Screwtape on Politics
For those of you unfamiliar with CS Lewis’ delightfully demonic character, Screwtape is the author of a collection of letters—The Screwtape Letters—in which he, in his role as senior demon, instructs his nephew, Wormwood, in how best to tempt his “patient”. I recently stumbled across a new letter, eminently worthy of inclusion in the original collection and quite timely, too. Its subject is politics.
My Dear Wormwood,
You are, no doubt, aware that the Americans are amidst one of their most important and highly revered seasons of life. A time when many people feel that, as T.S. Eliot once said: “An election is coming. Universal peace is declared and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry.”
If you aren’t already, it is high time you involve yourself in the lives of a distinct group of citizens. I think you know whom I mean, but in case you are unaware I’ll save you the speculation: your most crucial work is amongst the Christians.
This should be one of your easiest assignments, for it won’t take much for you to drive them to one of two positions regarding the candidates: apathy, and the equally damaging but opposite position of unqualified faith.
For those prone to cynicism, all that is often needed for a headfirst dive into complete apathy is but a small push. You must remind the jaded voters of these cynical convictions (all, I might add, based in some level of reality): 1. Point the Christian voters toward the corruption of politics and politicians. 2. Assure them that the candidates make promises that they can’t or won’t fulfill. 3. Convince them that politicians have none of the interests of the people in mind anyway. 4. Persuade them that the state of the federal government precludes any real change from coming. 5. And most importantly, make doubly sure that they never forget the feeling that their vote in no way matters.
For those inclined toward great political concern, your task is slightly more nuanced. You must push them toward two important conclusions. You must first convince them that their preferred candidate is THE ONLY OPTION for true Christians, and that voting for any other candidate is not only wrong but also evil. They will see this binary model on display from the candidates themselves. The tendency away from moderation coupled with the seductive pull of extremism will prove too much for many Christian voters, and they will divide into opposing parties most naturally. Division is inherent in the system, and getting them to the furthest edges will be all too easy.
Once you have them firmly entrenched in their opposing camps and their battle-lines are nicely drawn, you must quickly cement their unqualified and unquestioning faith in their chosen candidate. This should not be too difficult in the American context as the Americans are constantly confusing and muddling their religious faith with their national and patriotic allegiances. You will need, simply, to further this confusion by getting them to move their hope away from our most dangerous enemy (ahem, Jesus, lest you forget) and place it in their candidate.
For you see, nephew, the most dangerous Christians are those whose loyalties and allegiances are undivided. When their faith is placed in Christ rather than political candidates, they are most threatening. These Christians will also be most likely to realize that their power to affect change in the world is enormous and will thus be greatly concerned about affecting the world. Tempting them toward apathy will be impossible. And once they realize that voting is only one small and relatively minor way of bringing about their desired change we, my nephew, are more or less doomed.
Your affectionate uncle,
Note: The author of this missive, Isaac Sharp, is a third year student at the McAfee School of Theology. The article is reprinted from the Associated Baptist Press website (www.abpnews.com) with their permission and with our thanks.