Screwtape Shucks the Habit

The devil Screwtape has just returned from a brief sabbatical – or sabbat, as they are known in his diabolical circles – in the course of which he attended a conference on ‘The Gentle Art of Falsity’, hosted by Hell’s Insincerity Research Council. Stimulated by the discussions and papers given at this retreat, Screwtape has taken it upon himself to offer a few sound words of advice to those best placed to disseminate the information further. One of these, naturally, is his protégé Ragwort, who is responsible for the Scottish Sector. I have managed to obtain a copy of Screwtape’s analysis, and I reproduce it here for your consideration.

My dear Ragwort,

I trust I find you well, and the Christians of Scotland in demoralised disarray? Your old colleague Guttersnipe sends his regards: I ran into him at an IRC conference. He was delighted to hear of your promotion, though in truth I think he believes some of the credit due is his. It was under his supervision that you wrote your thesis, wasn’t it? “Bells, Smells and the Road to Hell: Corrupting Traditional Church Structures in Modern Britain”? In any case, he was chairing a panel on ecclesiastical corruption, and I promised to pass on some of the more intriguing of his points. Which brings me to the purpose of this letter.

Scotland is lousy with Christians. Turn over a rock and out they scuttle, their little faces aglow with righteous piety. However, Guttersnipe was telling me – and I am keen to tell you, to encourage you and your department – that these ‘Christians’ are frequently members of our camp.

So why call them ‘Christians’? This, for me, was where it became truly interesting. My dear Ragwort, I had no idea the extent of your manipulation. I’m delighted. We call them Christians because they are Christians habitually, not spiritually.

As you may know, I recently had to have a tooth taken out and the gap bridged (damage was done to the fang when I tried to consume an egotist still crackling with the arrogance of his self-importance). The tooth had seemed alright, but underneath all was rotten, decayed; the pain was ignored until the tooth could not be saved and, hollowed out, there was no strength left. Now it has been replaced by a bridge, a false tooth indistinguishable from the real things that surround it.

We ought to be working for something similar. Our ‘Christians’ ought to be, like false teeth, indistinguishable from the real thing, while at the same time being hollowed out, empty, devoid of the strength that comes of being a real, living and growing part of the body. They might look good; they might even, at a superficial level, be capable of performing some of the same tasks. But the vitality at the core, the nerve that connects the tooth to the system governing the whole body, is absent.

These are our kind of ‘Christians’, and one of the great tools we might use to create them, to foster the illusion of spiritual health, is habit – though it is not without its dangers. There is a great deal to be concerned about if a patient surrounds himself on a weekly basis with the Enemy’s true servants, listens to the Enemy’s own Word, and observes as those around him enjoy true communion with the Enemy in prayer. Nevertheless, provided the patient commits to nothing more than a superficial participation, this has the almost incalculable benefit of shielding him from some of the Enemy’s most barbarous methods of assault. The patient, provided he can be persuaded to ignore the alarms of his own conscience – like the pain of a tooth one does not believe is dying – will simply drift into a kind of spiritual limbo, where his experience of the Enemy trails off into silence like the volume knob on a radio slowly turned to zero.

Of course, in using this technique we walk a fine line: to either side lies disaster. On the one hand we are attempting to make vices out of virtue. We can do this only if the patient is half-inclined towards spiritual laziness already (though many of them are) and even then we must be subtle and not be over-hasty – one pays more attention to a sudden sharp pain than a slowly-building nagging ache, though the ache may indicate greater damage in the long run.

On the other hand we may well be surrounding the patient with those most able to thwart us in our schemes: servants of and warriors for the Enemy quite capable of intervening in the most catastrophic manner possible and rudely awakening our patient from the slumber we are trying to instil. Our defence against this has been, over the last few centuries, to insulate the patients from one another. It is vitally important to our cause that true friendships are few and far between amongst the members of a congregation, and even then those friendships that do exist ought not to include any kind of spiritual component. The patient separated by whatever mechanism – social convention, laziness, fear – from anyone who would inquire into the state of his soul’s health will be ours to enjoy. Those who enjoy communion not just with the Enemy but with each other are forearmed against some of our most effective stratagems.

I will be interested to hear your thoughts on what we ought to do about the notion of ‘friendship’, that perversion of natural competition, in due course.

In the meantime, 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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