Monday, 15 August 2011

Advice to Hell Raisers By Carl Sundell

Carl Sundell is Professor Emeritus of English and Humanities at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He currently resides in Lubbock, Texas.

The Screwtape Letters. By C.S. Lewis.
The Snakebite Letters. By Peter Kreeft.
“The devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked,” said St. Thomas More. C.S. Lewis and Peter Kreeft, both superb apologists for the Christian faith, have made it possible for us to realize how cleverly the mocking can be done. Many Christians by now have read Lewis’s classic Screwtape Letters (1942) and Kreeft’s more recent Snakebite Letters (1991). Lewis and Kreeft explore the fundamental defect of the Devil: that he is crafty at tempting human beings, but never so crafty as he would like to think. Both books are surely worth a second look on the premise that you cannot defeat your enemy without knowing well his strategy. Indeed, one of Satan’s maneuvers might be to divert us from remembering his tactics.

Lewis created a senior devil named Screwtape whose job it is to train a younger devil, his nephew Worm­wood, in the art of tempting humans (called “patients”). The format of instruction involves Screwtape’s supervision of Wormwood’s efforts and frequent evaluations of his progress or failure by way of letters praising or chastising him.

In the preface to his Letters, Lewis reminds the reader that Satan is not the opposite of God, because God is absolute uncreated good whereas Satan is not absolute uncreated evil. Rather, Satan is the opposite of the archangel Michael, his counterpart in Heaven. Satan is the Father of Lies and therefore cannot use truth, but only wiles (deceptive promises of gain), to reach his goal, which is the enormous growth of the empire of Hell.

Screwtape advises Wormwood to remember that authentic prayer is the most important thing to discourage because it puts the patient squarely in the Enemy’s (God’s) camp. Every distraction must be employed, and the single most effective tactic is to make the patient think he is praying when he really is not. Let him get into the habit of avoiding the learned prayers of his childhood, which are aimed at God, and instead be creative by composing in himself feelings of righteousness, courage, and good will. The very purpose of prayer, which is to lean on God, will be defeated when the patient learns to rely on his own self-congratulating inner sentiments.

As to churchgoing, if Wormwood’s patient cannot be cured of it, the next best thing is that he should be encouraged to consume himself in finding a church that exactly suits his needs. Let him try every church on earth if he likes. In his role as judge of which church he must join, he will never see himself as a man who is really in the dock waiting to be judged. The important thing is to keep the churchgoer in the negative mode of the critic, evaluating sermons for what pleases or displeases him. Should he cease to practice that critical faculty of judging, there is always the danger that the patient might begin to acquire a slight modicum of passive humility. Worst of all, he might even begin to take seriously some of the pious platitudes he hears.

Screwtape, in peak form, demonstrates to Wormwood the absolute importance of Christians being reminded that the teachings of their Founder began to be corrupted soon after His death. Christians must be made to reassess continually the importance of Jesus every thirty years to keep pace with the changing times. One effective technique will be to focus on the things Jesus said, rather than the things He did.

Even with respect to what Jesus said, the patient must be distracted from seeing that Jesus agrees sometimes in substance with the wisdom of a Socrates or a Confucius. If the patient gets wind of such agreement, he may begin to suspect that through the ages God has been sending the truth to men by many emissaries, and that Jesus is the last and crowning achievement of all wisdom. Screwtape grudgingly allows that Jesus is to be praised as a man, as any other man is praised, but never to the point of acknowledging His divinity. Such a notion defies human reason, and, despite plentiful evidence to the contrary, modern man prides himself on being, above all else, eminently reasonable. Once Jesus is thoroughly humanized and rationalized, He becomes a mere historical figure who can have no more influence than any other hero of history — which is to say, very little.

