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Uncle Screwtape on COVID-19

Friday, 12 March 2021  | Remy Chadwick


 

My dear Wormwood,

I have momentous news. The world is about to change. Many who are the Enemy’s are about to fall into our clutches. Our Father Below has revealed his latest stratagem, and all of us are called upon to see that it plays out. Pay careful attention!

It is a work of genius. You might call it art if we Tempters were capable of creating the stuff. The Zoology Department has on Our Father’s instructions produced a new cocktail of pestilence and has unleashed it on some unsuspecting patients. The humans are calling it COVID19 – dullards that they are – and at this point they have no idea what it holds in store for them.

The disease is fairly ordinary as far as pestilence goes. It works with the usual crowd: the vulnerable, the elderly, the many who are already earmarked for death. It doesn’t work with children and doesn’t have gruesome symptoms. We have certainly inflicted more spectacular carnage with other diseases before. But you will recall from my previous writings that though watching humans suffer or die can be entertaining, it does not always achieve our purposes. It turns out that those under the Enemy’s sway can find greater reason to love others when pestilence afflicts. Sometimes they will sacrifice their own miserable lives to care for the sick. Do you remember the Plague of Cyprian? Manifestations of real love are totally anathema to us. They must be avoided at all costs, lest the Enemy (who names himself Love) show himself in their efforts.

After many experiments with pestilence Our Father moved on to another strategy. You see, it is safer and more effective for us to attack their inward perceptions of reality than their physical health (though a bit of bodily torment never goes amiss). After all, our primordial task is to deceive and in this manner above all others destroy the Enemy’s design. We have been busily doing this at large scale over the past few centuries. This cocktail, however, has two particularly welcome features. Firstly, it is extremely contagious with no initial symptoms, guaranteeing a fast spread across continents. Secondly, thanks to Grimeheart’s addition of Oddball droppings, many of its side effects are unpredictable. In some cases they endure well beyond the infection cycle, for reasons human science cannot yet determine. This makes it the ideal tool for the purpose of the new approach: to paralyse them with fear.

Over the past century or so we have successfully deceived many of our patients through the twin poles of Freedom and Pleasure. Caution was required of course since these are both fundamentally the Enemy’s domains. In our cleverness, we planted in their puny brains the thought that they could be completely free of any boundary, whatsoever its purpose. We also tricked them into thinking that pleasure is the ultimate purpose of living while we withheld from them that only detestable ‘pleasure’ that makes them whole: the Enemy himself. This was good for a time. The trouble, my nephew, is that as before with the plague, freedom and pleasure can sometimes lead humans to love. And when they do, our wretched patients come to know freedom and pleasure from the act of giving of themselves instead of their own little selfishness. Their hearts expand, and their appetite for life follows suit. This territory is too dangerous for even an experienced Tempter such as myself. The Enemy can make quick work of it.

This calls for a more sophisticated approach which we are now ready to apply. We will convince them to divest themselves of freedoms and pleasures – and we will do it by deceiving them into thinking it was for the sake of Love. Yes! It is an extraordinary idea but I have no doubt we will see its fruits shortly.

You will be wondering: How can we deceive them by steering them towards ‘Love’? We will plant in their minds the conviction that the only way to truly love one another is to eliminate what they call COVID-19. This is preposterous, of course. Plenty of patients have allowed Love to rule even as pestilence overcame their bodies (remember the Plague of Cyprian?). However the times suit us. Thanks to our prior efforts many humans think the sum of a person is their circumstances. They live like Freedom and Pleasure are material things which everyone person is entitled to, seldom remembering that both are available in the midst of the harshest circumstances. All we need to do is prod their conscientious side a bit – tell them that their way of life needs to be protected at all costs – and they will willingly give up some of their own freedoms for the good of others. This seems virtuous, which is perfect for us, as it allows us to convince them that they can ‘stop the disease’ in short course provided everyone does the ‘right’ thing. At the heart is not the spirit of Love, but rather a thirst for control over their circumstances and the behaviour of others. Once this cycle begins, we can really make progress with our patients.

