"You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one-the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."
— C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
I've just recently re-read C.S. Lewis' excellent Screwtape Letters - a "correspondence" between two demons regarding a man's soul the junior "tempter" Wormwood is tasked with obtaining. Screwtape, the senior demon and Wormwood's uncle, helps Wormwood navigate his "Patient" through all manner of temptation and sin -from pride, lust, sloth, and so on. The above quote has always chilled me somewhat; Screwtape is explaining to his nephew not to attempt to extract "spectacular" sins and evil from his patient. "Cards" may not be flashy, but eventually the mundane will get the job done. Indeed, going too overboard may alert the patient to the tempter's presence.
Wormwood eventually lost his charge to the Enemy (God)...turns out it wasn't even close. Screwtape assures his nephew that he will receive the fate the patient was to endure.
Screwtape seems to embody the idea that the greatest trick that the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he does not exist. While Wormwood longs for catastrophic evil, Screwtape prefers subtle cunning, distraction and confusion...keeping our eyes off the prize JUST long enough to lose it. Screwtape's method chills me far more than hiss nephew's. What comforts me at the end of the book is Screwtape's consternation of not knowing what "the Enemy" is doing:
"If we could only find out what He is really up to...I am almost in despair. All that sustains me is the conviction that our Realism, our rejection of all silly nonsense and claptrap MUST win in the end!"
Here's to silly nonsense and claptrap.
Seriously, regardless of your faith, The Screwtape Letters is a quick, intelligent, and at times hilarious read. For those of the Christian persuasion, this tome will make you think, perhaps re-think your ideas on the nature of Hell and evil, particularly apt as we approach the penitential season of Lent.
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