War Against Women

As women, we tend to be our own worst critics. We engage in ongoing combat with ourselves, not just about perceptions of beauty but also the result of negative dialogue that crams our brains. My post, Natural Beauty, references how one’s inner beauty reveals itself to others; yes, even when that beauty is not apparent to us as individuals.2005 CFDA Awards - Press Room

In an interview on The Blaze, Fashion designer Norma Kamali addresses another component where women struggle:  objectification. (As someone admittedly ignorant about Fashion, I’m new to Kamali.) The designer recalls her first job interview where a powerful man’s lecherous behavior evoked Kamali’s youthful revulsion. She asserts women typically keep such dreadful experiences to themselves. Believing this secrecy is harmful, Kamali developed a website StopObjectification.com (subsequent references will be abbreviated SO.com) focused on confronting and eradicating objectification.

Kamali says she’s queried numerous women and finds experiences of objectification are painfully common. (Kamali’s story even dredged up unpleasant memories for me.) In the interview, Kamali expresses empathy for any woman “allowing herself to be objectified” but acknowledges the natural drive women have for “wanting men to love us.”

Indeed, the old give-to-get adage is easily identifiable:  men give love to get sex, women give sex to get love. (For an excellent post rethinking that adage, read this at TransformingWords.)

Being treated as an object, a vehicle for someone’s self-gratification, is evil. Though it happens every day, it’s no less evil. Kamali likens it to involuntarily “giving up a part of oneself.” She’s right; love − viewed rightly − should enhance rather than diminish us! Maybe it helps (as the SO.com website suggests) for women to find “empowerment” by posting pictures of their “most powerful body part.” Maybe doing this represents a positive re-imagining to loose the bonds of humiliating experiences.

But I pose a contrary view. Women will remain vulnerable to objectification. Put simply, we can’t control how other people view us. Truth be told, our culture is rife with “empowered” women (many acting badly) who are consumed by their insatiable search for someone to love them. A sense of empowerment is only that:  a sense. It doesn’t eliminate our innate need to be loved − and if it did, I think that would be a bad thing.

When we attempt to deaden those inner impulses that make us uniquely women, we are, in effect, warring against ourselves.

Psalm 139:14 tells us:  “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Our need to be loved is the way we’ve been fashioned. This need is fulfilled in relationship with … the Lover of our souls. Because the image of the Creator is embedded in my soul, I know I’m already loved and uniquely made. No degradation, no objectification suffered in this life changes (or minimizes) that identity.

So, I offer a different basis for “empowerment” in this three-pronged action plan. The battle metaphor is apt: 

Women on the front lines

  1. Engage my brain. I can’t control how other people view me, but I can control my responses. Pre-planning a battle strategy girds and prepares me for potential unpleasant situations.
  2. Reserve the sword for enemies. Negative dialogue immobilizes. I must refuse to take up the sword against myself.
  3. Wield the shield for self-defense. In combat, the shield is a defensive tool. Learning to properly wield a shield might mean studying physical or verbal self-defense technique or fine-tuning my intuition to recognize vulnerabilities.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made, precious in God’s sight. Knowing that, what could be more beautiful … and more empowering?

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Fifty Shades of Screwtape: In Review

50ShadesScrewtape

Halfway through my Fifty Shades of Screwtape series, I realized I should have provided (from the outset) the weblink of the winning entry for anyone wishing to read it. Here it is:  If Screwtape Had Watched CNN − the 2001 Grand Prize winner, in which author Amy Schwartz introduces Screwtape’s new charge, a student demon named Scrapetooth. Alternatively, if you’d rather own this work in a hard copy volume, introductory comments on beliefnet.com‘s weblink indicate Schwartz’ entry was also published in two 2002 book anthologies (here and here).

Having read and re-read Lewis’s original work, one cannot help but be reminded The Screwtape Letters is a unique masterwork. Lewis understood his time, the discipline of Christian apologetics and the wiles of the Devil. Lewis hoped his book would be “both useful and entertaining.” Certainly, he achieved those goals and much more. The work received critical and popular praise including comments from The Saturday Review (April 17, 1943) terming it a “remarkably original work.”

Both Amy Schwartz’ prize-winning entry and mine are derivatives. And that’s okay; it’s what the contest required − a contemporary retelling of Screwtape. The retelling could’ve been done a thousand ways. Indeed, 250 unique takes on the original were submitted.

