Thursday, April 14, 2016

Screwtape on the US Election

My Dear Wormwood,

I had not forgotten my promise to consider whether we should make the patient a nationalistic patriot or a democratic socialist. All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them yet faster asleep. Other ages, of which the present is one, are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them.

If your patient can be induced to become a socialist, he will automatically find himself one of a small, vocal, organised, unpopular society, and the effects of this, on one so new to Christianity, will almost certainly be good. But only almost certainly. Has he had serious doubts about economic inequality before the recent recession began? Is he a man of great generosity - so great that he will have no half-conscious misgivings about the real motives of his socialism? Can he, when nearest to honesty (no human is ever very near), feel fully convinced that he is motivated wholly by the desire to obey the Enemy? If he is that sort of man, his socialism will probably not do us much good, and the Enemy will probably protect him from the usual consequences of belonging to a sect. Your best plan, in that case, would be to attempt a sudden, confused, emotional crisis from which he might emerge as an uneasy convert to patriotism. Such things can often be managed. But if he is the man I take him to be, try socialism.

Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Socialism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the "cause", in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of strong national defenses or of economic equality. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which earthly affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, blogs, policies, movements, causes, and candidates matter more to him than prayers and worship and kindness, he is ours - and the more "religious" (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here,

Your affectionate uncle,



  1. Hi Keith, Dave here.
    You of course know that Lewis has also stated that it would be better to be ruled by robber barons whose cupidity may at times be sated than by omnipotent moral busybodies who torment us without end because they do for our own good.
    So is it Screwtape endorsing the Omnipotent Moral Busybody, or Lewis endorsing the Robber Baron?
    Grace and Peace as always, my friend

  2. My dear Dave,

    I have no idea what possessed that idiotic Wormwood to post publicly what is quite obviously a private correspondence, or if he was going to do so, why he would post it in such an odious, obscure corner of the internet. However, since it has attracted some small amount of attention, I may as well answer questions.

    The only (allegedly) Omnipotent Moral Busybody of whom I am aware is the Enemy, who simply will not leave you miserable human vermin to your own devices, and to the tender ministrations of Our Father Below. He (the Enemy) seems intent on trying to focus the attention of His followers on eternal matters, rather than the much more practical and relevant circumstances surrounding your temporal lives. Not that He's had much success. Our Intelligence Network has deceived most of you into believing that the organizations you call governments and the illusions you call "Freedom" and "Equality" are the most important things in your petty little world.

    Of course, if you were capable of taking a truly spiritual viewpoint, you would recognize that empires rise and fall, but human beings are eternal, and most of that eternal existence will be based not on the amounts of Freedom or Equality that you think you have amassed for yourselves, but rather the use you have made of these things for eternal purposes. Fortunately, by the time most of you figure this out, you are on your way to being a delectable addition to Our Father's banquet table.

    Ravenously yours,


  3. Nice little blog you have here, Keith - you should write more often.

    As I read this post, I wonder what you think about the parable of the talents? Specifically, the master gives to each servant according to his abilities, which as you may know, is about as diametrically opposite the teachings of Karl Marx as you can get. Upon the master's return, the wicked servant blames the master for his poor performance - once again, a hallmark of Marxist/ socialist doctrine.

    Although dismantling Marxism is like shooting fish in a barrel philosophically speaking, it is not so clear where to begin with nationalism/ patriotism. Whereas Marxism/ socialism is utterly indefensible from a Christian perspective, nationalism/ patriotism has its uses, as the Bible teaches (e.g. the nation of Israel). The US and the Constitution are not perfect, as those who wrote it have acknowledged, but it is still the best earthly system of government ever written, and laid the groundwork for Christianity to thrive in America. I think that's worth defending. Our (USA) democracy doesn't guarantee freedom, whether it be spiritual or earthly, only give it a chance to survive. Maybe we should keep a wary eye on nationalism/ patriotism, but in the end, Marxism/ socialism must be defeated?

    1. Thanks for the kind words regarding my blog. There are reasons for my lack of writing in recent months, some strictly personal, some related to some responses I've gotten. I'm hoping to get unstuck at some point.

      If you are familiar with the original Screwtape Letters, you may recognize that this one is adapted from one in which Lewis deals with patriotism and pacifism (in the context of World War 2). Lewis himself had strong opinions between these two options--he wrote against pacifism--but he nonetheless recognized the spiritual danger that extremes of any kind can pose, even those in pursuit of something good.

      What I was adapting this particular Screwtape Letter to, of course, were the primary candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. I am not sure that Sanders was a full-fledged Marxist, and I am really hoping that the rhetoric of Trump and some of his supporters was overblown, but either way, it wasn't really my point. The crucial line in the essay, in my opinion, is this one: "Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing."

      As for parables, their interpretation can be tricky. The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard could reasonably be construed in the opposite direction of how you have taken the Parable of the Talents. In general, we need to look for the main point that Jesus was expressing and not try to read too much into the details. I don't think Jesus was actually that concerned about what people should wear to wedding banquets, for example (Matt. 22:11-13).

  4. Yes, I have read the Screwtape Letters, but it has been a while, and I understand your point (and Lewis' point) about doing good for the sake of doing good, rather than as for Christ. I believe, though, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, that there are some things that demand responsible Christians to take responsible actions to oppose evil (Ethics). I suppose the question ought to be whether communism/ Marxism/ socialism and its various manifestations in popular culture rise to a level of evil that demands a response (as it should also be when nationalism goes wrong)?

    Re: the parable of the laborers in the vineyard... Are you saying a Marxist/ socialist might look favorably on it, as opposed to the parable of the talents? Parables are funny things, so I suppose it could be, though I don't see how at the moment. I've noticed how people tend to see what they want in them, and I am quite sure that I do the same. However, I don't think Christ intended his parables to have multiple meanings, especially if those meanings are opposite each other. I feel much better when Christians can agree about the meanings of parables, rather than letting each decide his own meaning.

    I have always understood the parable of the laborers in the vineyard quite differently. Laborers were hired later in the day at the same wage because they agreed to be paid by the job, not hourly, which is a common practice for some kinds of jobs to this day. The first-hired laborers complain about fairness and request hourly pay, but the master has to remind them that he is only paying what they agreed to in the first place, and asks why they begrudge him to do with his money as he pleases, especially since he is doing good for those hired late. In other words, it is the laborers who are exhibiting classic Marxist/ socialist/ labor union behavior by complaining about fairness and equity. I could be wrong, as I said - maybe I'm seeing only what I am looking for?

    1. I don't think either of the parables has anything to do with human economics at all. I think they're both about how the Father will reward those who trust in him.

      That being said, my suggestion about the parable of the laborers was that it could be construed to support socialism (everyone gets the same, regardless of how long they've worked) just as the parable of the talents could be construed to support capitalism (to each according to his abilities). But that is to filter Jesus' parables from economic issues arising at least 17 centuries later onto Jesus' words. Better to look for the main point, which is clearly about rewards to believers.

      We all have a tendency to see what we're looking for in the scriptures. I myself have had to drop a few favorite interpretations when I became convinced that they were not well supported by context and proper exegesis.


  5. Depends on what you mean by "economics", I suppose... modern economics is essentially a behavioral science, whose core principles arose from observations of human nature, mostly with regards to value, rewards, incentives, and coordination. To the extent that Jesus' parables are about those thing, then we could say that they are about economics. As usual, Jesus is centuries ahead of his time. BTW, the word "economics" is derived from the Greek word "oikonomia", which is loosely translated "household law". Grace, and peace, and a Happy New Year to you.