Screwtape and the Temptational Synod

Once again, my local postman has mistaken my address for one rather more heated. It seems Ragwort has recovered from his misstep (see ‘Screwtape and the Hogwash Express‘) to the extent of being promoted to the next administrative level of Hell – that of the Temptational Synod. He has been assigned responsibility for the Scottish Sector, and it seems he had some good news for Screwtape…

Dearest Ragwort,

You write to me with such glee it is almost unseemly. I can practically feel it palpating off the page in front of me. I accept that your excitement has been brought about through the best possible means, and in response to news that is more than welcome, but nevertheless, a little decorum if you please. It does not do for one of the dread legion of Hell to be seen capering round his desk.

You write that we have “engendered notable success” in “corrupting, despoiling and perverting the Church”. You, in your present rôle with the Temptational Synod, are of course less restricted in your duties than the tempters you oversee. You are free to inspect the whole of Scotland, to observe ‘the big picture’. And what a picture the Scottish sector must present! The Church of Scotland, riven from within, mocked from without; genuine disagreement brought down to the level of schoolyard name-calling, and now everyone prevented from having the grown-up discussion that might go some way to resolving the mess in which they find themselves.

I have it on good authority, Ragwort, that Our Father Below is truly pleased with this state of affairs. It is clear to all of us who were on your promotion board that raising you from the ranks of the tempters to the Synod was the right decision. The paper you presented on methods of attacking the Scottish sector had real promise, and it is gratifying to see that promise fulfilled.

However, I must counsel you against counting your serpents before they are hatched. The Church of Scotland may be on the brink of implosion; the Church in Scotland is rather less vulnerable. And do not forget, Ragwort, that whatever success you may enjoy in disfiguring the Church, it is not, ultimately, the most important task to which you should set yourself. Our delight at the gates of Hell prevailing should not blind us to our ultimate goal, our final purpose: the provision of souls for our banqueting tables. We deal with individuals, Ragwort. Institutions are of use only insofar as they enable us to deal with individuals en masse. Splitting the Church of Scotland may seem a notable coup if you achieve it, but in the last analysis it means nothing unless it leads directly to more of the wretched vermin who purport to be on the Enemy’s side finding themselves served to us on our platters.

There are a number of ways in which this might be achieved. Reading between the lines of your last letter, it is clear that, despite the transports of ecstasy in which you write, you are unsure of how to proceed. That in no way reflects badly on you, Ragwort; acknowledging the experience of one’s elders and superiors is a wise thing to do. And I will of course assist you: as your immediate superior it is my duty to do so.

Here we have in miniature one of the lessons you must prevent your patients from learning. Hell functions because it is a ruthless meritocracy. Hell demands nothing less than ever-increasing proficiency from our tempters, junior and senior; Hell demands nothing less than the most scrupulous efficiency from its administrative staff. Every demon, from the most lowly oven-tender to the most senior Archon, must strive not merely for competence but for excellence. The consequences of failure ought to be ever-present in our minds, Ragwort: the legions of Hell will not be famished through incompetence, and should human souls slip through our grasp the ovens that would have taken them will fill their quotas instead with the demons whose mistakes starved them in the first place. Those who succeed are granted greater responsibility: those who fail are consumed.

An idealised Church, one that truly reflected the Body upon which it models itself, would equally work towards a similar excellence (similar in quality, if not in outcome!). Those possessed of great spiritual gifts would exercise them as a matter of course; those who were struggling would be cared for and protected by the whole congregation. That is why the Enemy offers such abominable gifts in the first place: they are not merely to glorify Him, they are to enable all those in their vicinity to better glorify Him too.

The prospect is so horrifying that it is no wonder we have sought to lead the humans in the other direction entirely. And we have essentially succeeded. They are now loath to acknowledge gifts in the really important spheres. They have no problem acknowledging that person A is a more talented church pianist than person B but they have no end of difficulty in acknowledging that person C is a more mature Christian whose example they would do well to follow. There is now little to suggest that they acknowledge the idea of a ‘superior’ within their own congregations. The very idea is anathema to them. Observe, if you will, the abandonment of the pulpit.

The pulpit was once a piece of ecclesiastical furniture used to demark the authority of a person appointed by a congregation. That congregation believed the appointee to have been ‘called’, to have been emplaced by their Sovereign Lord. But over the last fifty years we have so skewed the hearts and minds of those who see this harmless wooden contraption that it now appears to them a symbol of dictatorship. “Six feet above criticism”, we have taught them to say of those who occupy it. The Enemy, once acknowledged as the clear and present Lord, is relegated to a vague ‘guiding force’ who hovers somewhere above the rafters and impinges but little on the weekly proceedings. In such congregations the idea of spiritual or scriptural authority is scorned. “Why should we acknowledge the Divine influence on those whom God calls?” we teach them to ask, although – if we are doing our jobs competently –we make sure that they never ask the question in quite those terms.

