Wreck the Halls with Bouts of Folly
Sixty-eight years ago an incendiary manuscript fell into the hands of C.S. Lewis. This was ‘The Screwtape Letters’, a series of epistles from a senior devil, Screwtape, to a junior tempter, Wormwood. Wormwood failed to secure the damnation of his ‘patient’, the Christian to whom he was assigned, and was consumed. Screwtape remained. He writes now to a subordinate demon called Ragwort, a junior under-manager with responsibility for the Scottish Sector, and from time to time these diabolical communiqués fall into my hands. I can’t imagine Screwtape is too happy with me sharing them, but then again, what Screwtape wants ought not to be entertained…
I wondered if we hadn’t promoted you too soon, and now I am beginning to think I was right. How is it that you don’t know our traditional yuletide techniques? If you are to remain in your current position I had better brief you. It is important you retain your apparent authority before your underlings. But for Hell’s sake take the lessons on board.
On the face of it, Christmas ought to be a time of year when we find ourselves on the retreat, assailed on all sides by Christian virtue, respect, tolerance and good feeling. Those, after all, are the sentiments so religiously advocated at this time of year even by the irreligious. It has become part of the Christmas tradition for everyone to acknowledge that these are worthy ideals, but, thanks to our constant efforts, it has become an equal part of the tradition for everyone then to continue ignoring them.
Imagine, for a moment, what would happen if people actually behaved at Christmas in the manner they espouse. Imagine if, when giving to the poor or needy, they considered it a solemn but unexceptional duty rather than an aberrant moment of extraordinary generosity about which they should feel proud. Imagine if the dim stirrings of their social consciences were provoked into real action, real effort. Imagine if their charity extended not merely to those obviously impoverished but towards one another as part of their normal daily interactions. Imagine if they actually behaved as the Enemy wants them to, and then realised that this behaviour is not limited to the holiday period but ought to be extended through the whole of the year.
It is quite clear that the result of such a realisation would be a tragedy ghastly beyond belief, an appalling, cataclysmic defeat that would echo down through the lowerarchies to the very throne of Our Father Below. It is only through our ceaseless vigilance that this catastrophe has been averted. Our vigilance, and our preparedness to act when necessary, has for centuries prevented anything like a really just or healthy society from flourishing. However, we cannot take quite all of the credit. The human beings themselves haven’t really worked for it. The Enemy was quite clear: “Take up your cross,” He said, “and follow me.” And we teach them, and common sense and experience show them, that this takes a great deal of effort. It’s not easy being a Christian, Ragwort, and our tempters ought to take every opportunity both to remind their patients of this and to make it ever more difficult for them. Living as the Enemy wants them to, behaving as He commands, generating the kind of society He desires – these things are not simple, even before we get involved, but we should try to discourage any attempt even to strive for them.
Nevertheless, Christmas stains our calendars with its revolting, bourgeois emphasis on the possibility of such a society, and we must fight against it. There are several stratagems that might here be put to good use. Firstly, we must encourage a lofty, semi-amused tolerance for the festival in the minds of the non-Christians. You might be surprised at this, thinking intolerance a far better solution, but this is not the case. The howls of outrage against those who defy the conventions of Christmas are too damaging to our cause. So let them have their Christmas, if they must, but let us divorce it from any real notion of who the Enemy was or what He accomplished. We can do this because this is the time of year when God seems manageable.
Babies are not threatening. They are small and weak and vulnerable, and if that is the impression the humans have of their God then so much the better. The weak God, the little God, the infantile God…such an entity is easy to ignore and even easier to dismiss entirely. The more people know the manger and the less they know the cross the better.
Secondly, this is the time of the year at which we can best promote the idea of indulgence. Gluttony, drunkenness, greed, avarice, envy and lust – we ought to be able to promote these under the tree, at the table or in the office, and better yet we ought to be able to promote in the minds of the more susceptible of our patients the idea that all these can be excused as a somewhat unfortunate but mostly inconsequential side-effect of the laxity of the Christmas spirit. The truly invaluable result of this is that it then encourages a pattern of immorality that can be excused as being the result of a special occasion, and you will find our patients become increasingly inventive in their definitions of what constitutes a special occasion. Eventually we can get them to the stage where they expect to break the rules, and will manufacture reasons to do so. Any excuse will do. After that, the final step is to remove the need even for a reason. Encouraging the little mongrels to step off a cliff may bring them to our door, but it is far easier, and far more certain, to bring them here down a gentle path with no sudden turns, no signposts, and your tender voice whispering encouragements in their ear. Remember: temptation’s for life, not just for Christmas.
Finally, now is a wonderful time of the year to deaden spirits. In the run-up to Christmas, concentrate hearts and minds on the present concerns, the financial worries, the familial obligations. In the aftermath, you want to encourage those post-holiday blues. Keep the humans so occupied in what they’re doing that they never start to think about why they’re doing it. And make sure that the messages about taking time to appreciate the One who made it all possible become another part of the tradition to which they pay lip service but no real attention. If we can’t remove Christ from Christmas we can at least make all mention of Him merely a part of the scenery. Give them their observances, but don’t allow anything to draw their attention to what it is they’re actually meant to be observing. The technique is a good and time-honoured one. It created both the Pharisees and the ‘nominal’ Christians. This Christmas, the best present you could give Our Father Below would be more of both.
I remain, as ever,
your fiend and mentor,
Wholly Dishonourable Under-Secretary for Inhuman Resources