When I was a teenager, I came across a book that doesn’t attempt a Screwtape-type tale but presents a curiously parallel scenario. Hellbent for Election was written by author Phyllis Speschock and features a central character, the newly-deceased Mr. Willfully Hellbent, who stands before the High Registrar (of Heaven) seeking permission to leave because he has “no desire to spend eternity with Believers.” The rest of the book depicts Hellbent in the company of his counselor, an angel named Alexis, examining Hellbent’s antipathy for Heaven-based society.51LjNAZHxsL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

I re-read this book recently, and it mostly stands the test of time. It doesn’t compare well with Screwtape (a stouter apologetic with sharper satire) but Hellbent has other qualities to recommend it. If we use Lewis’s measure, a book that’s both useful and entertaining, Hellbent scores on both counts.

Hellbent’s thought-provoking approach demands a response:  why would anyone want to go to a Heaven populated with the same Believers who’ve annoyed you on Earth?

I’ve tried to track down information about Hellbent’s author but found little. Her publisher, Zondervan, notes a couple other titles by Speshock, but I haven’t read any of those. A history of the publisher, House of Zondervan: Celebrating 75 Years, characterizes Hellbent for Election as one of two “provocative titles published in 1964 ….” (The other “provocative” title was The Gospel Blimp.)

There’s a curious statement in the Zondervan history volume that mentions Hellbent. They cite a review suggesting “Not everybody will like it, but God forgive publishers as well as ministers who give the people only what they want.” I’m wondering whether this review might have soured Zondervan’s enthusiasm to keep supporting the book?

With the post of Missive 7, I’ve posted all of my original contest entry. I’ve enjoyed sharing these posts enough to know writing future posts under the Fifty Shades of Screwtape banner would be a delightful challenge. If you found the first seven posts of interest, I hope you’ll stay tuned for more! I welcome your feedback.

Fifty Shades of Screwtape: Missive 7

[The Screwtape Letters written by C. S. Lewis present the tale of a demon-tutor (named Screwtape) who serves Satan. Screwtape’s task is to instruct his student Wormwood in the ways of evil. My previous post provides background material explaining the letter reproduced below. This is the final entry of seven posts in this series.]

50ShadesScrewtape

Wormwood

I know you must think I’m moving quickly into demon senility. First, I instruct you that your patient should keep that Left Behind book at arm’s length. Now, when that woman has brought another bestseller — and another religious volume, albeit it a small one — into the house, I see no objection in your patient reading it. You have much to learn yet, Nephew. There is no hard and fast rule about reading materials. Furthermore, there are times when a specific book (religious or not) might be a useful tool, while at other times, it impedes your progress with the humans. The previously discussed work of fiction is not useful, and indeed, could even be problematic. Your patient’s appetites are simply too unpredictable to gauge.

But this book, the Prayer of Jabez, that the woman presented to your patient for a Father’s Day gift might offer an opportunity you had not expected. I’ll explain. We have talked about prayer before. It is the means by which the Enemy keeps his followers tuned in, so to speak. If you cannot keep your patient “from the serious intention of praying altogether,”[1] you must convince him that prayer is ineffective and unnecessary. Remind your patient that he prayed for thus and such, but the opposite occurred. Remind him of something he desired yet didn’t pray about, and yet it came to pass. He must come to accept that prayer changes nothing.

Then, you counterpunch with the Prayer of Jabez. It’s the modern-day equivalent of a mantra. He needs to memorize it, practice daily repetition. “Bless me, enlarge my border, be with me, keep me from harm.”  It’s a wonderfully sanctimonious prayer, focused on “me, me, me.” What better way to feed the narcissism in your patient’s culture than with this self-absorbed gem? Our task would be much harder if the Enemy’s followers weren’t so naïve, don’t you know.

Now I must inquire about a few things. Is Grendvald oppressing the woman as furiously as he claims? She’s attended several meetings with the minister’s wife, and I have a sneaking suspicion they’re preparing to invite your patient to attend a church service. If ever there was a time for him to take up Sunday golf, this might be that opportune moment. Your man needs to assert his independence now, or when that miniature vermin arrives, his days of freedom will be over. When the man becomes fully domesticated, you’ll have a tough time resurrecting his natural tom-cat tendencies. Don’t let this one get away from you, Nephew.  We’ll talk again soon.

