A New Screwtape Letter

(New correspondence between Screwtape and his lesser-known demonic cousin, Benoth, has been discovered! Once again, with apologies to the late C.S. Lewis.)

Dear Benoth,

If I were to have one complaint about the Lower Offices–and mind you, this is solely hypothetical and would surely be dismissed as such by those offices–it would be a lack of coordination between tempters whose patients share a relationship but not a residence.

I am sure that Flobgum has done well enough (as well as can be expected of him) to take advantage of his patient’s recent health concerns. I have not looked into his patient’s dossier recently, but I am afraid I shall have to soon enough. As your patient is the daughter of his, their lives and trials inevitably cross paths. Thus far, you have done a rather poor job of taking advantage of the situation.

Once again, you must get away from the idea of one great event–in this case, the father’s heart attack and hospitalization–being useful to draw your patient away from the Enemy. By itself, it will not do the trick–not for your patient, at least. Your work is in turning the details to your advantage.

Overall, the Enemy has taken His own advantages of the circumstances. He has shaken your patient out of a potentially fruitful mire of doubts, complacency, dissatisfaction, complaints, and all manner of “little” sins with insidious consequences. Your patient has received answers to prayer beyond her hopes, further reinforcing her trust in the Enemy. She has called upon (and received!) the prayers and support of fellow footsoldiers. The result is that now you must do your best to seal up the cracks in your patient’s individualistic tendencies.

I do commend your splendid work there, in general. The Enemy bestowed a strong sense of independence upon the creature, and you have nurtured this trait to our great advantage in many ways. May I suggest that you use your patient’s fatigue (a useful weapon that has recently been blunted for us, and so is now ripe for sharpening) to encourage her impatience and peevishness, both against others and herself? If you let her enjoy some moments alone, while she is still visiting her sick father, she will remember how good it will feel to return to the solitude of her own flat.

By now you probably wish to remind me that the Enemy fashioned the woman with a proclivity for solitude and the Enemy often communicates to her in that environment. This is true, but if you allow her to enjoy it now, when she returns to that which she foolishly calls her “real life” (as if what came before was a fantasy!), she will be all the more protective of it. You can encourage impatience with the friends, neighbors, and colleagues that daily try her charity. If you play your hand well, you can have your patient back to her usual self and bring to an end the Enemy’s damage to your efforts.

I also suggest you capitalize on your patient’s concern about being a “good person.” Do not let her think too deeply on the definition of that term. Of course, it is better to have your patient’s thoughts focused on herself than on anything else. But if she wonders too much on exactly what a “good person” means, it will require the use of Logic, a tool of the Enemy’s. If she has a concrete definition, she may actually go about doing it to the best of her ability–just the sort of thing the Enemy would have her do.

The little beast has heard the Enemy’s propaganda often enough that she may remember His claim to have done away with all that sort of worry. He would remind her that He already accomplished the work of making her a “good person”–that is, one who can approach the Enemy in faith, with a clear conscience. It is of utmost importance that you keep that out of her mind, whatever else you attempt.

Her current church has been very frustrating in perpetuating that message, I know. They do very much like to emphasize the Enemy’s effort, and not their own, in making them good, or holy, or worthy, or whatever other banal term they wish to apply to it. As with many of the Enemy’s ideas, we can bend it so that the humans think it means the Enemy asks nothing of them whatsoever. I’m afraid your patient has too strong a sense of duty for that idea to last very long in her mind, but I know that you have teased her to ponder it more than once. It would be more fruitful, I think, to encourage her Pride in this area. She has an exquisite amount of it already, however she tries to hide it from all, including herself. Make her think herself much better than her neighbors because she tries to do her duty. I am reminded of the older brother in the Enemy’s popular story.

There are many humans, some even in the Enemy’s camp, who would claim that if a human is worried about being a good person, it is a sign that they needn’t worry about it at all. You can see the absurdity of such a claim. It is even funnier when you know that it requires no definition of a “good person.”

It is rare that a soul who enters our Father’s House did not think itself a “good person” while alive. At the same time, those who escaped us and now reside permanently with the Enemy knew themselves to be very bad indeed. What your patient thinks of herself is of little concern to you, so long as she does think of herself above all other things. The Enemy would have the creature’s mind be anywhere else, and doing good rather than pondering what it means to be good.

Humans frequently confuse thoughts and feelings with action. True, the latter is always preceded by the former, but the latter can also affect the former. Humans too often believe that they must ruminate like cows before taking action, deciding if this or that path is the “right” or most beneficial one. You must not allow them to remember, Benoth, that the Enemy gave them more instructions for actions than thoughts. Although He would have them keep their thoughts pure and righteous, He is more concerned with the actions they take. You have seen for yourself that the humans have better control over their actions (better than even they realize) than their thoughts, and it is on the innermost parts of the beasts that the Enemy claims to do the most work.

All this to say, Benoth, that you would do well to protect your patient’s traits of independence and introspection. Both will do well to keep her from others (in spirit if not in body) and keep her thoughts on herself. This is the easiest way to encourage Pride and Despair, which I have found to be two of the most useful sins. It will also keep her from listening to others when they would encourage or admonish her (whichever the Enemy might think she needs at the time).

That being said, please do not write to me again with questions of what your patient should think about this person or that person in her life. The answer is always: not at all, if it can be helped.

Your affectionate cousin,

Screwtape

Screwtape Letters blog post

I like this picture, although I think he’s a little too cute to be a real demon. (Pic credit: cslewis.com)

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