Saturday 6 August 2016

Screwtape versus Wormwood - understanding the demonic strategy

One of the most important reasons for reading CS Lewis's The Screwtape Letters (and its 'follow-up', Screwtape Proposes a Toast) is to understand the difference between senior demons whose behaviour is strategic and oriented towards maximising the harvest of damned souls; and the low level minion types of demon - who are short-termist, impulsive, destructive theiving, lustful, sadistic etc. The value is that most people assume that demons work in the latter way - and thereby fundamental misunderstand and misinterpret the past six or so decades in The West.

A particular key moment in the Letters comes when the apprentice Wormwood gets excited at the prospect of war; but his 'uncle' Screwtape - the senior tempter and strategist - points out that while war is delightful in terms of human suffering, from a strategic demonic perspective war is often counter-productive, and 'peace' (comfort, convenience, idleness, affluence etc) is preferable.

When I told you not to fill your letters with rubbish about the war, I meant, of course, that I did not want to have your rather infantile rhapsodies about the death of men and the destruction of cities. In so far as the war really concerns the spiritual state of the patient, I naturally want full reports. And on this aspect you seem singularly obtuse. Thus you tell me with glee that there is reason to expect heavy air raids on the town where the creature lives.

This is a crying example of something I have complained about already - your readiness to forget the main point in your immediate enjoyment of human suffering. Do you not know that bombs kill men? Or do you not realise that the patient's death, at this moment, is precisely what we want to avoid?

[Note ' the patient' is what Screwtape calls the human that Wormwoord is trying to corrupt.]

He has escaped the worldly friends with whom you tried to entangle him; he has "fallen in love" with a very Christian woman and is temporarily immune from your attacks on his chastity; and the various methods of corrupting his spiritual life which we have been trying are so far unsuccessful. At the present moment, as the full impact of the war draws nearer and his worldly hopes take a proportionately lower place in his mind, full of his defence work, full of the girl, forced to attend to his neighbours more than he has ever done before and liking it more than he expected, "taken out of himself" as the humans say, and daily increasing in conscious dependence on the Enemy, he will almost certainly be lost to us if he is killed tonight.

[Note: The Enemy is what Screwtape calls God - since the perspective of the book is the inverted one of demons.]

This is so obvious that I am ashamed to write it. I sometimes wonder if you young fiends are not kept out on temptation-duty too long at a time - if you are not in some danger of becoming infected by the sentiments and values of the humans among whom you work. They, of course, do tend to regard death as the prime evil and survival as the greatest good. But that is because we have taught them to do so.

Do not let us be infected by our own propaganda. I know it seems strange that your chief aim at the moment should be the very same thing for which the patient's lover and his mother are praying - namely his bodily safety. But so it is; you should be guarding him like the apple of your eye. If he dies now, you lose him. If he survives the war, there is always hope.

This is vital to understand in our materialist Western world - although the junior apprentice demons may get 'carried away' with delight in human suffering; the demonic strategists have recognised that war, socio-economic collapse, epidemics, starvation and the like are counter-productive.

The infliction of mass extreme human suffering was thoroughly tried out in the early twentieth century with the Russian Revolution, Communism generally and the 1914-18 and 39-45 wars, and one major result was to trigger a massive spiritual-Christian revival - just as Screwtape warned.

Since 1945, a new demonic strategy has been in place (described in detail in '...Proposes a Toast'), Christianity has been in continual decline down to its current level of near-extinction; and the other remaining spiritual perspectives in modernity are either ineffectual, or else thoroughly assimilated to the demonic agenda - of lulling and gradualism: SDI = Subversion, Destruction and - ultimately - Inversion of The Good (Truth, Beauty, Virtue) and all positive values.


William Wildblood said...