Screwtape


[1] The Screwtape Letters, p. 15

Fifty Shades of Screwtape: Missive 6

[The Screwtape Letters written by C. S. Lewis present the tale of a demon-tutor (named Screwtape) who serves Satan. Screwtape’s task is to instruct his student Wormwood in the ways of evil. My previous post provides background material explaining the letter reproduced below, sixth of seven in a series of posts.]

50ShadesScrewtape

Wormwood

I cannot imagine how Grendvald ever made it through the Training College! Old Slubgob must have seen something much different than the shoddy performance you and I have been witnessing of late. That feckless lump of demon mass could have stopped her from bringing the blasted book into that house. I don’t really care if he’d caused her to misplace her shopping bag or to drive her minivan off a cliff. The end result would be the same, and you would be well on the way to a full Capture. But no! Grendvald fails to accurately assess the danger! His explanation to me was that he thought the book was harmless.

Harmless? Sure, if they’d used it for kindling or a door stop or toilet paper. Instead, Grendvald now has made your assignment many times more complex. Your man picked up that “harmless” paperback book, and you are now on the precipice yourself because he is reading it. Left Behind.  Why would he read such juvenile screed? To please the woman, perhaps. He is attempting to act out the part of the perfect hubby:  flowers, love notes, and the weekly dinner date. Now he’s reading her book.

Could be he’s just curious. (You are aware that the book has been a bestseller, aren’t you?) That’s where you must apply some pressure. Make his eyes heavy before he’s read the first page. Convince him that all the characters are annoying and unrealistic. Besides, the scenario is completely bogus. People disappearing from the earth — what is this, the Bermuda Triangle? You get the idea. Your patient is a grown man, and he knows better than to believe some mumbo-jumbo religious superstition about a sudden event They call the Rapture. Even the Enemy ought to be capable of conjuring up a better story than that.

In fact, let me suggest an altogether better tale, a movie with a similar name:  Cast Away. Being the resourceful fellow your patient is, he will understand and empathize with the main character of this tale. Still, it’s more than a simple Robinson Crusoe tale. There’s a difference between being a castaway and being cast away. The movie’s main character discovers he needs no one to survive. He makes it on his own, thank you. Self-reliance is the means for casting away all pretense and any need for the Enemy. That’s your man. You must keep him independent, self-reliant, an island unto himself.

Screwtape

Fifty Shades of Screwtape: Missive 5

[The Screwtape Letters written by C. S. Lewis present the tale of a demon-tutor (named Screwtape) who serves Satan. Screwtape’s task is to instruct his student Wormwood in the ways of evil. My previous post provides background material explaining the letter reproduced below, fifth of seven in a series of posts. You may also wish to read my previous post Love In Search in which I refer to Lanier’s poem The Symphony.]

50ShadesScrewtape

Wormwood This is not the first time a disgusting human has veered unexpectedly off course, intent on reformation. Don’t panic. No far-reaching damage has yet been done. (Maybe you’ve forgotten your lessons in earthling history. That nasty priest Martin Luther, who failed to convince his peers of the need for reformation, produced such religious disunion that you and I could only dream of causing.) If your patient is inclined toward some sort of reformation, we have other methods for managing his destruction down that path.

Your patient’s sudden effort at trying to clean up his life is simple to explain. I’m told being an expectant father wakens all sorts of primal energies. I’ve seen it before, and there’s a stack of anecdotal material on the subject available for your consultation. We can deal with this phenomenon.

Just answer my question:  how did this happen? They were sleeping in separate bedrooms! He was spending every waking hour drinking in the skin and sex smorgasbord. How did this happen?! I understand the mechanics of vermin multiplication, but I’m stretched to my limit trying to comprehend the apparent holiday you and Grendvald enjoyed — simultaneously — while the aforementioned procreative activity took place!

If I must decipher the incoherency of your last communication, it is that your patient’s reversal has come about because of a silly inconsequential poem. Is that the essence of it? Eight ridiculous words transformed him from a near-addictive slave to an attentive, loving husband? “Music is love in search of a word.”[1] You can’t be serious. He actually told her, “That’s me!”? As you’ve described it, “He poured out his heart to her, weeping like a dog, and her heart filled with compassion for him.” I guess all that tenderness opened the floodgates for forgiveness and the all-too-inevitable love-coupling.

