Screwtape Sets A Frost

The diabolical timetable is somewhat different from the terrestrial one, and the devil Ragwort, who has responsibility for the entirety of the Scottish Sector, has just submitted his annual report. No doubt Hell, like any other bureaucracy, has official channels through which reports filter and responses are made; but, like any other bureaucracy, it seems that the real work is done outside that mandated structure. What you have before you, it would appear, is Screwtape’s unofficial response to Ragwort’s report. Screwtape has spent many years in the role of diabolical mandarin, and as a result his advice to his juniors is well worth heeding. For us, who are both spectators to, and the prize in, the Great Game, his commentary is scarcely less essential: when the stakes are this high, it is always worth paying attention to the state of play…

 

My dear Ragwort,

 

Allow me to come straight to the point. Your report has done the rounds, and although of course there has as yet been no official decision made on the nature of your Superiors’ response to it, I can tell you unofficially that that response will be highly favourable. You have done an excellent job in the last year, and you should be well pleased with your efforts thus far. I stress this because, of course, your task is not completed. Nor is it even close to being so. But you have made an excellent start.

The first section of your report, concerning the progress of Atheism in Scotland, speaks for itself, and does not require much by the way of commentary. The situation is satisfactory and is continuing in that manner. One development I did enjoy seeing was the success of the philological department’s most recent subterfuge. Replacing the term ‘atheism’ with ‘rational secularism’ or even ‘teapot agnosticism’ is a very real victory on two fronts, appealing to two different mindsets. ‘Rational secularism’ seems so much less bald, so much less stark, so much more sophisticated than the nakedness of mere atheism. It is the perfect term to be deployed by those who believe they have outgrown, out-matured the crudities of religious belief. ‘Rational secularism’ – it covers a multitude of sins.

The other prong of this attack resides with ‘teapot agnosticism’. “No one believes in the presence of a teapot orbiting Jupiter,” the argument goes, “but we can’t prove the non-existence of the teapot. Therefore we are agnostic about the teapot. So too with God. We can’t prove His non-existence, but no one seriously believes He is there. He is on the same level as the orbital crockery.” It is a magnificent argument for several reasons. First of all, it appeals to the sense of ‘fair play’ so many of these creatures purport to respect. By identifying itself as a form of agnosticism, the patients who hold to it can convince themselves that all they require is a really solid argument to change their minds. This is true in so few cases that we may as well ignore the risk entirely. People who are agnostic refer to themselves as agnostic, without the prosthetic addition of tableware. Secondly, by putting God on the level of a teapot orbiting Jupiter, there is a very real – if unacknowledged – identification of the Lord of the universe as being absurd. It may seem inconsequential, but this is a very real assault on the majesty of God. It is an excellent stratagem: it is hard to believe in God if He is ridiculous. The diminution of God by this argument is probably as potent a weapon against Him as the argument itself: the old ‘if You’re there, show Yourself’ demand we have been encouraging (provided the question is never asked with genuine desire to see) for thousands of years.

All this is good news. Heartening, even, and it will probably lead to a letter of commendation in your file. But it is to the second part of your report that I wish to recall your attention.

This second section deals exclusively with the nature of the Christian church in Scotland. The successes you have achieved (and let me say now that this year has, by and large, been one of success) can, essentially, be summed up in a single word: Balkanisation. Like a good hard frost on the rock upon which the church is built, the cracks between various groups are widening, and soon true fractures will appear.

One could almost sympathise with the little vermin. They have been so comprehensively thrown into tumult that human nature, aided and abetted by our ever-labouring agents, has taken an ascendant role in their dealings with one another and they have turned for comfort and guidance not to the Enemy, even though that is what He so earnestly desires, but to those among their peers whom they can already count on to agree with them.

There has been no cross-pollination of ideas. There has been precious little genuine discussion. Instead (oh, how sweet!) there has been much talk of ‘battle-lines being drawn’, and ‘the thin end of the wedge’ and so on and so forth. That man Yeats surely spoke very good sense when he observed that those unwilling to engage with argument prefer faction-fighting to the labour of unfamiliar thought. Better still, these battle lines are drawn between each other, rather than between the Church and Us. Make no mistake, Ragwort: the Christian Church is still a lion rampant, its teeth still sharp and its claws still fearsome. But thanks to our efforts it is now mostly engaged in chasing its own tail.

You must persist in encouraging this happy state of affairs. Never forget the blessed transmutation of the meaning of the word ‘parochialism’. It used to mean ‘pertaining to the parish’. When it did so it was a word to be feared: can you imagine the danger of a parish church actually involved in the life of its community, seen as a focal point for that community, open to all, exclusive to none, alive, active and healthy? You do well to recoil in horror from the thought. It offends every principle we hold dear. But thanks to many years of hard work, of clever strategising from devils whose names you rightly revere (my own superior, Grotwrangle, was involved), we now use ‘parochialism’ to mean ‘an excessively narrow-minded perspective on the world’. If there must be such entities as ‘parish churches’, our job is to ensure that the parish in question extends no further than the walls of the church building itself. By denying the very existence of ‘common ground’ it becomes infinitely easier to manufacture conflicts in which these churches can clash – and even in the case of genuine disagreements, the concealment of the common ground renders rapprochement all but impossible.

This, then, is your assignment for the next year. It is upon you that the burden rests. If we can’t directly blind the Christians whom we are trying to despoil to the truth that one must love one’s neighbour as oneself, we may yet be able to blind them to the fact that they have any neighbours at all. I noticed some considerable success scored recently against many Christians whom you persuaded to forget that their duty of Agape extends even to – indeed, especially to – those who horrify them. The trick is to make the Christians ever more comfortable, so that ever more about ‘the outside world’ offends them. If they cannot bear to face it they will not do so, and will instead live within the protection of the church family – a family we must pervert into defending itself against any and all threats, real or imagined, until it lies rabid and alone. You will find that the success of this project offers a very particular and invigorating delight, and the victims of your triumph will amuse the palates of those of us who here await them.

 

In the meantime, I remain, as ever,

Your fiend and mentor,

Screwtape

Wholly Dishonourable Under-Secretary for Inhuman Resources

 

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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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