Personal Holiness: Screwtape’s Lost Letter

With apologies to C.S. Lewis.

My dear Wormwood,

I told you in my last correspondence that I would advise you in this one on how to use personal holiness to distract your patient from following the son of our Enemy.

Regarding scripture, remember that it is the power of our Enemy unto salvation and to the power of Our Father Below unto damnation. The important thing to remember, my dear Wormwood, is to keep the patient reading the book and prevent him from following the parts of it that we abhor. If he sees a homeless man on the street, prick his conscience with a reminder that he should be at home studying his Bible.

You need not fear scripture, my dear nephew. One of our number, one Sicklebreath, has got an entire church that he has fed on nothing but hatred and Holy Writ. The key is to direct the patient to the correct passages and feed him a steady diet of sermons that will create for him an interpretive principle quite beneficial to our side. Recall, Wormwood, that the foolish humans will celebrate any sin as long as they imagine they may attach the word “righteous” to it – even “righteous hatred.”

As for prayer, you need hardly fear that either. Keep him on his knees; let him think himself holy for praying for his friends and family and never allow him to once think to pray for his enemies, save for their destruction – though it is better to cause him to forget his enemies when he prays, lest he realize his hypocrisy. Keep his prayer self-centered.

It is useful, too, to keep the patient centered around himself in general – and to cause him to imagine himself centered ’round our Enemy. Turn his eyes ever inward. I have kept some patients so busy “thinking right thoughts,” praying, reading spiritual books, and reading scripture that they have hardly had a moment to think of anyone but themselves for decades! The tactic of our horrid Enemy is to open their eyes to the others around them, but we can often keep them so occupied that they will never have a moment to think of the fate of anyone around them but themselves – or if they do see others, let them see the others as “the lost” in need of salvation – or better, “the world.” Keep them “too heavenly-minded to be any earthly good.”

I had a patient once who spent ten years wondering if he had prayed a prayer for salvation from us appropriately. Every time his mind wandered to justice or mercy or any other such abominable thing, I simply whispered in his ear that perhaps he might be going to Hell. When he finally had a “life-changing experience that he could never doubt,” I changed my tact: the person he was considering helping might be going to hell. “Why re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic?”

Indeed, the rationalization provided by that one incident has caused much delight on the part of Our Father Below. Alas, this patient of mine had children and began to focus on this life, and one of those children was a daughter who was attracted to women. Awful stuff, that love a parent has for its offspring, and it broke down a spiritual formation on which I’d spent decades. I had him believing himself to be a perfectly kind and loving person, but could cause an explosion of rage merely by suggesting the word “gay” or “lesbian.” But it was all for naught.

To the humans, Sin is often an obstacle, but what they perceive as sin is often harmless except for the excellent opportunity it provides us, particularly when combined with narcissism. If the patient is thinking of helping another of those awful humans, remind him that he is too sinful to be of any use. If the other turns out to claim to follow the Enemy but differs on some insignificant point, magnify it and say that the other is too sinful to help, and is probably going to Hell.

Along those lines, remind the patient to avoid “the world” at all costs. So long as those humans avoid contact and regular interaction with those different from themselves, they will be able to easily vilify them and hate them, which makes our mission of deception far simpler. Fear is a powerful motivator, my dear Wormwood. Have them spend their time with the “godly,” so long as their form of godliness is to simply read their Bibles and pray more than others. Even the occasional fasting rarely does us any harm, but be cautious of that. Self-denial has sometimes led to an opening of the eyes to the world around them.

Ensure that he remains in his own little clan where you have cleverly planted him, where he cannot see examples of godliness like patience and kindness and justice and service to the poor that are so well-pleasing to our Enemy and so abominable to Our Father Below.

Whenever he is tempted to give to the poor, remind him that the poor would waste it. Flip his Bible open to the passage that says that if a man will not work, he should not eat, and then direct his mind to some news story he has seen about laziness being the reason for poverty. I once redirected a patient who was about to give a homeless man a few dollars by sending by one of my more entrenched patients. All he needed to do was comment on the laziness of the man, and the thought was planted and done.

You need not fear personal holiness, my dear Wormwood. On the contrary, it is one of our greatest tools. If there is any truth to the tales told by the Son of our Enemy, Personal Holiness may easily prevent our patients from following his commands and send them straight to Our Father Below.

Affectionately yours,

Screwtape

David M Schell About David M Schell
I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.

Author: David M Schell

I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.

2 thoughts on “Personal Holiness: Screwtape’s Lost Letter”

  1. Brilliant. You’ve done an excellent job. Letters is one of my all-time favorites. I can’t speak for Lewis, but as a fan, I think you maintained the tone and malevolent craftiness of Screwtape. I’m sharing this!

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