Nevertheless, I’m dumbstruck that a line of poetry could be the instrument of your undoing. There must be some other explanation, for I’m not finding this possibility mentioned anywhere in the database resources of Our Father’s vast archives.

I’m aware that your patient’s background report reflects an early dedication to music. He received much pleasure in his youth from mastering five musical instruments and writing songs to entertain his brothers. I also know he and his wife met at a concert, and on their next date, he serenaded her with ballads and his guitar. So what? The harmonies within him have surely died … the searing should have taken care of that! Doesn’t he understand? Poetry and music are both childish fantasies — nothing more! Tell him that, and then repeat it! You must help him to understand by filling his head with noise. If not a migraine headache, then some kind of ringing in his ears should suffice. Just drown those melodies out, at once!

[At this point, several lines of handwritten text are completely unintelligible.]

Forgive me. I get a little crazy whenever the notion of pleasure surfaces. We are stymied by an incompetent research staff, all of whom are incapable of reproducing one — just one — simple pleasure. The Enemy has his secrets and this is one of them. We are surrounded by cackle, groanings and chatter here. It’s part of the cost of doing business, so to speak, and it’s something to which we’ve grown accustomed. It doesn’t bother me one way or the other.

But those humans! “Music is love in search of a word”? What can that gibberish possibly mean, and how, I ask you, can it have been the impetus for your patient’s sudden redirection??? Their music, whether symphony or hymn, is to me every bit as torturous as a slow, spring rain! Fingernails on a chalkboard I can take, but please don’t make me sit through four-part harmony.

But I digress. Back to the subject at hand, Nephew, it appears your patient is having a mini-identity crisis. Today, he’s Bob Dylan. Soon enough, with some insistent nudging on your part, he should go back to being Larry Flynt. He can forget his music … he has done so before. And then you begin the craving/addiction cycle again (it progresses much more quickly the second time he descends).

You must redouble your efforts and urge Grendvald to do the same. Over the next several months, the woman will become even more difficult to live with, and you can encourage your patient’s self-pity. In the meantime, I’ll need your written assessment about what you think went wrong. Before things get seriously out of hand, we may want to make some adjustments.

Screwtape


[1] From Sidney Lanier’s poem, The Symphony

Fifty Shades of Screwtape: Missive 4

[The Screwtape Letters written by C. S. Lewis present the tale of a demon-tutor (named Screwtape) who serves Satan. Screwtape’s task is to instruct his student Wormwood in the ways of evil. My previous post provides background material explaining the letter reproduced below, fourth of seven in a series of posts that follow.]

50ShadesScrewtape

Wormwood

So, your patient has transferred his interest away from the chat rooms toward the vast online repositories of sensual pleasure, huh? Not to worry. Your conquest may be all the easier thanks to his re-focus. You say further that his wife has kicked him out of the bedroom they shared, and I fail to see a down-side there. Grendvald is managing her case admirably, complementing your efforts.

What you need to understand here is the concept of addiction. Identifying a patient’s area of greatest weakness is the first step to establishing the addiction cycle. It seems you’ve already succeeded in this. Now, you must woo your patient toward further degradation and more intense sexual self-indulgence. From your most recent report, I understand he’s already tasted the pleasures of the garden variety girlie pictures. Remind him frequently that the human body is beautiful, and that his interest in viewing these pictures is completely natural and harmless. Who’s he hurting? No one! His wife has locked him out of her bedroom. He has a right to be bitter about that. He should feel entirely justified for seeking an alternative satisfaction for his normal, biological drives.

You mention in passing that your patient’s online surfing brought him to a couple highly provocative portals, and that he quickly retreated to tamer, more familiar sites. You should know that’s the nature of addiction:  the once unspeakable eventually becomes doable. The next time he “happens” across an enticing site, encourage him to linger awhile.

It’s always possible that these initial incursions into the virtual flesh market may create substantial guilt and dissonance for your patient. When you observe him obsessing over what he’s been taught is reproachable behavior, make sure he spends at least a couple days (maybe as much as a week) away from the computer. Of course, you’ll be reminding him that he still has control of the situation. He finds the images enjoyable, but he’s not hooked. Besides, nobody else even knows what he’s been doing in his spare time, right? And even if they did, what does it matter? No one else has a right to tell your patient how to spend his free time.