As to encouraging his patient to volunteer for war service, Screwtape advises Wormwood that it’s a complicated matter, with good to be said for it, but also a great deal of bad. The good is in the pleasurable sight of human carnage, which every devil enjoys. On the other hand, the bad is that warriors might begin to dwell not so much on their own pleasure-seeking as on their so-called nobler values, such as honor, loyalty, and sacrifice for a cause higher than their own selfish wants. Then there is the truly great risk that any soldier might want to focus on making amends with the Enemy before entering a field of battle, in which case he may escape the devil’s clutches.

Screwtape insists that the better way to win a man’s soul is to let him grow old and weighted down by his sins, and waste away in a nursing home among attendants and doctors who will lie to him constantly about his true condition. As the shadow of death falls over him, his last care­­-taker might even do him the “kindness” of not asking for a priest, lest he should become anxious about entering eternity. At that point he is easy prey.

Screwtape emphasizes that Wormwood’s new patient must learn, above all, the virtue of humility. He must learn it so well that he cannot avoid seeing it in himself, and so he will pride himself on having it. Then he will have turned his attention to himself rather than to the Enemy, which is exactly what temptation is supposed to achieve. Should the patient awaken to his newfound pride, let him fight it as hard as he likes, so long as he takes pride in his fight. Ad infinitum et ad nauseam.

Screwtape pontificates about many other topics, including sex, anxiety, hatred, cowardice, and worldly companions. Lewis’s satire is insightful and amusing, even if his prose seems at times a tad dry and verbose. Some readers will prefer his successor’s approach. Peter Kreeft might charitably be likened to Lewis on steroids. In his introduction to The Snake­bite Letters, Kreeft freely admits that he has imitated Lewis’s technique: letters written by a senior devil, Snakebite, to his trainee, Braintwister. The latter has just been put in charge of a “patient” recently converted to the Catholic Church. Snakebite warns Braintwister that he must take his assignment very seriously because that Church is the only important target left for the final conquest of the human race.

Snakebite’s first advice is that Braintwister should go for the patient’s jugular by diminishing his ability to engage in spiritual warfare. The trick is to make this convert think he is a Catholic when he really is not. As such, he will be more useful than a total atheist who is susceptible to doubting his own values, perhaps even renouncing his values, whereas the Catholic whose values are corrupted will not bother to doubt them.

The best way to corrupt the Catholic is to make him go with the theological flow of the times. He is to be made less aware of the reality of sin and more aware of Hell as a myth. Before long, he will cease to meditate on his sins and begin to enjoy more fully his passions, especially the lower ones. Remind him constantly that he is a “Catholic American,” rather than an “American Catholic.” All the sins that Americans have so happily adopted as their own will, in the spirit of patriotism, become his too. The need to devise a battle plan for spiritual warfare will gradually slip his attention. Indeed, each morning he will rise with nothing of greater importance on his mind than a warm bathtub and his daily bread. Spiritual laziness is the widest road to the Lower Realm. In due course, the recent convert will ipso facto become a nonbeliever who thinks he is still a believer. In chess, this would amount to checkmate.

In his advisory on how to sabotage worship, Snake­bite instructs Braintwister that he is to help his patient realize the relative unimportance of liturgy compared to creeds and morals. The more casual the liturgy, the better. Abandon the melodious old hymns. The newer the hymn, the more insipid it is likely to be, and the less likely anybody is to sing it. Remove the great stained-glass windows and replace them with empty beige walls. Make sure the convert begins to identify goodness with dullness. The more distracted he becomes during a liturgy, the better. If only the patient can be made to dwell on a loose button on his jacket or the logo on his neighbor’s T-shirt instead of the descent of the Enemy in His flesh and blood onto the altar.

Best of all, the Enemy created Sunday as a day of rest. Teach this new Catholic how not to rest. Teach him how to throw this rest-day the Enemy made for him back in the Enemy’s face by devoting himself on the Sabbath to every technological toy and distraction he can find. After all, he must be trained in life for the endless “treadmills of Hell.”

