Thursday, November 26, 2015


A sampling, in no particular order and by no means all-inclusive:

Happy Thanksgiving to all...

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The new Screwtape letters: letter IV

My dear Ticksnar,

I find, in reviewing our correspondence to date, that while focusing on these interesting questions of sexuality, family relationships, "social justice", etc., etc., that you have neglected certain other aspects of your patient's condition. Allow me to address these briefly, for they are easily dealt with.

You mention, for one, that your patient has developed an obsession with what the humans know as "the end of the world"—but I see no sign that you have followed up on this, which is unfortunate and dare I say negligent. This is a rich field for temptation of which we have taken advantage these many centuries, and which you should not hesitate to exploit as your predecessors have done so successfully. By all means keep this line of thought active in your patient's mind, for it is nearly impossible for the humans to indulge in the loathsome habits of compassion and charity when convinced the end is nigh—for after all, what can it matter? Instead, they become (consciously or not) entirely self-centered in their conviction of Armageddon. This can take either of two forms, both of which are conducive to our cause. In the first instance, they become paralysed by fear, nay, by dread, either of their tribulations in the last days of Earth, or out of uncertainty as to their ultimate fate. (Deliciously ironic, n'est-ce pas?) Alternately, and perhaps even more advantageously for ourselves, humans with this affliction may become smug: convinced they have special knowledge of which their benighted or even willfully deceived brethren are unaware, and utterly convinced of their own salvation, which of course tends toward complacency. If you are even half the devil I believe you to be, you should have no difficulty in seeing your way through either of these scenarios.

You state, for another (though it occurs to me that the two issues may be linked in the mind of your patient), that she has a more highly developed than usual tendency toward xenophobia, manifesting chiefly as a suspicion of and hostility toward Muslims. Assigned as you are to operate within the sphere of Christendom, you may or may not be aware how similar, how indeed allied, are Christianity and Islam. Suffice it to say for now that not only do both seek to serve and to supplicate the Enemy, but that they are both aware that they do so. The Enemy, "The One True God" as the humans are pleased to call that despicable and inscrutable entity, does certainly exist. The failing of the humans, for which of course we can take much of the credit, is in mistaking their own representations of the Enemy for the Enemy Himself—in supposing that their god is The One True God, and that their neighbour's god is a false god, or even (delicious irony again) Our Father Below. If our training schools pay too little attention to comparative religion, it is only partly from the realisation that any sincere religion is potentially harmful to our cause (though always presenting opportunities for subversion), and partly because exploiting religious differences, playing the age-old game of divide and conquer, is widely supposed to be so easy as to require little or no instruction.

Getting back to particulars, many of the Christians and Muslims are themselves aware of their shared historical and theological heritage—but that hasn't prevented them (again, in large part thanks to our own efforts) from reviling and persecuting one another. Take my word for it, my dear Ticksnar, that a sincere practicing Mohammedan (to use an old-fashioned term) is as lost to us as a sincere practicing Christian, or indeed a sincere practicing human of any faith, so long as they are truly attached to the Enemy Himself. If attached to only a particular manifestation, representation, or image of the Enemy, of course, they are ripe for the picking.

Feed your patient's suspicion of The Other, nurture her hostility, let her believe hostility and suspicion ordained by the Enemy her god; above all, never let her reflect on the common humanity of The Other and herself; and you may see suspicion and hostility blossom into hatred. Indeed I fancy you might already be halfway home, if at the sight of a smiling clerk in hijab you can make her think of "sleeper agents" and inevitable holy war. Do not, however, allow yourself to indulge too deeply in the easy pleasures of sectarian misanthropy, for complacency can work against us as easily as against the humans. Keep stirring at the embers, keep picking at the scab of your patient's fears, until the wound is open and the fire full ablaze.

Your affectionate uncle

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The new Screwtape letters: letter III

My dear Ticksnar,

So your patient, despite her misgivings about her daughter's lesbian marriage, and having in fact stayed away from the wedding, is now actually residing with the happy couple. What a complex and delightful scenario this presents! You will of course do everything in your power to encourage her to stay as long as possible, thus perpetuating and exacerbating the attendant frictions.

I understand this arrangement was undertaken for reasons of health—an injury to your patient, was it not? Even as she convalesces, she must on some level be conscious of hypocrisy—of enjoying the fruits of the daughter and wife's marriage, the hospitality of their home, while at the same time denying and denigrating its legitimacy. Needle her with hypocrisy, Ticksnar, but take care not to let her confront it directly, lest she recognise it for what it is. Instead, encourage her in the belief that her ongoing presence may in some way serve as an antidote to their wickedness, or that she may yet influence the daughter on the question of orientation. She may yet harbour a belief that her daughter's orientation (call it a perversion!) is merely a passing phase, and perhaps even a secret hope that the daughter may be prevailed upon to abandon and divorce the wife—of course the patient would not see it this way—and marry a man, as your patient and her late husband had always planned and assumed. To break up a family in the name of "family values"—that would be a coup indeed, and would certainly justify collaboration with the daughter's and the wife's tempters if it ever looks to be a real possibility—but I rather suspect that particular scenario to be a fool's errand. Feed that hope in your patient, however, for even if it never comes to fruition, damning the daughter, harbouring that hope in secret will naturally be corruptive to the soul of your patient.