Following such time off, your patient will even convince himself that he can use the computer and simply not go online. Remember what I told you once long ago:  the formula is “an ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure.”[1] At this point, it would be inaccurate to characterize your patient’s craving as a full-fledged addiction. You might even begin to conclude you’ve misdiagnosed him, pinpointing a weakness but not necessarily his point of absolute vulnerability. He may even be able to stifle his craving for some surprisingly long intervals. Rest assured, it’s an illusion he will not be able to maintain over the long haul.

Eventually — with your assistance — his resolve will abate. More often than not, these humans are dogged by an excessive amount of conscience. A guilty conscience can cause all sorts of complications for our patients. The only way to successfully deal with scruples is to handle them like the humans handle their red meat. Your patient’s guilty conscience must be seared, and only wickedness of substantial heat will produce the needed result. How to do it?

Bring him back to the online porn palaces. He’s already got the images firmly planted in his mind. (You might call it brain video, with the brain always in replay mode.) Now’s the time to hit him with what they call the “hard-core” stuff. It will seem much less flagrant than what he expected it to be … it’s only humans, after all, doing what comes naturally. And, it will satisfy — at least temporarily — the hunger that is beginning to drive his soul.

Work at it carefully. More images, more hunger, and still more images. Always more. He must and he will answer each bout of craving with another online session. You will know he has gone from craving to addiction when being online and viewing the most vulgar and salacious images no longer suppresses the appetite. As with gluttony, addiction must be fed with an increasingly more piquant spread.

Your patient’s region of the planet has provided abundant test subjects on whom to study the progression of a wide variety of addictions. Though the studies dealing specifically with online addiction have been conducted more recently, the general addiction pattern is evident. Our research department can furnish some interesting case studies that you should find quite exhilarating. If you can manage to move your patient into addiction, the patient’s enslavement will be all but assured.

Screwtape


[1] The Screwtape Letters, p. 44.

Fifty Shades of Screwtape: Missive 3

[The Screwtape Letters written by C. S. Lewis present the tale of a demon-tutor (named Screwtape) who serves Satan. Screwtape’s task is to instruct his student Wormwood in the ways of evil. My previous post provides background material explaining the letter reproduced below, third of seven in a series of posts that follow.]

50ShadesScrewtape

WormwoodYour keen powers of observation are confirmed each time you write me now. You are correct in noting that the ever-present media to which I referred now includes that veritable devil’s playground They call the Internet. Within this format, the possibilities are endless for firming up your patient’s solid roots into the soil of our Camp. You say his young wife resents the time he’s spending online and away from her. Excellent! The seeds of marital discord are there for your able exploitation. You should coordinate your strategy with Grendvald to be certain he works on the woman with the same approach you direct at your man. Their mutual discontent will multiply devilishly well with this kind of two-pronged assault.

You would do well to remember your early lessons with me. I refer to that particular assignment that led to your disgrace and nearly to your end. (I know. I promised I wouldn’t bring up that matter again, but I’m a devil — I never claimed to be honest!)

My recollection is that your patient was living with his mother, a situation not dissimilar to living with a wife. I outlined four guidelines to warrant domestic turbulence. While the same methods would apply here, I would suggest you focus most on the latter two:  the seemingly insignificant things she does that cause him great annoyance, and the off-handed comments they each utter that fall on the ears and penetrate their hearts like poisoned barbs. This can work. If the woman is like most of her kind whom I’ve observed, she’s already operating in a hypersensitive emotional mode. Make him smack his lips at the dining table, and belch in public without apology. Rock musicians are prone to grasping their crotches onstage, but wives are not generally enthusiastic about such behavior. Once his misconduct becomes ingrained, your patient needs only to throw in a sarcastic verbal zinger here and there to cool whatever esteem or passion his wife once had for him. And Grendvald can use the same technique as he works on the woman.

As to your man’s online activity, chat rooms offer much on which you can capitalize. Remind him that his chat room acquaintances “understand” him in a way his wife cannot. He can forge anonymous relationships in those chat rooms that feed his vanity and provide counterfeit satisfaction for his loneliness. The phony intimacy he can enjoy online will prove even more appealing to him than getting naked under the bedsheets with his wife. The anonymity of chat rooms heightens the allure. Your patient can be whoever he chooses to be, and he can fantasize wildly about his chat partners. It’s that element of mystery that draws him back time after time.