I’d be interested to hear your perspective, Bruce, on why this is permitted (by God and those angelic beings who work on his behalf for the spiritual upliftment of humanity). Why are the devil and his crew given such leeway to corrupt humanity at the present time? Obviously they have always sought to do this but it does seem much worse over the last century or so, and getting worse by the year. Is this a time of sorting out the sheep from the goats and a great testing of humanity on an individual level so maximum temptation is allowed to test the heart and see in which direction it leans? Or has the devil perhaps got more power to corrupt now due to what is sometimes called the hardening of the environment (matter getting more material) as an age reaches its conclusion? Presumably God could remove all destructive temptation but does not because of free will. What do you think?

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I have tried twice to reply to this question but was not happy with either attempt. I need to think further with the aim of doing a post on the subject.

Luqman said...

The ideal situation for the demonic forces is a sustainable evil, but I believe that practically such states are not singularly sustainable in perpetuity. Wholesale inversion down to our very natures is not within their power. Nevertheless, in the absence of a centre they catch us both in the gradual normalized evil as well as in the inevitable reaction. The apparent short-termism in some contexts seems to me a part of a greater strategy as well. The demonic forces intend that we do evil in the misplaced zeal to correct apparent evil. Their human tools are periodically sacrificed for this purpose. The secular alt-right appears to me to be incubating a future evil of this kind, a hedging of bets by the demons. Reflection and repentance is the only way out. The secular rightists are capable of reflection, but deny repentance

First create a situation of minimally entropic evil. Let matters come to a boil until there is an explosive correction. While this can be the moment for the defeat of evil, without recognition of good/evil in the first place the correction becomes a severe trauma which stunts whatever goodness emerges for a future slow boil. I find Mr. Wildbloods essay on Truth vs. Love to be quite instructive in this regard. Right now, love without truth is the method. Soon it may become truth without love. The rush of suffering and sadism is probably eagerly awaited.

The situation reminds me of recent econommic boom and bust trends. I dont think this similarity is coincidental. In a broader context therefore evil could be sustainable as kind of sine wave. Demonic ping pong. Quite a dire and hopeless sounding picture, but the reality is that escape is immediately available at any point.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks Bruce. I hope it hasn't taken up too much of your time on a nice Saturday afternoon! But it's an intriguing thought to me and one which needs an answer I think when speaking to those who might lean towards acceptance of the ideas you express here but find them hard to accept. Why has the devil got the field so much to himself at the moment? Or seemingly so.

Seijio Arakawa said...

It's a hard question, so here's my inadequate guess.

I think it's generally agreed that you can't have some great opportunity without being willing to take some equally great risk. Of course, that does not mean we are making adequate use of that opportunity. What kinds of things are possible (for individuals, for society as a whole) which the conditions of prior ages, for all their virtues, did not allow? If people are imperiled, then the survivors of this age must have some trait which it is not possible for a more straightforward age to develop.

Of course, if we have clear sight of a unique opportunity, then the surpassing peril and degradation of the age is no longer the most important thing in the world. Noteworthy, indeed -- but not the main thing.

The alternative is the "Kali Yuga" narrative wherein things have to go to Hell sometime -- they may as well do so now -- so it's safest to assume they are doing so now. There is nothing to do but turtle down and wait for the Eagles to arrive. And yet: even during the time the Eagles had yet to arrive, the Fellowship could hardly be accused of turtling down.

David Balfour said...

This is exactly the question which preoccupies me also. I assume that since we are 'placed' individually in our own spiritual circumstances that heavenly father feels we 'can handle' modernity and a strategy of mass damnation is unlikely to succeed for unforseen reasons. Otherwise surely it would have been better that most westerners had not been born if they were almost certainly fated to end up in a state far worse than before they began this phase of mortal life? I am further inclined to assume that if BC can predict the nefarious strategy of evil supernatural forces and the sleep-walking, materialistic nihilism of modernity (lets face it, its not hard to predict where western civilisation is going *en masse* on its current trajectory without course correction) then God and his angels must be well ahead of the game in terms of individual and mass soul saving strategies to counter thd demonic ones?

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - The difficulty I am having in responding to your question may be related to the several assumptions embedded in it - for example, about our nature as Men and God's potential powers, and the purpose of mortal life.

