The famous author C.S. Lewis, wrote a satire in a series of thirty-one letters. A senior demon, Uncle Screwtape, writes to his nephew, Wormwood, who is a junior demon. His letters read like intradepartmental memos; the style is distinctly bureaucratic. Satan is the office CEO and tasks the junior demon Wormwood with winning the soul of “The Patient”, a young soldier who has recently become a Christian.
Uncle Screwtape warns of dire consequences if nephew Wormwood should fail, and he explains that The Enemy, “God”, created a dangerous world specifically to allow humans to show courage and faith.
Screwtape recommends foiling courage by deploying fear:
But hatred is best combined with Fear. Cowardice, alone of
all the vices, is purely painful — horrible to anticipate,
horrible to feel, horrible to remember; Hatred has its
pleasures. It is therefore often the compensation by which a
frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear.
The more he fears, the more he will hate. And Hatred is also
a great anodyne for shame. To make a deep wound in his
charity, you should therefore first defeat his courage (Letter 29).
Human behavior does not generally change. We are still the same species century after century; the same decadent species who pitted gladiators against lions for sport in Ancient Rome, who burned young women at the stake with the claim of witchcraft, and who allowed the National Socialist Party to murder six million Jewish men, women and children.
But while humans as a whole may not change, an individual can always choose to resist the frenzy of the crowd.
The Screwtape Letters, set during World War II, offers perspective on manipulation through fear. Fear is a favored tool of propagandists; one that Hitler used often, and to great effect. Fear and cowardice syphon away trust and compassion for our neighbors, and division makes people much weaker and more susceptible to control. Governments often encourage and incentivize citizens to report on each other, and increasingly pressure citizens to present their “papers” or today’s “vaccine passport.” This constant focus on the fear of sickness or death from viral transmission is transforming us into the living dead; we claim the highest priority is to “stay safe”, but at what cost? What is life, if we are not to live it?
We now blindly believe opinions “seen” and “heard” from omnipresent media. We surrender our freedoms, locked in our own homes as though we were criminals. We stop visiting family and friends, we abandon our churches and synagogues. We watch passively, nay, even cheer supportively as our political leaders sell our birthright of liberty for a bowl of safety soup. All of this, just to survive another moment of complicity…but in living this way, we die every day. We crown fear as our king and misery as our religion, and Screwtape’s CEO finds his domain of darkness ever expanding.
Satire is a tool for illuminating weakness and vice, so that we might understand the simple wisdom that can provide a path to lasting peace, prosperity, and fulfilment. As Wormwood was instructed to use fear in his pursuit of a soul’s demise, so we must learn in contrast to reject fear and choose courage in the superior pursuit of joy and the true safety of our souls.