It is always a tragedy when a leader is chosen who strenuously adheres to, and conscientiously strives toward, the tenets of the Enemy. Fortunately they are in a dwindling minority. We have so diluted the idea of authority, whether that is the authority of minister over parishioner or Enemy over all, that we are slowly filling the Church with leaders who have no right to that title. Our leaders assiduously avoid those portions of scripture that hold them to account. And even if we find ourselves outmanoeuvred (it happens regrettably often – the Enemy is jealous of His church, and defends her when she isn’t undermined from within), there is much to be said for a man unable to stomach the passages of the Bible he finds unpalatable. He is a leader of a flock. The sheep will follow where he leads, particularly if he leads them away from those places where the Enemy will challenge their comfortable assumptions. For that reason, our best work is done within individual congregations, rather than amongst larger assemblies. Larger assemblies contain within them the fatal flaw of permitting discussion and allowing the expression of dissent: it is rather better to secure a small number of people at the top who can then exercise undue influence over the majority of the people under them. What we really want is a church, if a church we must have, where the personality cult that grows up around the minister (one of ours, naturally) is rather more powerful a force in weekly worship than the allegedly ‘yearned for’ presence of the Enemy. We must ensure that WWJD stands for nothing more nocuous than ‘What Would Jimmy Do’?

We come again to the idea of dictatorship. You and I know the Enemy to be a dictator. He is quite upfront about it. The little pests can be either slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. There is no ‘third way’ open to them. (Of course I mean no disrespect to Our Father Below. His suggestion of corporate restructuring in the Heavenly realms was met with such intemperate wrath that he fled the Enemy’s courts with such alacrity that some silly story has been doing the rounds now for thousands of years in which he was somehow ‘expelled’ from the presence of the Enemy. Our Father is of course no slave to sin: he is, rather, its master.) Yet you must persist in the creation of a belief among the churchgoers that it is entirely permissible to part company from their Lord when they believe themselves to be in some sense ‘better’ a judge of circumstances than He, all the while concealing the fact that it is only in the strictest obedience to Him that they are truly free. In this the Enemy has Himself partly to blame. He manufactured a system of maturing whereby human beings depend first upon their mother and father and then leave ‘to make their own way in the world’. It comes down to His desire to have a host of little spiritual hybrids capable of communing with Him of their own free will.

What we must do is to convince them that as below, so above. Of course no Christian, if they thought about it in those terms (and we must ensure that they never do), would dare to suggest that their spiritual maturity is sufficient for them to have outgrown the influence of the Enemy Himself. Nonetheless, that is the goal to which so many of our tempters, with ever-increasing success, now strive. Partly their success is due to the timeless truth that those running away from God, whether consciously or unconsciously, become ever less enthusiastic about the prospect of meeting Him again. Before Him, all their affectations and ‘sophistication’ will be burned away as straw before a blowtorch. This is an experience which we must persuade the sinners will be unendurable. It is no coincidence that the immediate consequence of the first sin was shame at being discovered naked and exposed before the Enemy. The real purpose of these additions to faith, these sophistications, is to hide and disguise any hint of vulnerability before either their peers or, more ludicrously, the Great Assayer. Our job is to encourage that vanity. If we are clever about it, we can perhaps even elevate it to the level of the greatest and most beautiful vice, Spiritual Pride.

At the same time we must blind them to the truth that they are all naked, all vulnerable: there is no armour impervious to that Gaze. And should they ever really think about it, they would not want there to be: the purpose of that final cleansing is to strip off their defiled garments and have them replaced by the robes of eternity. If, in humility, they submit to the pain of it they will find that the pain lasts only a moment and that once it is done, it is finished and need never be repeated. The sinner is gone from us: he enters Heaven as a sanctified and perfected son of the Enemy. Instead we must make them honestly prefer the thought – and it is not a hard thought to perpetuate – of being ‘spared that embarrassment’. The irony is that down here, the blowtorch lasts forever. What might have been briefly painful before being eternally liberating is instead permanent torture in unending imprisonment.

The other reason why our tempters are so successful is that they find it increasingly easy to play on the vanity of an educated Christian. We can so contort it as to make their ‘education’ directly antagonistic to their Christianity, and so keep our patients forever conflicted and unsure. Quite apart from the hilarity this affords us it also renders them almost useless to the Enemy, who finds them quite unsuited to the purpose of furthering His cause among the nations. Even if, for His own unfathomable reasons, He chooses to accept them as His own, how much pain must it cause Him that we have effectively neutered them for as long as He’s had them on Earth?