As to Braintwister’s seducing this convert with unchaste thoughts, half that work has already been done by the media culture in which the patient lives. Braintwister must plant in the convert’s unconscious mind the same sort of suspicion about the infallible teachings of the Church on sexual morality that the convert has begun to have about the authority of the Church in conducting crusades and inquisitions. Break down the moral authority of the bishops by showing how poorly some of them behaved in the past. And, since sex was the Enemy’s invention when He said, “Be fruitful and multiply,” show the convert, by subtle and nuanced arguments, that bans on sex are ultimately prudish and unpatriotic — Uncle Sam wants you to enjoy all your hard-won liberties, especially sex! Indeed, Americans are so conformist they will march right behind Uncle Sam, waving the flags of their various sexual perversions straight into the Lower Realm.

But of course, since the human vermin are worthless, except to fill the banquet halls of Hell with delicious morsels upon which to dine, they should not be encouraged to multiply any more often than is necessary. This is where it is possible to make two paths to Hell, sex and murder, converge into one — namely, abortion. The trick with abortion is to invite the convert to think not about abortion as the death of a child, but rather about the inconvenient alternative — the hapless mother’s burden of bearing an unwanted child and rearing him into adulthood. Braintwister must employ euphemisms when speaking of the baby, hereafter to be known only as an embryo or fetus. Encourage the view that in taking her child’s life, the mother is doing the child — and herself — a kindness. Discourage everywhere any sneaking suspicion that saving the children might be more noble than “saving the whales,” a sentimental cause of many in the pro-choice crowd (taken up to prove that they too are capable of the most delicate feelings).

Kreeft concludes his Letters with a chapter titled “Satan’s Strategy for the Third Millennium.” This is the text of a speech given by Snakebite (but apparently written by Satan himself) to all his “dear, damnably darling demi-devils.” At first Snakebite eloquently enumerates a litany of Hell’s spectacular achievements down the ages, from Cain’s single slaughter of Abel to the modern-day slaughter of the innocents by the millions. What baffles every devil is why the Enemy still loves — gag! choke! spit! — the lowly and putrid human vermin, even after they hammered Him to the cross. Then again, nailing Jesus to the cross was really Satan’s triumph. At last Satan had proven to all his darling demons, as if further proof were needed after Noah’s flood and Sodom and Gomorrah, that the Enemy’s love for the human vermin was itself stupid and bound to bring on the humiliating betrayal and murder of the Enemy’s own Son.

If Hell lost the first millennium to Christ, it was because of the blood of the martyrs. But Hell won the second millennium because the Church got fat and luxurious and lazy. Now comes the strategy for winning the third millennium. Against the much-exaggerated power of the so-called Holy Trinity, Satan now can boast the rival powers of his own Unholy Trinity — NBC, ABC, and CBS. The future looks rosy indeed. The media and aca­demia will gleefully aid and abet every demonic effort. The media will never mention religion but for scandals in the Church; and in academia every mention and semblance of God will be removed from the classroom and the textbooks. Even Catholic colleges will, in the spirit of political correctness, cover up their crucifixes on public occasions. Recall President Barack Obama’s 2009 visit to Georgetown University.

A second line of attack is to resume the one begun by Martin Luther in 1517: divide and conquer. Since Luther’s day, Christianity has divided into twenty thousand quarreling sects, a most excellent result. But Pope John Paul II — gag! choke! spit! — maliciously designed the restoration of unity among the churches. Every hellish device must be employed to stop this ticking time bomb. After all, Unity! was the great Catholic war cry that decimated Hell during the first millennium. No turning back the clock to that nonsense.

All demons must redouble their efforts at dividing the Enemy’s followers, this time attacking not from without but from within. Instead of growing heretics, grow dissenters. A dissenter can stay in the sect and, by the most barely noticeable methods, dissolve the purest of doctrines virtually without challenge. This has worked rather successfully among Catholics, of whom only thirty percent in America still believe in the Real Presence. Notice likewise the decline in confessions. In Holland for an entire year in one diocese no one went to confession. It wasn’t that they hadn’t sinned — they had learned not to be judgmental, especially of themselves!

