A Lost Screwtape Letter (Dated in December)

More By Justin Wainscott

NOTE: I am not at liberty to say how the correspondence below fell into my hands, but it appears to be a lost letter written by that experienced devil, Screwtape, to his novice nephew, Wormwood, who is still learning the diabolical tricks of being a demon. It was dated in December (but the year is unknown).

My dear Wormwood,

I received your latest letter in which you expressed a number of fears over your patient’s celebration of those seasons of the year that Christians call Advent and Christmas (and to which Our Father Below only refers to, usually in disgust, as The Invasion). I must admit, Wormwood, I could not help but laugh at how fearful you seemed at this prospect. Not that these particular seasons shouldn’t strike fear in every young fiend like yourself when rightly understood, but therein lies our advantage when it comes to so many Christians. There is much they misunderstand or never consider at all. Devil forbid they ever grasp the real implications of these seasons.

So since you asked how best to handle this current (and I believe you called it dreaded), situation, let me offer three heinous suggestions that even those in Hell’s High Command would not question. If you can succeed in the first two, the third may not even be necessary. But if worst comes to worst, the third suggestion is always at your disposal, and it is effective, because it gives your patient the illusion he’s celebrating these seasons when in fact you’re helping him miss the point.

First, try keeping the patient sufficiently distracted. This is important, Wormwood, because the Enemy wants him to ponder and meditate on that awful truth (I shudder even to write it), the incarnation. You must do all you can to prevent this from happening—and distraction is one of your deadliest weapons during these seasons. I know you’ve failed miserably in similar efforts in the past (and have paid dearly for it), but there are so many potential means for distraction during this one month that even you should find this task easy. So, keep him overly committed to all sorts of things (yes, even good things). Make sure he goes to every party and feels obligated to go out and purchase a gift for each one. Make sure he attends concerts and dinners and charity events. If his calendar isn’t full, you’ve failed. Exhaust him. Tire him out in any way you can. Keep him going and doing, and if that doesn’t work, distract him with entertainment and other mindless tricks. Just don’t give him time and space to consider what these seasons are actually meant to celebrate.

If that doesn’t work for you, then try keeping his celebrations merely sentimental. It’s no use trying to keep him from celebrating these seasons entirely (that simply will not work . . . just ask Scabtree), but if you can make them nothing more than sentimental and nostalgic, then you will have prevented him from reflecting on the real meaning of the Enemy’s actions. So, by all means, let him sing and be merry. Hell knows we have made good use of those kinds of things just as much as we have misery and gloom. But make sure he only sings and reflects on things like sleigh rides and silver bells and snowfall and decorations and family gatherings—things every one of his fellow creatures can sing about and celebrate (and if you can make him shed a sentimental tear while he sings about them, even better). Those kinds of songs are quite harmless in the eyes of Hell. What he must be kept from singing, however, are all those carols that make Hell tremble because they are filled with truths we can’t deny—truths about who the Enemy is and what he has done to triumph over Our Father Below. When your patient’s celebration begins to include such songs or reflection on such themes, you are in real and serious danger.

Even so, you are not without one last method of attack. If all else fails, try keeping the Enemy’s story (what we call The Bad News) limited to the invasion. It is bad enough that your patient thinks on this at all, but realize it could be worse. So if you foolishly allow him to focus his attention on the invasion, then at least be sure to let the story go no farther in his mind. All those bipeds the Enemy has created seem to love babies, so make him think The Bad News is nothing more than a story about a baby, something cute and sweet but not serious and significant. Find a way to keep the story in Bethlehem (you can even let him keep his manger scenes with all the animals present). Just let it go no farther. Make sure he keeps thinking of the Enemy only as a child. Don’t let him think about the Enemy as a man or what he did to some of our fiendish friends or how he humiliated all of Hell when he rose again. You can cede the manger in your patient’s thinking, so long as you divorce it from the cross and the empty tomb. But once he begins to recognize there’s more to the story of The Bad News than just the invasion (especially if he thinks about The Great Defeat), then he will turn in gratitude to the Enemy. And I sincerely hope, for your sake especially, this does not happen.

Your affectionate uncle,