Monday

March 27th, 2017

Insight

Letter from below

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Feb. 18, 2015

     Letter from below

My dear Wormwood,

These days I scarcely know where to turn next in the public prints, there's such an abundance of cheery news from the upper regions. Clearly you have things well in hand up there. War and the threat of war, aggression everywhere and suffering galore to go with it. Diplomats holding endless meetings that amount to a green light for more invasions and ever more power for those out to squelch freedom in the world. Congratulations and keep up the good work.

...

It may be only a matter of time before our devilish friends in Teheran get their own nuke, and won't that be even more fun?

Aggression hasn't paid off so well or had so many enablers since Neville Chamberlain, and there's scarcely, if you'll forgive me for mentioning his name, a Winston Churchill in sight. Names and appearances may change but appeasement never seems to, and neither does its inevitable failure to avert disaster.

There may be a new cast in the same old roles, but the script remains essentially unchanged. The familiar historical pageant is being replayed everywhere up there from Ukraine to Syria, which more and more come to resemble the fiery scenes down here. Can't you detect the sweet smell of sulfur even from up there? It's perfume to those of us down here below.

I can't tell you how happy the little imps and junior demons are. We haven't had so much to celebrate since Peace in Our Time -- that is, war and catastrophe in our time -- was all the rage. It may be called something else of late -- co-existence, detente, reset ... but it seems to be having the same welcome results. Nothing promotes our cause like appeasing evil.

Even the Prince of Darkness, I've heard at court, is pleased with our progress. And I'm most pleased with you, dear nephew. You're really coming along, and I hope to put you in for Demon First Class as soon as I hear of an opening on the promotions list. You do me and the family proud.

I know Uncle Vicious and Aunt Nag would be so proud of their little boy if they were still around and hadn't been seduced from these dark regions by some strange light from above that intruded on our lovely darkness. The Enemy never tires of laying traps for even the worst of us. I myself live in daily terror of salvation. But so far, so damned, I am happy to report.

Every time one of our agents in those awful azure regions up there makes DFC, we throw another big load of coal on the fire, and I hope you can hear the crackle and hiss even up there. It's music to our ears--like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in reverse, praising the Prince of Darkness instead of The Enemy, who always bears watching, especially when we seem (and only seem) to be getting the upper hand.

These mortals are fickle creatures who will change allegiances in a split-second. We must keep close watch on our charges lest their better angels, that is, the worst ones from our perspective, get the upper hand, and they become aware of how fooled they've been.

We need to keep those consigned to our care continually distracted by cheap entertainments; I can't tell you how invaluable in that regard we find reality shows, gossip columns, and the general clutter of their daily little lives in which the world is too much with them, late and soon, and getting and spending, they lay waste their frail powers. Before they know it, they have given their souls away to our safekeeping.

Our wards up there must never suspect what a poor choice they've made, or even that the choice was theirs to make. Some, especially the more modern enlightened ones, may even forget they have souls. The most effective damnation is the kind the fools never realize is damnation, but just think of as -- wonderfully deceptive word -- normal life. It's a constant struggle to keep them in the chains they don't even realize they bear. They'll slip out of them in a second if we relax our guard.

But for now let us celebrate. Our victories may be small but en masse they change the world for the worse. Whole governments can be won over that way. The democracies haven't seemed so weak and inept since the 1930s. Back then, we had some real sweethearts to cheer on -- like Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo, who now share a common cell down here where they can exchange What Might Have Beens when they aren't being sweated. I understand they tap out messages to Mao and Yasser on the heating pipes, unaware their every word is carefully monitored by their vigilant keepers, Old Forked Tongue and Arrowtail, fellows after my own spleen.

These days we're having to make do with inferior substitutes for the old axis of evil like Vladimir Putin and whatever cover name Islamic terrorism is using today. Is it ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood or all of the above? No matter. It'll be another one tomorrow.

Whatever nom de terror they choose for the moment, all these outfits are welcome down here any time, whether they're slaughtering free spirits in Paris or shooting down planes over Ukraine. They're all the sort of jolly bad fellows after your old uncle's own heart, or would be if I had one. I can hardly wait to see them come through the flaming gates.

Yes, there have been some less than encouraging signs of late, too. Like those Supreme Court decisions recognizing that Americans have "freedom of conscience" even if they don't wear clerical collars. But we can always count on our faithful stooges on the bench to assert the state's right to dictate who shall live and who shall die or, even better, never be born. There are few finer instruments of our will than "doctors" who kill and lawyers who'll defend the culture of death in the most skillful language.

We must never forget that the safest road to Hell is the gradual, unexamined one -- the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. It's funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds when in reality our best work is done by keeping things out. For there's no telling what sight or thought will loosen their bonds.

The strangest little thing may be enough to wake our subjects up -- a piece of music (the angelic Mozart is particularly dangerous), the sight of an innocent child not yet damned, a certain painting they just happen to see, a kindness done them by a total stranger with no ulterior motive. ... The sight of just an ordinary sunset or sunrise may be enough to jolt them awake and get them asking questions we never want them to bother with. And before you know it, they're praying or, even worse, they realize just how lost and alone they are relying only on themselves.

Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a mortal, no longer desiring, let alone intending, to do the Enemy's will, looks around upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken -- and still obeys Him. Strange and terrible thing, faith, and there's no telling when or where it'll pop up. So stay alert, dear nephew. Remember: The Enemy never sleeps.

Your affectionate but ever watchful uncle,

Screwtape

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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