Education is the best tool for spreading lies, Snakebite instructs his demonic audience. So it is no surprise that the biggest lie to be taught over and over, from the earliest age possible, is the delicious lie of absolute relativism. This lie is easier to spread than it was in the old days, when there were many more farmers than there were scholars, and farmers were harder to fool. Now there are ten times as many scholars as farmers, and every textbook hails absolute relativism as the fundamental axiom of all logic. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has enshrined this supremely clever lie in its decisions. Indeed, what can be more relativistic than, when you are pregnant, to say it’s relative to your own interests, not your baby’s, whether your baby should live or die? Notice that the right to kill babies is most earnestly defended by the educated class — professors, lawyers, and journalists. Even physicians are willing to sell their talents as butchers of the unborn. The German Holocaust of the Jews was merely a rehearsal for the next holocaust that regards neither race nor religion. Come one, come all — don’t walk, run into the waiting jaws of Moloch!

As Kreeft has Snakebite explain, Satan’s strategy for the third millennium is to advance the cause of unbelief. Rational skepticism naturally follows relativism as night follows day. Everything supernatural is to be doubted, including the existence of demons. This is the special talent of atheists, who have been given their marching orders, that they cooperate with every malevolent design to undo faith in the Enemy; but, more importantly, that they diminish in the Enemy’s battalions any idea that there is a war being waged for their very souls. There is no God. But neither is there a Devil. Soon enough the sanctimonious saints will shed what Paul told them to put on, “the armor of God.” Their pathetic cry from then on will be “Peace! Peace!” But it will be the glorious peace that comes with surrendering the spiritual battle.

Near the end of his diatribe against the Enemy and the Church, just as he is full of the sense of Hell’s inevitable triumph in the third millennium, Snakebite comments anxiously on an unsettling development with the election of Pope John Paul II. This is not a good sign, he says, and he suggests that the Enemy is up to his old trick of riding to the rescue of His feeble-minded vermin.

The most troubling aspect of this Pope is that he smiles too much, as if he knows something Hell does not know; he is altogether too optimistic that the third millennium really belongs to the Enemy, not to Hell. He has the effrontery to call the West the “culture of death,” just as we have persuaded mothers to murder their children by the millions. And then there are those damnable efforts of his to reunite all Christians under the ecumenical flag. Even the Lutherans, who were the first in Europe to break the unity of Christendom, have come to agree with Rome that their teaching on justification is in substance the same as Rome’s. How dare they come to such an agreement! Does this bode other concessions in the works? And now we have new battle lines being drawn, with liberal Catholics and Protestants on one side, and orthodox Catholics and Evangelicals on the other. Hellzapoppin! Just when they were saying that the smoke of Satan had entered the Vatican, this Pope writes Veritatis Splendor, and Hell’s great lie of absolute relativism is blown to smithereens. Oh, and this Pope keeps on smiling — as if he knows something!

Kreeft thus brings his Letters to an optimistic conclusion, as did Lewis. Satan’s efforts are ultimately doomed by his failure to realize that all his cruel craft and guile are no match for the mercies of God.

Had Kreeft been writing his Letters in 2011 instead of in 1991, he would have been able to cite more recent revolutionary activity inside the Anglican Communion as further proof that mainline Protestantism is disintegrating and remnants of it are slowly returning to the ancient Church — a trickle that might soon become a flood, thanks to Anglicanorum Coetibus, Pope Benedict XVI’s new structure for receiving large groups of Anglican converts.

As Kreeft has Snakebite admit at one point, the history of the human race is one everlasting undulation. There are peaks of hope and valleys of despair, back and forth. It is obvious, then, what Satan really has to fear. If the first millennium belonged to Christ, and the second millennium belonged to Hell, then the third millennium — improbable as it may seem at present — belongs yet again, sooner or later, to Christ.

taken from