In 1942 C.S. Lewis published a series of fictional correspondences between two demons. The elder, Screwtape, advising his younger nephew, Wormwood on how to best tempt Christians. At the root of the book is the question, “What would the forces of Satan want for the lives of Christians that pull them away from God?” The book is still widely read to this day and is worth your time. However; the text is highly contextual with WW2 era Great Britain in mind and with that as an introduction I decided to try and take the same premise and apply it to our own context asking the question, “What would the forces of Satan want for my life to keep me from God?”
My Dear Wormwood,
It has been some time since our last correspondence but I am thrilled to hear about your new assignment in the United States and your request for assistance in effective tempting in a new environment. Since you do not have a specific patient yet I will keep my instructions broad so that they may be applied to any situation in which you are placed.
As a junior tempter still looking to advance through our ranks there are a few tried and true methods for American Christians you should be sure to employ. It may seem wise to lean into creativity in your tempting, there is a place for creativity—particularly with the increasing world of technology—but do not stray too far from our usual paths, they have served us well and have no reason to believe they will not work still.
Do not be troubled by the American Christian’s thin veneer of confidence, for there is really a simple strategy that keeps them from being effective that I can sum up in one word: distraction. The fight with them is not one we approach head on—they after all have access to forces far greater than our own if we were to conduct an all-out frontal assault—rather we simply keep moving the shiny objects that grab their attention and keep them from what is important.
Your work is that of distraction. Constantly keeping them from dwelling on all the Enemy has to offer; and to accomplish this I offer three specific suggestions.
Firstly, entertainment. Entertainment will be a well that you return to frequently as a tempter in America. It is so effective that some tempters believe it is too easy, and in some ways they are correct for in your task of distraction entertainment is king.
Every one of your possible patients carries an object in their pocket with unlimited access to the entire history of human thought. That could sound like an obstacle to our goals but not to worry; instead of using that object to access deeper thoughts of our Enemy they use it to fill every tiny cavity of space in their life with amusement. Place as many of these devices in their life as you possibly can and they will do the rest: scrolling through images of unattainable lives and playing foolish games filled with tasks that are meaningless, they live the bulk of their existence chasing after things that have no value.
Your investment in this arena will yield a plentiful harvest; entertainment begets entertainment and their actions prove that there has never been a more fertile ground for our cause in their lives than the never-ending stream of videos, picture, articles, and news (that is actually just more entertainment). They consume it constantly producing mild laughs and hours void of brain activity. Do not let this tool ever depart from your hand. It is entirely irrelevant which particular patient you are eventually assigned: they all are addicted to entertainment. Parents fill their children’s heads with more movies and TV than anything else and by the age of 7 those children are more competent in the use of the entertainment devices than their parents. The younger adults are continually delaying responsibility in favor of years in front of a screen. The older adults rationalize their lazy evenings every week by telling themselves, “I’ve worked hard and deserve to not think when I get home.” And the elders of their country have checked out from life entirely believing that they have a right to retire and seek the mind-numbing pleasures they could not fully chase in their youth.
You see, your great task is not the act of filling their minds with all sorts of devious thoughts in service of our cause, but merely to keep the thoughts of the truth of our enemies love from them. It doesn’t take long, even those desiring to live in complete service to the Enemy will starve themselves when their minds do not dwell on that truth. They quickly become lethargic and dry in their pursuit of the Enemy and are almost entirely ineffective in stopping our cause.
Secondly, business. Your battlefield sees very little battle because they are too busy doing other things. Even a cursory glance at one of their calendars shows there is so little space in their lives that they cannot possible have time to focus on anything, especially the Enemy’s offers of grace.
There are many theories for their addiction to business—largely the reasons for their constant occupation are unimportant as long as the business remains at a barely sustainable pace that lingers on the edge of collapse at any moment. However; even with the variety of motivations for filling calendars I believe we can understand—and subsequently take advantage of—one common reality of American’s busy obsession: uncertainty.
The American life through the last sixty years has been relatively stable, but lurking under their cultural stability is a deathly fear of not being in control. They are drunk on their own independent spirit and are terrified of losing personal sovereignty. Incapable of facing uncertainty in life they fill every moment with tasks to keep from facing the hard questions and as the uncertainty builds, business is inserted as a socially acceptable distraction. The business gives way to exhaustion, and exhaustion almost always leads to selfishness. This is an ideal situation of course. They easily convince themselves that they are altruistic because they are busy, all the while they are building the vice of selfishness instead of the virtue of selflessness, and through the haze of self-deception are unable to see that they are even more distracted.
They live from notification to notification, with chimes that hollowly ring out announcing that they are late for their next appointment. The unrelenting calendar keeps their head down in their work as the gifts the Enemy offers go unattended. They are like children on a train reading a book about mountains and never bothering to look out the window and see the mountain range that lives in front of them.
Now, there is a portion of the population that finds themselves on the opposite pole of business: crippling laziness. But I doubt you will be assigned a patient in this category, for they usually need no tempting from anyone other than themselves.
Third, and finally, disagreement. For a group of people that thinks so little they belligerently argue their opinions a lot. Whenever possible you should stoke the flames of disagreement. Convince your patient that their anger is righteous and they will be helping society by exposing their opponent’s errors. It does not matter if these errors are ethical, factual, or fictional, what is important is the disagreement.
We must be careful here, for there is room for disagreement to be motivated by understanding and love but we are obviously steering patients not toward disagreement in general, but towards a particular kind of disagreement. Disagreement that is fueled by pride. If you can convince your patient that they are without a doubt in the right and the other person has nothing to offer to their perspective they will disagree with a unique ability for belittling and dividing.
Most of the ground work has already been laid for you: their culture has been on a slow boil increasing to the point of combat, which means almost all disagreement turns in the favorable direction of hostility. They are seemingly incapable of hearing someone think different without hammering out rebuttals on message boards and disparaging the character of their opponent. Keep these points of tension in full view of your patient at all times. Culture can lull into peace—at which time we allow all their fire to burn out and the Church militant to become toothless. But culture can also erupt into conflict—at which time we remove the fire from the fireplace and attempt to burn the whole house down leaving the Church militant disoriented and combative. You are currently in the later state. Stoke antipathy instead of apathy, and in their rage, they will lose sight of anything that unites them to each other or our Enemy.
These are our tried and true tactics. Distraction through entertainment, business, and disagreement. You may branch out from time to time but keep distraction front and center as it keeps them from what is important and in the void they run to one of two desirable extreme’s:
1. Belief that they are too broken to fix
2. Belief that they need no fixing
When we distract them from what is important we are able to erode what little foundation of faith existed. Keep at the work.
Your affectionate uncle,
4 thoughts on “Screwtape and Wormwood go to America”
Thank you for sharing this. It is excellent and so very relevant. It gives me much to meditate on and apply to my own life.
Great message on Sunday!
This is outstanding work Luke! It was such a blessing to hear you deliver it in person. Yes, great message on Sunday! Your passion for the Bible and preaching is so appreciated.
We’ll said friend. I couldn’t help myself feeling a tinge of irony reading this on my phone through your post on social media but the point is well taken! If it is ok, I’m planning on challenging my students with this one in class.
Thanks Jordan, with all permission feel free to use it in any way.