While nurturing that hope in secret, on a more conscious and open level let your patient congratulate herself on her tolerance and liberality. Once upon a time (and indeed, in some places yet), a parent in her position would kill the child outright, and she will certainly reflect that her own parents would have entirely disowned such a child. Nothing serves to justify and perpetuate unkindness in the self-righteous than the belief (the guilty belief, in fact) that they are going easy on the supposed transgressor.

Keep these lines of thought always active in the mind of your patient, or pluck at other anxieties, giving her as little opportunity as possible to actually observe the daily life of the happy couple. For if they are, in fact, happy and well-suited to one another, her condemnation may well be eroded by the very normalcy and decency of their lives together.

Your patient may, incidentally, be oblivious to the effects of her conduct, may even be convinced that the daughter and the wife bear her no grudge for her disapprobation. (You will have observed already, I'm sure, how these humans like to think that they can eat their cake and have it too.) If she is, as I suspect, deluded on this score, then fine; a corrosive effect is already at work. If they have in fact forgiven her, however, on no account let her fully realise this and its implications—that the supposed sinners are in fact living out the values to which she merely aspires. The more lip service she pays to spiritual matters, the further she may drift from her spiritual moorings. In that event, your task is simply to be ready with fog and choppy waters, and to do your best to effect a drowning.

Your affectionate uncle

Monday, November 9, 2015

The new Screwtape letters: letter II

My dear Ticksnar,

I confess myself somewhat surprised by the question of policy contained in your letter, though of course gratified that you should solicit my advice. Even if your motive is only to ensure your own compliance with regulations (for I assure you that your ambition is well-known to Administration), it is to your credit that you should do so. Hell is, after all, a vast organisation, and it is crucially important that we should co-ordinate our efforts in service of Our Father Below.

The corporate policy of Hell, then, toward homosexuality is the same as that toward sexuality in general: one of interested neutrality. As incorporeal spirits, of course, the unseemly physical aspects of sex must to some extent remain a mystery to us fiends. We must stand always ready, however, to exploit the social, psychological, and of course spiritual opportunities presented by this absurd creation of the Enemy—and this particular manifestation offers such opportunities in even greater abundance than usual.

Our cause is best served in climates of severe repression, when the humans are ready to punish what they regard as deviance with stigmatisation and even death. You, operating out of the American office, will perhaps recall with fondness the well-publicised rape and murder of a trans-sexual individual in Nebraska some years back, and the murder by stoning of a Wyoming boy by his schoolmates. Ah, when children become murderers, it bodes exceedingly well for us, though of course we may have to wait a few decades longer for such a delectable feast to finally fall into our hands.

Almost as good from our point of view is a climate of extreme indulgence, which our philological division has labelled with some success as "liberation". The excesses to be seen in so-called Gay Pride parades, in bath-houses and sex clubs, are but the most obvious examples—and will be of particular use to you in dealing with your patient. Let her think of rampant promiscuity—and this alone—as "the gay lifestyle", and distract her attention from other situations which might otherwise have equal claim to that nebulous title. (The definite article is crucial here; she must always think of "the gay lifestyle" and not "a gay lifestyle", or much of your advantage is lost.)

As you might have perceived, the current social and political trend toward "marriage equality", or the recognition of gay unions, represents something of a crisis for us, as a greater segment of the human population gains the chance to publicly live out a settled, committed existence. (Amusing, is it not, that so many self-describing servants of the Enemy believe that it is a crisis for them?) Obviously, this need not be a complete disaster—any crisis contains a measure of opportunity, and it is not to be supposed that same-sex couples will be more universally successful at marriage than their opposite-sex counterparts, so we can assume (and of course encourage) a certain amount of infidelity, domestic abuse, and the like.

Still, if marriage equality becomes widely accepted in the law and in the public esteem, our harvest will necessarily be lessened, and we will look back with fondness on those times past when "closeted" gays took spouses of the opposite sex as social cover, deceiving their closest associates as to their true identities—or better yet, when they resorted to "conventional" promiscuity in an attempt to deceive themselves as to their true natures. For the Enemy, having unaccountably created sexuality, wants the humans to be faithful to Him, to one another, and to themselves; whereas we obviously want them to be true to no one and to nothing at all.

Encourage your patient's homophobia (if such it be) and opposition to marriage equality. If her daughter intends to enter into a spiritual marriage in advance of the law, let the patient believe in marriage only as defined by the government. If the law should change and same-sex marriages be officially recognised, let her say that state and society have betrayed their principles, and continue to withhold her support from her offspring. She may never notice that she has changed her position—in her mind she has remained steadfast, for so you will whisper in her ear at every opportunity.