One of the Enemy’s own — I refuse to use his name — once said, “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make everyday are of such infinite importance.”[1] (Frightening, isn’t it? A few of Them have figured out how significant the little decisions can be … but I won’t concern myself here with those few.) I only mention this quotation because it emphasizes that we must exploit those little decisions for evil in order to produce the greatest pain. Your man must be driven to the point where he hungers for the chat room. Sure, he might get fired if his boss finds him online chatting when he should be hard at his work. It doesn’t matter. If you can move him past distraction where his every thought is consumed by these computerized rendezvous, we can anticipate all manner of wickedness in his future. Little evil decisions multiply themselves to equal iniquity squared. That, Nephew, is the magic of what They call compound interest!

I think your patient’s chat room escapades are something we need to evaluate further. So, a couple questions before I close. Is there a particular chat room he prefers? With whom is he chatting? Given some additional information, this compound interest thing could become very interesting indeed.

Screwtape


[1] Quote attributed to C. S. Lewis

Fifty Shades of Screwtape: Missive 2

[The Screwtape Letters written by C. S. Lewis present the tale of a demon-tutor (named Screwtape) who serves Satan. Screwtape’s task is to instruct his student Wormwood in the ways of evil. My previous post provides background material explaining the letter reproduced below, second of seven in a series of posts that follow.]

50ShadesScrewtape

Wormwood

We’re winning, you know. Yes, I say! On almost every front I’ve been monitoring lately, the Enemy and his mongrels are losing ground daily. They haven’t panicked yet that I can tell, but there is much less hope reflected in their beady little eyes. We are winning!

I wouldn’t have even mentioned the obvious except that you are just now beginning to read the movements and attitudes of your new patient. While you study him, perhaps you’ll observe in him some of the ready evidences that support my assertion.

Think, if you will, about the ubiquitous nature of the media in the everyday lives of these earthlings, most especially for the region in which your latest charge lives his life. Years ago, they huddled like swarms of beetles ‘round a radio, enthralled by noise and static-laced “entertainment.” It was a demon’s worst nightmare! Families were drawn together. Whether it was a fireside chat or the antics of comedy partners, these wretches listened … together! The familial environment softened hearts, eased tensions and cemented relationships. I shudder at the thought of all that wholesomeness! Yuck!

But no more, my young fiend. The marvel of miniaturization brought headphones to your patient’s world, and we are the beneficiaries of this invention. When a mother wishes to speak to her teenager, she must first command greater attention from him than the Marilyn Manson cacophony piercing his eardrums. An individual walking through a neighborhood may meet dozens of neighbors, all of whom have no desire for discourse other than the sounds emanating from their headphones. They may live in the same neighborhood, but they exist alone. They long for some deluded notion of community, but they keep their doors locked and shades down. Do you see the delicious irony of it? We are winning!

You might recognize that the advent of television had a similar evolution. (Ah, I savor that word every bit as much as a morsel of human sweetbread … but any discussion of Darwin must be reserved for another letter.) I abhorred television at first. It brought Them together — in the same room. They laughed together, cried together, and they created family bonds of togetherness that might have proven thoroughly indestructible. I despised that blue screen! That was before Triptweeze helped me appreciate the longer view, and his observations have proven quite accurate.

Our statistics department has profiled the average patient in your locale and has determined certain common characteristics. The average patient household there possesses three to five television sets, making it completely unnecessary for families to watch together. What’s more, the statistics on viewer habits offer significant confirmation of my belief that we are winning. When televisions first gained wide acceptance, the sappy programming was almost enough to make this demon regurgitate yesterday’s soul-booty. This, too, has evolved exponentially. I can’t begin to list the numerous human followers of Our Father who have made it their unwitting mission to assist us in conquering the airwaves — for Him! They’re everywhere, day and night, spreading the news and nature of Bad.

I once told you “the safest road to Hell is the gradual one.”[1] Television is a model of exactly what I meant. Perversion, decadence and greed aren’t all that’s included in television programming, but there’s a little more of it every single day. We’ve managed to divert this medium away from Leave it to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet toward Jackass and Howard Stern. We’ve achieved our goal incrementally, one vice at a time.

