Dear Parish Faithful,
I would like to continue with a few more passages from C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. If you recall, Screwtape is advising a younger, inexperienced demon on how to subvert the newfound faith of a young Englishman (called "the patient" by Screwtape). The deeper purpose is to destroy the soul of this young man so that he will be condemned to an eternal existence with "Our Father Below." One of the opening letters reveals some general strategies on how to distract a new churchgoer with the flaws and unappealing habits of his fellow-worshippers. This will keep his mind away from "the one thing needful:"
",,, When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want him to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like 'the body of Christ' and the actual faces in the next pew. ... Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous.
Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His 'free' lovers and servants - 'sons' is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals. He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them. He leaves them to 'do it on their own.' And there lies the opportunity. But also, remember, there lies our danger. If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.
I have been writing hitherto on the assumption that the people in the next pew afford no rational ground for disappointment. Of course if they do - if the patient knows that the woman with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge-player or the man with the squeaky boots a miser and an extortioner - then your task is so much the easier. All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question 'If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?' You may ask whether it is possible to keep such obvious thoughts from occurring even to a human mind. It is, Wormwood, it is! Handle him properly and it simply won't come into his head. He has not been anything like long enough with the Enemy to have any real humility yet. What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favorable credit-balance in the Enemy's ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these 'smug,' commonplace neighbours at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can."
Your affectionate uncle
Does anything sound familiar? St. Paul assures us that if we know the mind of Satan, we can combat him effectively.