I started the last Letters installment (7 & 8) with a disclaimer, so I hate to start out here with another one. But, I need to - I probably should have included this in the last post. I just want to reiterate that The Screwtape Letters is not the Bible. It is not infallible or unquestionable. It is a fictional work written by a person (C.S. Lewis). So, when I write here about what the Letters 'say' to me, it's my take, my thoughts, my limited understanding --- but it is not, and never will be, the gospel truth (pun intended). Which is why I continually encourage your thoughts, comments, even arguments on my commentary. Ok, now let's have a look at the next Letters. And let me just start by saying that there's so much personal "OUCH" in these Letters, I may need to call a doctor.
Letter 9 Screwtape, again, uses the word "patient" to describe the young man under the watch of the demon-in-training. It has taken me a while to figure out the significance of the term (patient) as used in these Letters, and I think I finally have it. Our pastor, in last week's sermon, made reference to the "sickness of humanity", that we are born, pretty much, a mess. In our humanness, we are weak, lost, and spiritually "sick", hence our "patient-ness". Obviously, the demons get that probably more than we do, and take advantage of our 'infirmity' any chance they get.
On in the Letter, the young demon is reminded by his supervisor that humans are most susceptible to the influence and pullings of "sensual pleasures" when we are in a spiritual "trough" (a term used in the last letter, aka "valley"). Yes, we are also vulnerable to things like sex and alcohol when we are feeling great about ourselves too, yet this tends to be experienced on a more superficial level (not that this is good, but just different). But, when we are in a spiritual hole, we are seeking to fill a void in our soul with things that "feel good" -- a seriously dangerous place to be. And the demons take advantage of that - they call it "exploiting the trough" as they attempt to "get the man's soul and give him nothing in return".
Speaking of human pleasures, here's where it gets really interesting. Screwtape acknowledges that only God is the creator ("inventor") of "healthy", "normal" and "satisfying" pleasures (those that the devil is incapable of producing, btw). Hmmmm... so any human pleasures coming from anywhere besides God - and even those that are inherently from God but have been twisted and perverted (I think I just defined pop culture) - are destructive? Answer = yes, and apparently, the demons get a lot of mileage out of confusing and disordering the Godly human pleasures, to the point they are no longer "natural" or even pleasing to us. As the senior demon explains, their "formula" for our destruction is based on our "ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure".
Another way the demons "exploit the trough" is to capitalize on our thinking that a dry spiritual period in life will last forever, that the funk we are in is a "permanent condition". Which takes us in one of two directions: Despondent and isolated in these thoughts, convincing ourselves we must get out of this spiritual crater solely on the strength of our own will. (Everybody loves a good "I pulled myself up by my own boot straps" story, I know, but nobody ever really accomplishes that. Not really). Or, we just make ourselves comfortable with mediocrity and "moderation" in our spiritual state, content to consider the trough - or, perhaps, even our entire Christianity - "just a phase".
Here, Screwtape takes on our social life and how it is a reflection of our spiritual condition. He explains, and I can't argue, that we often tend to lead a double ("parallel") life when it comes to our social relationships. We 'act Christian' when we're with other Believers, but can hang equally well in the company of our friends who are "rich, smart, superficially intelligent, and brightly skeptical about everything in the world" (including about God). Yes, we shift 'who we are' based on 'who we're with'. Now, we're not talking morphing from leading the prayer circle to robbing banks. It's way more subtle (and more dangerous) than that. As Screwtape says, it's about "be(ing) silent when (we) ought to speak and laugh(ing) when (we) ought to be silent". Lewis characterizes this flip-flopping as "betrayal", and it is. And we do it all the time - all in the name of being "hip and cool", "enlightened", "worldly", "open", "tolerant" (watch it, Abby). Then, you know what happens? According to Lewis, we begin to "assume...all sorts of cynical and skeptical attitudes which are not really ours" and, eventually, we "turn into the thing we are pretending to be". Uh oh.
So, with this knowledge of our propensity for parallel living, the demons seek to distract us as long as possible from calling our mad 'social skills' what they really are - 'temptation skills'. This Letter concludes with Screwtape taking a jab at the modern Church for wimping out on teaching about and against temptation because to do so is just too "puritanical" (evangelical?). Did I just hear a collective "ouch"?
Ok, so let's wrap this up with a few Notes (more like Questions) to Self:
What are my pleasures, and are they from God?
Do I currently have any troughs that could be exploited by the Enemy?
Am I assuming or pretending, in some (any) circles, to be something that I"m not?
Am I becoming (or have I already become) whatever I've been pretending to be?
And, lastly, what am I going to do about it?
Final thought: When I think about wishy-washy Christianity, this scripture always comes to mind:
Revelation 3:1616 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. (Holman Christian Standard Bible, HCSB) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Revelation+3%3A16&version=HCSB