To supply some background to the excerpt which follows, "The Screwtape Letters" was written by C.S.Lewis in 1942. C.S.Lewis was one of my heroes when I was a child because he was also the author of "The Chronicles of Narnia" which completely captured my young imagination when I read the set. I did not know then that C.S.Lewis was also a Christian and that he had fallen away from his faith for a period of time. He did return to it with a bang later in life, becoming a fervent and well-respected Christian apologist and lay theologian. Interestingly, his return to Christianity has been attributed to his close friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien and other friends. But back to "The Screwtape Letters".
Imagine this publication as the equivalent of a collection of thirty-one letters between a parish priest and his bishop, the big difference being that this correspondence is taking place between two "demons" - Screwtape, the senior, holds an administrative post in the "Lowerarchy" of Hell, and functions as the junior Wormwood's mentor [Wormwood also happens to be Screwtape's nephew]. The younger tempter is working on undermining the faith of, and promoting sin in a particular human being who is referred to as "the Patient". All is reversed so you will realise that Satan is referred to as "Our Father Below" and God is "The Enemy."
"The Screwtape Letters" is a C.S.Lewis enabled Hellgate and like WikiLeaks, he releases these leaked "diplomatic cables" with the declaration in the first line of the preface, "I HAVE no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands."
It is a brilliant perspective through the lenses of those who work against Good. Turn it upside down and you hear C.S.Lewis' observations about human nature and Christian doctrine. It makes me question myself, my motives. It makes the reader think about his or her place in and impact on his or her corner of the world.
The excerpt which I have chosen came to mind after reading this article, "Globalization, Compression, and the Desire for Intervention." over at Zero Anthropology. Using the situation in Libya and the Middle East as the jumping-off point, Max's central question is why is it that so many on the ground in those countries and around the world apparently feel that WE [the rest of the world] must do something about supporting THEIR revolution? What accounts for this desire for intervention and is it a novel global phenomenon? There are many other ideas examined in the article and it is worth reading.
These are difficult questions and the sharp reminder of how carefully they must be handled must have been brought home to our own PM last year. No one wants to come out and say it, and certainly it should not be said to those to whom we are as closely related as our Caribbean neighbours, but charity really should begin at home. On board an aircraft, you are instructed to put on your oxygen mask first before attempting to assist others with theirs. And how can you justify taking bread out of your own hungry childrens' mouths to feed others. If you have to spare that is another matter. If you are certain that you can tighten your belt without causing lasting harm to your own so that you can assist others, especially in emergency situations, then by all means do so. Most human beings want to help others both far and near. I am concerned about exaggerated and misplaced charity.
Not that I have to reduce everything to a battle between good and evil, although the tendency is congenital, but sometimes I wonder if whipping up "global" awareness is not a deliberate attempt to distract citizens from focussing on the local. Has international aid and intervention become big business? Can it become a sort of escapism? Is "humanitarian" intervention in far away places a way to feel good about taking charge and being effective [Often the medicine is worse than the disease] to avoid facing our own impotence with the problems right in our backyards. When this trend is manipulated by powers and principalities with their own less "altruistic" agendas, citizens are conned into expending their energies on fixing the molehills in other nations far away while the mountains are crashing down on their own heads where they stand.
Consider the mind boggling harm that some nations have done and are still doing to their own citizens, literally throwing their resources to the winds to "set things straight" in other parts of the world? I've touched on it elsewhere when I spoke of charity beginning at home and this is what fuels my increasing suspicion of the real motives behind some missionaries' zeal.
So here is the excerpt:
C.S Lewis - The Screwtape Letters
Excerpt from the final paragraph of letter VI
MY DEAR WORMWOOD,
...Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient's soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary. There is no good at all in inflaming his hatred of Germans [insert Saddam Hussein, Castro, Chavez, Qaddafi] if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity is growing up between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train. Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy. You can hardly hope, at once, to exclude from all the circles everything that smells of the Enemy: but you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy, and all the desirable qualities inward into the Will. It is only in so far as they reach the will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us. (I don't, of course, mean what the patient mistakes for his will, the conscious fume and fret of resolutions and clenched teeth, but the real centre, what the Enemy calls the Heart.) All sorts of virtues painted in the fantasy or approved by the intellect or even, in some measure, loved and admired, will not keep a man from our Father's house: indeed they may make him more amusing when he gets there,
Your affectionate uncle
I stand accused and ashamed.
I had never read "The Screwtape Letters" until I visited Sally DeFord's wonderful and generous website where she has made her inspirational music available for listening and downloading. I had come across her song "Miracles" and it was there in the introduction to the song that I read the excerpt from "The Screwtape Letters" followed by Sally's comments. This was what prompted me to find the source text and read it.
I have posted both that song and the lyrics below . If you are interested in more traditional Christian music, Sally DeFord Music is an excellent site to visit.
By Sally DeFord
Sung by Becki Madsen
Amid the countless blessings the Lord has given me
The light of truth and goodness; the Holy Spirit's peace
I see the many sorrows that His children must endure
So much hurt I long to heal. How can I change the world?
There are hands I cannot hold
Hearts I cannot comfort
Tears that only miracles can stay
So let me love and serve and teach
Those who come within my reach
For miracles begin that way
The Savior walked in Galilee, unknown in many lands
Yet touching every nation by the labors of His hands
Giving light to all the world by teaching but the few
He is my example in the work that I must do
I will bear the burden of my neighbor in his need
I will share my Savior's love in every kindly deed
He will magnify my efforts, and I'll understand at last
That by these small and simple things are great things brought to pass.
Those who come within my reach
For miracles begin that way."
"Patria est communis omnium parens" - Our native land is the common parent of us all. Keep it beautiful, make it even more so.
Blessed is all of creation
Blessed be my beautiful people
Blessed be the day of our awakening
Blessed is my country
Blessed are her patient hills.
Mweh ka allay!