So now, Nephew, be at your work studying your new patient, knowing the war is not yet won, but it is well within our hands. Yes, we are winning. Perhaps the next banquet we consume will be that most peerless event for the supreme devouring of souls. Using some words of another (and I admit, turning the phrase a bit), I long to take a little blood for my stomach’s sake. I crave it even now.

Screwtape


[1] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. San Francisco:  Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 1996, p. 61.

Fifty Shades of Screwtape: Missive 1

[The Screwtape Letters written by C. S. Lewis present the tale of a demon-tutor (named Screwtape) who serves Satan. Screwtape’s task is to instruct his student Wormwood in the ways of evil. See previous post for background material explaining the letter reproduced below, one of seven in a series of posts that follow.]

50ShadesScrewtape

Wormwood

I admit I had my doubts about you following your bungling performance on that long-ago assignment. The ways in which you completely mishandled that patient forced me to entertain scant optimism that you’d be of any further use to our Cause. Apart from your personal contribution to what I expected to be a singularly tasteless main dish for those of us who have proven our mettle in numerous battles with the Enemy, I could see little use for you and your myriad excuses!

Given your dismal efforts, the stew-pot is where you rightly belonged. My colleagues and I even prepared for your Devouring, but something made me change my mind. Don’t think of it as a merciful gesture — it was anything but that. My investment in your training convinced me you should have a second chance to make bad, really Bad, else all my labor would be for naught — a reality that was abhorrent and unacceptable to me.

Hence my suggestion that you be reassigned to another part of the cosmos where your unprofessional reputation might not so easily precede you. That infernal region of barbarians who populate the so-called Bible Belt (where do they get these obnoxious terms?) seemed the appropriate do-or-be-consumed challenge. If you could not deliver at least some souls to Our Father Below from this mile-wide, inch-deep Christian wasteland, you would give me no choice but to relinquish your destiny to pottage.

And you, Nephew — thanks in large part to my stroke of genius — have delivered your own redemption! (Dare I use that ignominious word?) Your superior performance amongst these backward bipeds confirms how grossly I may have underestimated your ability to adapt and modify the techniques for sowing perfidy and vice you learned under my tutelage. In fact, to demonstrate that you’ve regained my good will, I vow to never again mention the matter of your past humiliation.

I’m almost giddy when I remember the unbridled success with which you delivered your first human on that other continent into Our Father’s domain. It may have been the luck of the draw that he was your assignment, but your performance all along the way was nearly flawless. I won’t belabor the point by replaying the details of his life and your able assistance at each turn. But I must remark at your skill for seizing the upper hand when he agonized over joining the military. “It’s the patriotic thing to do,” you told him. “Those camel jockeys are begging for a fight.” So he joined, becoming an excellent marksman but (more importantly for our Cause) a disillusioned soldier. At that point, you had him in the palm of your hand, Nephew.

To me, it’s of minor consequence how many men he dispatched on the battlefield. It can’t compare to his crowning achievement (and yours) borne within a nondescript yellow truck. Such pain and grief! So many of the little vermin wiped from the earthen slate and captured into our World! With one impeccable stroke, your man freed a horde of our toilers for new assignments, earning you significant additional points, I might add. And so many of the Enemy’s hapless followers brought to the brink of despair and beyond. Knowing my own enjoyment of that moment, I can only imagine how delicious it was for you.

Still, you didn’t rest on your prickly laurels, and I credit you for remembering my warning about the Law of Undulation. Having done this marvelously wicked thing, your patient might have been easily lost to you. The peaks of unrestrained passion and power are all too often followed by the valleys of regret and remorse. And that despicable road to repentance (ah! it pains me to write the word) is within shouting distance once the pangs of conscience have set in.

So you, Nephew, hung in there, reminding your man of his own considerable grievance against the state. The Enemy’s faithful opposed you day and night, pleading, begging with your patient to seek forgiveness and to make some sort of tangible atonement for his actions. “Just tell us why you did it,” those worthless humans implored. “Say you’re sorry and we’ll forgive you.”

