My budding student RotRing,
You may be wondering how I am still employed in the field of educating young tempters after that dismal failure Wormwood. It is with some relish that I can report that the failures of a nephew are not visited upon the uncle. At least not too harshly. You may further find yourself thinking that you are in the very unfortunate position of having someone like myself as your guide, as you seek to become more proficient at keeping patients away from our Enemy. Just remember that the student does not surpass his teacher and that the gap between you and myself is quite vast. I have, as I am sure you have heard, enjoyed a fair bit of success in the realm of tempting. You’ll have plenty of room to learn and grow.
Now RotRing, I note from your latest report that you are wondering about some advice I gave some time ago, to that dreadful nephew of mine, regarding the use of science. At that time I wrote that tempters should ‘not attempt to use science as a defence against Christianity’ as it would ‘encourage patients to think about realities they can’t touch and see’. Each age has a distinctive set of characteristics -as you, I am sure, remember from your studies – and we must be mindful of them so that we can better craft strategies for dealing with your patient.
In this age, in which your patient is living, there is a great deal of thinking about science. This could have been a disaster for us, but without much effort on our part things have managed to turn in our favor on this matter. When I gave Wormwood the advice about science, I also reminded him that they ‘find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes’. This is still true. Science has now made many ‘unfamiliar’ things far more ‘familiar’ to your patient. Continue reading
In letter #3 of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, we find our chief tempter Screwtape contrasting his view of what is expected of someone who has converted to Christianity with the patient assigned to his nephew Wormwood.
The patient is presented as someone who ‘thinks his conversion is something inside him’, resulting in a life of self-examination and a focus that is directed inward. Wormwood is told to encourage this.
Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious.
What are the ‘elementary duties’ that should be obvious to us? It is our living out the Christian faith. The demons have a view of Christianity that is the antithesis of the patient. They expect a conversion to result in external and outward changes. Their goal is to thwart ‘God’s inner working in us’ that is intended to bring ‘more and more of [our] conduct’ in alignment with His standards.
The goal of the demons then is to use whatever they can to distract us away from actually living out our faith. Continue reading
As we read the letters written to Wormwood, we find Screwtape amazed at how little his nephew knows about tempting. Particularly shocking is an ignorance of the law of undulation and how best to make use of it when attempting to discourage people and encourage them to sin.
The only constant is change. And change is the principle that lies behind the law of undulation.
[people’s] bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation – the repeated return to a level from which repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.
The word undulation describes a wave-like motion. When this idea is applied to people, as it is by Screwtape, it explains the following phenomenon.
to be in time means to chang
If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life – his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty.
Wormwood is reminded that people can be as ignorant of this principle as he is, therefore one of his primary goals is to never let his patient “suspect the law of undulation”.
The challenge for the tempters is, working against this natural flow, to lead a person into thinking that permanence is the normal state of things. Once this is accomplished it works to their advantage in many ways. Continue reading