Thursday, November 12, 2015

The new Screwtape letters: letter V

My dear Ticksnar,

I find it necessary to expand on a word I employed in my last letter, the significance of which you may or may not have fully appreciated...that word being xenophobia. From the Greek, it means "fear of the outsider", a concept as relevant today as it was so many centuries ago at the dawn of the city-state. Fear of the outsider and hatred of the outsider have always been inextricably linked. More to the immediate point, in many humans—and I take your patient to be a prime example—fear of those who are different is tied to fear of being different. Hence the formation of "in" and "out" groups, the equation of convention with morality. Often have we, or rather the humans unknowingly under our influence, retarded or reversed the course of justice by appealing to convention, to precedent, to the supposed "good old days", and by capitalising on the fear of change which is necessarily ingrained, to one degree or another, in all mortals—for they can die, will inevitably die, and that is the change their animal selves fear most of all. These twin fears, fear of the outsider and fear of change, are among the most potent weapons available to deviltry.

And fear, I must point out in case you have failed to take notice, is one of the major components of your patient's makeup. The other is a tendency toward categorical thinking and legalism, the belief that all will be well with her soul if she simply follows the rules (as she perceives them). Let her persist in this belief, for it is entirely to our advantage. A word of necessary caution, however: Keep her always fixed on the letter of the law, for the Enemy resides in the spirit of the law, and if she stops to consider that, she will inevitably come more under the Enemy's influence. Make her, therefore, believe the contrary. The surest way to make and keep her ours is to make her fear that failure to hew closely to the letter of the law will separate her from the Enemy her god. Did you suppose it was an accident, merest coincidence, that our cages are so equally full of preachers and pornographers, of tyrants and teetotalers, of missionaries and murderers? Some believe that the law does not matter, others that the law as written is all that matters. (Of course, we have and will always have attorneys-at-law in abundance; these fall into both camps.)

To quote a favourite saying of your patient's, "Sin is sin." Well, I can tell you as a certified expert on the subject: of course sin is sin, and it's all good, useful stuff, too. We can ensnare a human as well with a thousand little hooks through the skin as we can with one big one through the gut, for they find it painful to tear themselves free of those hooks in either case. Your patient's mistake is in thinking that all sin is equal—and this, I assure you as a connoisseur, is emphatically not the case. Let her believe, however, that it is; that a stray thought is as bad as a premeditated deed, that any small transgression is the moral equivalent of the most heinous crime. And especially let her believe this of other people; keep her so busy judging others that she has no time for self-reflection. Most humans have a blind spot in this direction anyway, so it should be a relatively simple matter to keep her from a critical assessment of her own behaviour.

If she does, however, take time to reflect on her own failings, on no account let her deem them as such. Remind her that she is the Enemy's servant, and let her believe that her transgressions are not sins at all, but acts of service to Him. If she should meet with reproof or social disapproval, convince her—this should not be difficult—that disapproval is tantamount to persecution. She will be proud to suffer for her faith, even if the suffering is slight and the cause is not her faith but her manner; meanwhile, you will have ensured that her course of action is unlikely ever to change.

As I've said before to many of your colleagues, the surest road to Hell is the gradual one—and as the humans themselves have noted, good intentions make excellent macadam. (Though of course bad intentions will serve even better.)

Your affectionate uncle

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