Let them appoint the most cautious erudites they can find to lead them through the crisis. They live at a time where scientists are highly trusted but their subject matter is narrowly understood – so they will not be able to easily apply critical thinking and will be inclined to accept whatever advice if it comes with the label ‘expert’ or invokes ‘science’. Next, let them be governed by moralisers who believe they themselves are always benevolent and who are competent at seeming so. In an ideal scenario, these rulers will listen only to a handful of erudites and go above and beyond the precautions advised, signalling just how committed they are to protecting lives. If all goes well, they will mix dire warnings with vague hopes to instil a fear they can work with. This will replace freedoms and pleasures with compliance and suspicion disguised as ‘unity’. Let them have a media that highlights nasty or gratuitous dissent to neutralise genuine discussion. Any action rulers take out of urgency rather than intelligence is a boon as they can retrospectively claim it was proof of strong leadership in the face of danger. This will allow for more mistakes – and therefore more reasons to exert control.

By this point, they will have adopted myriads of regulations designed to curtail the growth of the disease – or so they think. Their ultimate purpose will be more significant. Let them be told the ordeal is necessary. They will become dependent on those drawing the regulations in a way they have never been before, down to basic needs. They will not have room to negotiate and so many will relinquish their autonomy. Let them be told the ordeal will be over soon, to sustain the hope of future freedoms and pleasure while robbing these from the present. As time passes they will increasingly avoid stepping out of line with what others are doing. All the while they will believe that what they are enduring makes them fine human beings who should be proud of themselves. The more this happens the more paralysed they will become – either because they fear the perception of doing wrong, or because they think in this situation it is virtuous to accept anything imposed on them as a matter of principle.

The true purpose of these rules is to discourage the humans from manifesting real love towards one another. They will avoid each other out of fear of infection or fear of the authorities. They will be deprived of emotional supports, and so deprive each other. They will simulate their normal interactions using technology, find that it doesn’t quite live up to its promise, and quietly reduce their ambitions to continue connecting. They will fill their time with things, not people. This is of course an extension of the Freedom and Pleasure temptation methods we have steadily applied on them since birth – many of them already prefer their work, mortgages or smartphones to one another anyway!

For good measure, let their rulers repeat inanities like ‘staying apart keeps us together’ to shift their understanding of what it means to be together. Let them absorb stories of death and catastrophe abroad while missing out on stories of love and resilience. Let them follow arbitrary metrics in such a way that their hopes and fears can swing wildly from week to week, distracting them from eternal realities. Let them pit the wellbeing of individuals against the health of their economies so that they grow suspicious of each other’s motives and forget about their interdependence. All the while, their regulations prevent them from practicing love beyond the confines of their household. (Within that I have much advice for you. Suffice to say that the opportunities to exploit pre-existing temptations are abundant). They will slowly lose their imagination for living together, their abilities to initiate, to meet each other’s needs, to celebrate or mourn appropriately, as their autonomy becomes more and more curtailed.

I hope you can see, nephew, how deception is a more potent weapon of our warfare than pestilence. But the crowning glory of Our Father’s new strategy is how we can use it to deceive the people of the Enemy. For you see, the Enemy’s Scriptures teach his people to pursue love above all, to prioritise the vulnerable, to be content and to obey the authorities. The script practically writes itself. They will readily fall in line and, misguided in their earnestness, they will easily succumb to the moralism of their age. But we must attack them where they are strong. Make it difficult to practice tangible love towards one another. Close down the gatherings where they are reminded of the Enemy’s love. Ban them from singing (how easy it is!). Remove their freedom to show hospitality. Give them maximum choice over who they do and don’t spare time for. Fill their homes with remote work and educational arrangements so they cannot easily persevere in that absurdity the Enemy calls ‘prayer’. Those without deep roots are ripe for the taking – in the absence of tangible love they will not endure.

There will be others who will persevere no matter what, but always complying with whatever rules are set. They might organise pitiful alternatives. Our job there is to make their experience as comfortable and indistinctive from the rest of their lives as possible, so that the act of gathering is as simple as turning on the television or scrolling through what they aptly named ‘YouTube’. I have written to you before that patients who ignore the role of their bodies in their worship are easily manipulated. Apply this lesson with regards to their communal life by widening the gap between what they say and do. You could preoccupy them with how to carry out the same tasks in the new environment, though this is clearly not possible. Even better, trick them into thinking that the new way of doing things is a decent substitute for the original way. It is true that some of the idiots are so hell-bent on love they will find a way through the restrictions – cursed be their efforts! – but remember that it is much easier for them to endlessly accept a pale shadow of the freedoms they once had than it is for them to resist regulations imposed from outside. If you succeed, they will wrap themselves in conscientious obedience for the sake of ‘Love’ while growing dull and hesitant to the freedoms and disciplines of love that the Enemy actually ordains for them.

