Two of my favorite Christian books are CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and Randy Alcorn’s Lord Foulgrin’s Letters. The Lewis book is a classic masterpiece of religious satire that portrays human life and foibles from the perspective of Screwtape, a highly placed assistant to “Our Father Below,” aka the devil himself, and his nephew and understudy, Wormwood. The book is hilarious but also very instructive in its depiction of the devil working in subtle ways to tempt humans and distract them from God, who Screwtape refers to as “the enemy.” This “devilish” indirect approach is far more useful than a blatant, head-on show of force in diverting folks from the path of righteousness. If you are a Christian and at all serious about your faith you have certainly noticed this to be true.
My other favorite book of this genre is the Alcorn book. This book is essentially a brilliant sequel and repackaging of Screwtape for modern readers. Like Screwtape, which Alcorn admittedly patterned on Lewis’ book, it deals with deep issues and provides important insights into life that are easily missed. And, it has an engaging plot that displays the clear and very biblical reality of a spiritual realm and warfare just outside of our senses. While Alcorn’s premise is the same as Lewis’ the format is different. Lewis presented his story of his human subject only through the content of the Screwtape letters. Alcorn’s format uses a series of brief chapters in the life of the main character, Jordan Fletcher, each followed by a letter or two from Lord Foulgrin, primarily to his disciple, Squailtaint, setting forth attack strategies, observations and critiques.
Like Lewis, Alcorn recounts how the seemingly “small” sins are the ones that can get us in the most trouble. Few of us will commit murder, but our pride, resentments, lies, and so forth, can rob us of our effectiveness for the Lord, and do injustice to the reputation of the One we should be glorifying through our actions.
So, what is this leading up to? Well, I just ran across a brief article by Regis Nicoll which reminds me of Screwtape and Foulgrin. Mr. Nicoll is a retired nuclear engineer and a fellow of the Colson Center who writes commentary on faith and culture. The article appeared at: Crisis Magazine as: The Making of an Apostate. It also appeared at: Crosswalk.com. I believe you’ll like it. RMF
The Making of an Apostate
Interesting, how humans can go through life without giving much serious thought to their faith. Oh yes, they may believe in a supreme Being and an afterlife. They may be members of a church, even leaders or clergy. They may have mouthed their allegiance to our Adversary. But beyond the sanctuary walls, they live as if he and his teachings are largely irrelevant. You have your demonic forebears to thank for this.
After generations assailing their spiritual yearnings, we learned that allowing them a small space for religion is better than allowing no space at all. Surprised?
I know it sounds strange, but the more adamantly they reject religion, the more it occupies their thoughts and conversations. In fact, a hardened atheist is apt to spend more of his mental energies pondering “God” and religion than the most ardent believer.
Remember Siggy Freud, how he was obsessed with the question of “God” till the end of his life. It was even the subject of his last book. Today, dear Dickie Dawkins is following suit. His chart-busting book, The God Delusion, marks the apogee of a career built around the question. It is a cruel irony that the more they insist the matter settled, the more their thoughts are haunted with it, and their lives are directed by it.
That’s because the Enemy has stacked the deck. He fashioned them to run optimally when they are filled with him. If they try to run on anything less, sooner or later, they will experience an itch they can’t scratch, an unease that won’t subside, or … an irrepressible need to rant about a Being that does not exist (funny, how the irrationality of that rarely occurs to them!).
It is the natural consequence of maintaining the swirl of contradictions that their unbelief imposes upon them—like the insistence of universal human rights in a universe bereft of a rights-Giver. For the tortured soul who values intellectual integrity, keeping the throng of conflicting notions spinning in mid-air requires constant effort that, for some, just becomes too much.
Oh, how many we have lost in their twilight years! Who could have imagined that the most celebrated atheist of his time, Tony Flew, would have abandoned a lifetime of disbelief? I fear the same fate awaits our dear Dickie.
Yet those who religiously attend their God in the church hour can, with scant coaxing from us, leave him there. You see, Swillpit, religion is like a vaccine: a little dose can inoculate a patient from its totalizing effects. A trifling measure is all it takes to dull their spiritual senses, making God’s whisperings fade in the cacophony of voices in the world outside.
Content that their spiritual house is in order, they easily drift into lifestyles, and even attitudes, that are practicably indistinguishable from their unbelieving neighbors. And as their neighbors look on, they are left to conclude that a faith that makes no difference in lives of the faithful is one that has no moral authority.