A bonus may accrue to this course of action. By the accounts which have reached me, the daughter is herself somewhat inclined toward traditional religious views. If your patient and her associates continue vocal in their disapproval, if the daughter and her wife find judgment and rejection rather than fellowship in the Church, might your colleagues in temptation not use this as a wedge to separate them as well from the Enemy?

Your affectionate uncle

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The new Screwtape letters: letter I

My dear Ticksnar,

I hope you will not be too much offended if I take an active interest in your current assignment, and offer my thoughts as to its management and resolution. It is not that I am in any way dissatisfied with my administrative function, but having been away from active service as a tempter for well over a century now, it is impossible to deny a sort of nostalgia for fieldwork, for the craft involved, for the (dare I say it?) intimacy of living with and endeavouring to ensnare a single mortal soul. Besides which, the reports which have reached me have excited my interest in what promises to be both a challenging and rewarding case.

So, if I have been correctly informed, your patient's daughter intends to be married—and to another woman. It is as well, then, that your patient is of a very conventional religious type—so much so that she may actually boycott her (the daughter's) wedding and refuse to acknowledge her (the fiancée's) children as relations.

"She", "her"—dear me, between your patient the mother, the daughter, and the prospective wife, we are likely to run into pronoun trouble if we're not careful. And I wonder, parenthetically, if this might not offer some small insight into her (your patient's) objections to the union. Never underestimate, my young devil, the humans' simplicity of mind and their resulting desire for simplicity in all things. Humans often conflate conventional piety of the rule-following sort for spiritual maturity, and I wonder if they do not often mistake their habitual classifications, born of laziness of thought, for piety. Encourage this tendency.

Encourage, also, your patient's likely feelings of embarrassment concerning her daughter's orientation—for a conventionally pious human naturally surrounds him- or herself with other conventionally pious humans of a similar stripe, with their own resistance to change, notably resistance to change their own habitual patterns of thought. Confusion, distaste, judgment, embarrassment, and shame—all these, besides being enjoyable to watch, will distract her from examining her own conscience and will therefore serve to separate her from the daughter and her intended.

Let me know how you get on, and fill me in more completely on your patient and her mindset, with regard to this as well as other matters. Be as thorough as possible, for even with my other duties I shall find ample time to peruse your missives, and as they say, the devil really is in the details. I look forward to your reports with avidity.

Your affectionate uncle

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The new Screwtape letters: introduction

And now for something completely different...

Some letters of a very interesting nature have come to my attention, reminiscent of and apparently by the same writer as a much longer series of letters published during the Second World War by an English academician, novelist, and philosopher. That gentleman, a Mr. Lewis, wrote at the time, "I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands." Having now been placed in a similar position, I can only say that I now understand both his determination to share the intelligence that has come to light and his circumspection concerning sources. I shall therefore confine my commentary to what the letters are, keeping mum about how I came by them.

The letters, then, purport to be from a senior administrative devil by the name of Screwtape to a younger (and apparently related) subordinate—not the Wormwood of Lewis' Screwtape letters, who it is implied met his end following the failure of his mission in England, but a certain Ticksnar. This Ticksnar, it would appear, is assigned to be the tempter of an American woman. Like Wormwood's "patient", we know about her only what we can glean from Screwtape's letters, for we have only his half of the correspondence, but the woman is apparently of middle age, widowed, and a conservative Christian struggling with the revelation that her daughter is gay. No doubt a fair number of people could be thus described, but therein lies the value, perhaps, of these letters, for while they obviously offer insight on this particular woman's spiritual struggles, it is likely that others could benefit from understanding the tactics and strategies employed by her demons; that by generalising from her case, we might all learn something of human nature and how our own natures are used against us—and without benefit of a police caution or (to use the American term) a Miranda warning, for we would be foolish indeed to believe that devils have a sense of fair play.

I will post the letters themselves at intervals of a day or two. But first, one other point, made so well by Mr. Lewis that I will not attempt to paraphrase, but instead quote him directly:

Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle. I have made no attempt to identify any of the human beings mentioned in the letters; but I think it very unlikely that the portraits...are wholly just. There is wishful thinking in Hell as well as on Earth.

Gargoyle photo shoot courtesy of Carissa, Laura, and the entire staff at Euphoria. Thanks!

Turning the corner

Okay, I feel like a real Nebraskan now. Like so many ranchers, I fell on hard times, got behind on my loan, and had to go to the banker to sort things out. Happy to report that the bank is going to work with us, and as of now at least, Jessica and I are not facing imminent homelessness. (It's been touch-and-go all year, which is one reason my blogging has been limited.)

So our Churchillian motto is slowly shifting from "If you're going through hell, keep going" to "Let us move forward into broad sunlit uplands".

Now here's a thought...