I know that your own patient is not a type so easily compelled to accept misfortune. He may discern a part of your efforts in this task. It does not matter too much if he does, provided you are careful to withhold the whole picture from him. If he grows angry or despondent at the situation, fuel these feelings rapidly so that he cannot persuade anyone of the reality he perceives. Convince him that it is too difficult to open up with others because everyone is already suffering. Send him some naysayers he will be tempted to argue with, and after repeated failure he will either join the compliant fold with a crushed spirit or nurture resentment that endures well beyond the actual disease. The advice of rulers and erudites to keep their subjects away from each other makes it perfectly simple for us to isolate and discourage those who would resist Our Father’s strategy. We may also rely on those who love to control behaviours to shame and humiliate the rest into silence. In this way the psychological and spiritual damage we can cause with this cocktail far exceeds its capacity to destroy bodies – though if you handle the job correctly, the latter is all they’ll ever fear.

With such an elegant strategy it is really a wonder why the Enemy has permitted us to go ahead. Perhaps he wants to teach them a particularly difficult lesson? He is practically giving them into our hands. I am sure you may ease any fears you might have about the Infernal Police investigating you over those ill-thought remarks you made last month about the Enemy. He has proven himself so foolish in this matter that they will soon be out of a job. Instead of pursuing Infernal Heresies I imagine they will be enlisted on Earth where there will soon be plenty of petty human infringements for them to exploit. In any case, the new world is ours!

Your always affectionate uncle

SCREWTAPE


Remy Chadwick
studied philosophy, music and theatre. He lives in Melbourne and is married to Nichola. Remy recently finished working as the Creative Ministry Director for St Matt’s Prahran and currently teaches for 3D Arts Company.


This piece is inspired by The Screwtape Letters, written by C.S. Lewis and published in 1942. It satirises the temptations and spiritual struggles of Christians by presenting these from the perspective of demons.

Photo credits

Brown and black sheep on brown and black stones. Photo by Chelms Varthoumlien on Unspash.

Black and white snake on white textile. Photo by Anne Nygård on Unspash.

Person wearing mask and hat. Photo by Kuma Kum on Unspash.

Man holding syringe. Photo by Dimitri Houtteman on Unspash.

Person holding wand on top of bowl. By Artem Maltsev on Unspash.


Comments

John Kidson
April 1, 2021, 5:44PM
Brilliant! I wish I had written this piece! I reckon CS Lewis would be smiling now if aware of this.
Victor Lipski
April 4, 2021, 6:17PM
I began reading this article with some pleasure, but became uncomfortable about two-thirds of the way through.

The article may make reflect Australia, but it ignores the fact that some of Screwtape’s advice is what the New Zealand government has done because it follows its Director-General of Health, a Christian who worships at a (theologically conservative) Anglican church.

Some of the opinions stated after the sentence that begins, “The true purpose of these rules …” surprise me. The writer might well benefit by looking at Canada, a country whose history and current cultural ethos seems broadly similar to Australia’s (as far as I know of the latter). By refusing to limit love among Christians in worship and love of profit among pub owners and other retailers of essential goods such as high-heel shoes and rippling quads, some of Canada’s provinces are now entering severe restrictions to reduce the effects of a third Covid-19 wave, after having limited deaths to just over 27,000. This in a country whose population is only 35% larger than Australia’s. By Canada’s loving standards, Australia should have had only 655,000 cases and 17,500 deaths by now.

Modern plague theory began about the time when two seventeenth-century priests, an Established one in England and a Catholic in France, told their parishioners not to go outside the city walls and told the local councillors not to let traders into their cities on market days. That sounds a lot like loss of freedom and pleasure – and it is. However, love and justice (nothing limits self-centered pleasure like justice) both co-exist on the same continuum in which (to be ridiculously and ignorantly mathematical) at one end 99.9% is love and 0.1% is justice, and at the other 99.9% is justice and 0.1% is love.

An opinion rooted in some real facts might have strengthened the article.

Yours,
Vic Lipski, Wellington, NZ

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