When I talk about education, I don’t mean real education. I don’t mean anything that elucidates or furthers their understanding of the Enemy, or of how perfectly He is incorporated into every mechanism of a complex world. I mean, instead, the notion that the living Word of God, an inspired document through which the vermin are afforded the priceless opportunity to actually meet their Creator, is nothing more than any other historical text, equally assailable to literary analysis, historicism, and whatever psychological or sociological theorem happens to be the current vogue. Then we teach them that any warrior of the Enemy’s who persists in maintaining a simple faith  – by which we mean a faith that is more than sufficient unto itself – cannot possibly maintain a ‘rigorous’ one, a faith defensible solely on logical grounds. You might wonder that we can get away with this, Ragwort, but we can, we can! You and I – and any human with more than half an ounce of wit, though they are becoming increasingly rare – know that Faith is not susceptible to logic alone. If it were, it would not be called ‘faith’. Moreover, persuading a patient to try to mount such a defence demonstrates to us a pleasing ignorance of the Enemy Himself. To attempt it is to deny His continuing influence on those in His service. Nonetheless, we teach them that this pointless effort is required of ‘rational discourse’. We must never allow them to ask what it is, precisely, that they mean when they use that phrase.

So this then is the goal for which you must work. You will be triumphant if you produce in Scotland a church in which the leaders shun the God who would remind them of their own fallen state, and who defend their faith on insufficient grounds by excising Him from it. You will blind those leaders to the appalling truth that the Enemy really does demand their fealty, and really does offer redemption for all sinners who ask it. That blindness will filter down through the ranks of worshippers (worshippers of what, exactly?), until the Enemy will be forced to say to the Church of Scotland “Away from Me; I do not know you.”

But as I said earlier, the Church of Scotland is only one small part of the worldwide Catholic and Apostolic Church. Whatever we might do to neutralise the efficacy of that component we are still left with The Church, the bride of Christ, fearsome as the thunder and awful as the dawn. The sight is, I confess, one that discourages even the most stout-hearted of our comrades. Fortunately the humans themselves are quite blind to it. (The limitation of a temporal existence, to which we ourselves are immune, is one of the great disadvantages under which humanity labours in spiritual matters). Our task, therefore, is to create an unswerving parochialism in the hearts of the Christians. Let “my church” mean not the full panoply of the saints but instead the small leaky building less than a mile from their own front doors. And I do mean, incidentally, that ‘the church’ ought, in their minds, to refer to the building. The less they consider their fellowship to be the church the better.

Because this is the other objective your present work must effect. Your current efforts have already yielded much fruit. Turn the myopic little brutes away from the virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Instead point them towards hatred, misery, turmoil, haste, venom, selfishness, fickleness, brutishness and intemperance. I see that among some of those purporting to speak on behalf of the church you have already enjoyed varying degrees of success. Even better, they have frequently – and enthusiastically – recorded their failures in print, available for all who care to see. What you must now do is ensure that the fruits of the diabolical spirit grow in the congregations. The time to plant the seeds is now: the soil of their souls is increasingly eager to accept and nurture them. And when finally these bitter fruits are borne, you will find that the pain, humiliation and despair they cause is of a most exquisite and lasting kind.

I remain, as ever,

Your fiend and mentor,


Wholly Dishonourable Under-Secretary for Inhuman Resources

About Gavin

I am a 32-year-old PhD student in Aberdeen, Scotland. I work in QC at an e-learning company. I'm originally Northern Irish, though I've lived here in Aberdeen for several years. I am, essentially, somebody who is very normal, yet to whom very strange things keep happening...
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4 Responses to Screwtape and the Temptational Synod

  1. Pingback: Screwtape advises Ragwort how to deal with the Church of Scotland «

  2. Pingback: The missing link « Kirkmuirhillrev’s Weblog

  3. Eruntane says:

    I found this letter very challenging, for which non-relief much thanks. Could you, or Screwtape, whichever finds it easier, spell out a bit more about maintaining a faith that is both sufficient unto itself and rigorous, with the proper amount of logical defence but not too much? I’m referring to this section:

    “Then we teach them that any warrior of the Enemy’s who persists in maintaining a simple faith – by which we mean a faith that is more than sufficient unto itself – cannot possibly maintain a ‘rigorous’ one, a faith defensible solely on logical grounds. You might wonder that we can get away with this, Ragwort, but we can, we can! You and I – and any human with more than half an ounce of wit, though they are becoming increasingly rare – know that Faith is not susceptible to logic alone. If it were, it would not be called ‘faith’.”

    Clearly Screwtape would like us to believe it’s not possible, and equally clearly, you think it is. Answers on a postcard?

  4. Pingback: Screwtape Plays Chess « Starlingford Chronicles

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