With demonic brilliance, you assisted your charge in withstanding their attacks. And I must say, you certainly deserved the premier place of dishonor at that banquet. While we gorged ourselves on what remained of your patient’s soul, the humans who had watched his final breath were pondering over his final words, anguishing at your man’s contempt. He had no need for their pity and he demonstrated it, choosing as his last words that exquisite manifesto Invictus. (It’s worth noting that Henley was an early patient of Dr. Slubgob. Perhaps you can now understand why Slubgob was quickly promoted to assume responsibility at the Training College.) If there is a better description of the unconquerable soul, I don’t know where you’d find it. “My head is bloody, but unbowed … I am the master of my fate … the captain of my soul.” Henley’s words are hideously beautiful, don’t you agree?

Nephew, you have outdone yourself. I’ve advised your immediate superior to release you temporarily from active duty. You’ve earned some unsupervised D&M (disaster and mayhem, in case you’ve forgotten Our Father’s dynamic reward system), and I’m confident you won’t disappoint us. Your next patient assignment will follow soon.

Screwtape

The Wilier Wiles of the Devil

With Fall in the air and Halloween approaching, everywhere we go the images of goblins and devils have become prominent − in stores, on billboards, you name it. Perhaps that’s what writer Jennifer Senior had in mind in her recent New York Magazine interview with Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.scalia

This Senior/Scalia conversation moves quickly from one topic to another, but the writing has a curious subtext (at least as I read it). Senior appears baffled that a man of Scalia’s brilliance still holds firmly to Christian beliefs, tenets many (including Senior apparently) consider antiquated.

The interview paints the portrait of a distinguished jurist (as one might expect) but also sheds light on the gentle, reflective soul whose affinity to Catholic doctrine is unapologetic. Halfway through the interview, Scalia implies an afterlife and Senior asks, “You believe in heaven and hell?” One can almost hear Senior’s horrified gasp!

More questions follow, but looming ever larger is that proverbial elephant in the room. Finally, Senior can no longer contain herself and asks, “Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?” Scalia’s answer delivers a much-deserved get-thee-behind-me-Satan rebuke. He notes that people more intelligent (than he and Senior) believe in the Devil. (Indeed, a September 2013 survey found 57% believe in the Devil!)

Realizing she’s offended him, Senior expresses regret but Scalia answers back with a question of his own:  “Have you read The Screwtape Letters?” Senior replies “Yes” and quickly pivots the interview to an inane question about pop culture, a line of questioning with which Senior must have felt less awkward.

For 21st century people, Scalia notes the Devil has become “wilier,” succeeding to convince people “not to believe in him or God.” So Scalia’s question is apt:  “Have you read The Screwtape Letters?”

Screwtape

In the summer of 2001, an announcement of the HarperCollins Publishers and beliefnet.com C. S. Lewis Essay Contest called for entries. The invitation summoned writers:  “Now it’s your turn to play devil’s advocate.” Using Lewis’ beguiling work The Screwtape Letters, writers were encouraged to envision − and write an essay describing − the techniques a 21st century Screwtape might employ when training Wormwood, his student of demonic instruction.

As someone who has always enjoyed Lewis’ creative vision via Screwtape, of course I decided to try my hand. I harbored no lofty ambition to surpass (or even match) the mastery of Lewis; I believed the essay might stretch my writing muscles and be a worthy learning exercise. (It was.) Certainly, I was hopeful (as always when entering a contest) to win the grand prize, a six-day trip for two to Oxford. When winners were announced, I was fifth (of 10) runners-up from a total of 250 entries.

My entry incorporated seven letters from a modern-day Screwtape to his demon-charge Wormwood. The contest entry deadline was July 1, 2001. Winners were to be announced on September 1, 2001, but notice was delayed until mid-November 2001. Think back. Is it overly dramatic to assert our pre-9/11 world bears faint resemblance to today? Considering my Screwtape in context, the wickedness he encourages seems tame by today’s post-9/11 standards.

The first of my seven letters refers somewhat obliquely to a “non-descript yellow truck.” Some may still remember the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was destroyed in 1995 when a rented Ryder truck became a lethal weapon to end the lives of 168. Though memories from that horrendous event had grown distant, the June 2001 execution of Timothy McVeigh returned his evil act to the front pages.

Over the next seven days, I’ll reproduce each of the seven letters exactly as they were written for the essay competition. Though I frequently find ample opportunities for fine-tuning my compositions, I prefer in this instance to present the letters as originally written. As always, I invite your comments and interaction.