If we accepts that these in The West are the most evil times in history - in the sense that more (numerically and proportionately) people would reject salvation than ever before, due to the prevalence of value-inversion; then the first thing that strikes me is exactly that Men Do Not Want to be saved from their current situation - indeed they want more of the same.

The situation resembles that of loving parents whose child has left home to live with an exploitative brainwashing cult to which she has become devoted. The parents know where she is, and could go and get her - but they also know that she would strongly resist being rescued (let's say she is devoted to the cult leader who abuses and enslaves her), and if rescued would be utterly miserable, and try to return to her captors.

The parents may write to her, may send all kinds of messages to assure their daughter of their continued love, but she will not read the messages.

God is in this situation with the added aspects that the cultists and their victims and the weeping parents are all equally his beloved children; and the children are able to deny God's existence and assume that they arise spontaneously and accidentally and have no responsibility to anybody else.

In such a situation God cannot do much more than stand ready to respond to individuals if and when he is acknowledged and asked. Or else the whole scenario can be wound-up - which is the end of this earth, and the trajectory of humanity in it arcing to a conclusion; the end of the 'experiment' of mortal life.

The prophecies are that - sooner or later - this point will be reached, and the earth and all the people on it will be ended (and a New Jerusalem arise) - and we are in the End Times, or Latter Days as it becomes clear that the point approaches and can only be delayed but not averted.

But why does God allow the demons to work? Well, the demons are his children too; and the demons are at one end of a continuum of goodness and evil in which everyone is mixed (in Mormon theology, Satan and demons are pre-mortal spirit children who have chosen the wrong side, and are forbidden to incarnate).

I think that God's tolerance of the continued existence of demons indicates that they canot be beyond hope of reform - across the vast timescale of eternity. God could not 'kill' demons, but they could be stripped of their powers or confined - perhaps this has happened to some of them (we would not know) but the ones we do experience presumably have not reached that point.

Why are the demons not sequestered from good people? If we consider the problem from a spiritual level - I think that demons are like vampires, and can only spiritually-harm those who 'invite them in' - so the demons remain present and active in human affairs because humanity has invited them to stay and continues to want them as guests.

The earth and mortal life are partly what we need, and partly what we make of them - a mixed picture. The reasons why bad things happen are therefore manyfold and must be understood in an individualised way and from an eternal perspective of soul.

I don't think (current) humans are cognitively capable of understanding why everything happens everywhere and to everyone and how it all interacts - but I do believe that we can learn by revelation why this particular thing has happened to us - here and now; IF we are open to accepting the true answer when God gives it, which may not be the answer we wanted to hear.

Samson J. said...

Did Clive Staples really write "immune from"? Oh my.

Anonymous said...

Samson J.,

It may be one of those funny things about living language, of which Lewis was keenly aware (see his 26 June 1956 letter to "Joan", for example): in any case, the 1929 ed. 2 of the COD has "immune [...] Having immunity (from, against, to, poison, contagion, etc.)".

Respecting other comments,

The last Screwtape letter suggests (to borrow and apply David Balfour's words) that indeed "God and his angels must be well ahead of the game in terms of individual and mass soul saving strategies to counter the demonic ones" - in terms of the fictional demonology of the story, it would be interesting to study in how far the Infernal correspondents are unaware of Divine and angelic activity much of the time, and how much they are self-deceptive about it (as in the letter finished for Screwtape because he is suffering a Divine imposition described in detail by Milton in Paradise Lost).

In the context of this discussion, I think it is worth encouraging people to (re)read Lewis's paper, "Religion without Dogma?", read in May 1946 and first published the following autumn (with an earlier version then published in 1948), well after the publication of The Screwtape Letters, The Abolition of Man, and all three finished 'Ransom' books. (The version usually reprinted was edited by Walter Hooper, drawing on both published texts, and Lewis's marginal emendations in a copy of the 1946 one.)

David Llewellyn Dodds