There, my boy, is our silver lining: For should we, hell forbid, lose the immunized believer to his Maker, he has made the job of winning others much the easier for us. Indeed, his kind has done as much (maybe more) to fill our banquet hall as Nietzsche, Freud, or Dawkins. If it weren’t for him, I fear we would be in a famine down here.
As I hope you recall from Tempters Training, we can’t eradicate their transcendent longing, but we can divert their attentions to other objects, like Reason, Nature, or Progress. However, over the course of human history, it has proven to be much more useful and easily accomplished to allow them short rein in their devotion to God. The key is to work with, rather than against, their natural leanings.
One of our top Tempters put it this way: “It’s like the two strategies in pitching baseball: In the first, you get the batter to think your going to throw one kind of pitch, and throw something else. For instance, if he’s looking for a fastball, you throw a change-up. In the second, you find out what kind of pitch the batter likes, and throw it ‘almost there.’ If he likes it low, you pitch it a little too low. If he likes it inside, you pitch it a little too inside. That’s what I do with my playthings—pitch it ‘almost there.’”
Here’s how it works, Swillpit: If they’re looking for love, pitch them lust; if security, pitch self-sufficiency; if grace, indulgence; if rest, sloth. Because of their carnal inclinations, they can be quite easily duped, even willingly so, by these pitches. But far and away, your best pitch is religiosity—religion, reduced to its most superficial and least demanding elements.
Much to our delight, a little religiosity goes a long way. Just an hour a week sprinkled with familiar hymns, perfunctory prayers, and anecdotal preaching is enough to immunize all but the most difficult cases against his promptings for the rest of the week.
Fortunately for you, your man is already in the immunized state. So don’t begrudge his devotional time. Patiently indulge him his hour; then he’s yours, a plaything to immerse in the values we have smuggled into the world.
This will be more challenging now that he has been struck by tragedy. His sister’s painful and untimely death will certainly push his faith, front and center. As long as evil remained a theological concept or something experienced by others, he was content with standard Sunday school answers. Now that Evil has visited his doorstep, he is finding little comfort there.
Although upward thoughts are sure to consume his energies over the next days and weeks, you have a prime opportunity to tip the scales decisively in our favor. Just stay attentive to his moods, and ply your skills according to his vulnerabilities, and you can guide him down a path of thought that progresses from questions to doubts to apostasy.
Have you noticed whether he has begun raising his voice to his Maker: “How could you let this happen? What purpose could this serve? She was so young, with a full life before her. Oh, how we loved her! Where are you when it hurts?”
If not—he will, trust me, he will.
When disasters hit home their thoughts go instinctively to “Why me?”, “Why this?”, “Why now?”, “WHY?” It is a natural crossroads of faith: will they trust God and his promises or their eyes and their circumstances? That’s when we step up sowing doubt into their tortured thinking.
The fact that this fellow had been praying, day and night, for his sister’s healing should make your task all the easier. For the first time in his life he is open to a line of questioning that never troubled him before: “Is God uncaring, negligent or malevolent, or are some problems just too big for him? Can I, should I, submit to a Deity that cannot or will not control a world gone wrong? Maybe he’s just a myth.”
Help him see his loss as part of a pattern of Divine indifference. Draw his attention to the mind-numbing devastation of natural disasters—earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes. But be careful to steer him clear of the truth that, without the phenomena of plate tectonics, his planet would be covered in water, uninhabitable, save for aquatic life.
But a word of caution: Even the commanding leverage we enjoy in cases like this does not ensure our victory. Need I remind you about Job? There was a wretch that experienced the full blast of hellish attention. Yet, bewilderingly, the crushing losses he sustained, and despite the urging of his wife, he refused to turn his back on the Adversary. We’re still trying to figure out what went wrong.
All we know, from centuries and centuries of field experience, is that no amount of personal misfortune guarantees our success. But if we remain vigilant, seeking and creating opportunities to work our wiles, our chances are significantly improved.
So stay at the shoulder of your charge. Occupy his thoughts with questions having no satisfying answers this side of the grave. Convince him that he is owed an explanation, and should demand one. Then, when he lifts his fist to heaven, you can relish the sound of his grinding teeth as he endures the prolonged silence.
That, Swillpit, is one of the sweetest sounds you can enjoy as a Tempter.