemy is now required for a grade, not for “enlightenment.” She is a loud, out spoken one, more prone to complacency than to ambivalence or doubt. She does not realize, nor do you, that she is creating her own distractions. Use them.
The most beneficial approach I have found thus far is to make a patient exhausted by encouraging him or her to keep up the work for the work’s sake. Juvenile tempters are misguided in the thought that they can best mislead by developing new hindrances or making someone question salvation. For a specimen such as this young woman, that flawed approach will only strengthen her, allowing her to utilize the techniques she has learned. Instead, make her think that she is such a good follower of the Enemy. Should we lead her to acknowledge her own lowliness, then we are only stoking the flames of humility, a vice so loathsome to our Great Father.
Over time and gentle pressure to do more, to be better, you can foster the complacent spirit in your specimen. Cultivate this well, for it is powerful. Your patient is grossly unaware of the ways in which tolerance will undermine her own self-professed goals. Allow her to become lenient with herself under the guise of the Enemy’s truism “giving grace”. When she falls into temptation, which will itself wound her legalistic pride, avoid giving her opportunity to feel guilt. Tell her she is justified. Should she be in fellowship with others during times of trial, she will be more inclined to confess, seek repentance and return to the Enemy to renew the kind of zealous passion in defense against us. No, it is far more degenerating to make her impassive toward temptation because she finds it to be normalized or insignificant. It is this apathy towards sin that makes me tingle with thought at all the possibilities for further damage. For once she stops caring, she stops fighting.
If and when this happens, my dear Wormwood, you must act quickly and with sharp precision. Allow her to become isolated, to indulge in her fantasies, to nurture a self-satisfying bitterness. Once you have effectively swayed her thoughts and desires, you can direct her outward actions in a way that will only encourage participation in the distractions she calls a “schedule”. You may find that, if she is the kind of patient we have classified her as, that she will someday recognize her tolerance as cynicism. The beauty in this is that she will become tolerant with herself, but not with those around her. Encourage this questioning of others, this assumption of selfish motivations which she can discern externally but nay, never in herself. What will this do but isolate her further? Then, young tempter, you will find that she will perpetuate her own cyclical cycle of desensitized complacency. Her indifference makes all the difference.