A Recently Recovered Screwtape Letter

My Dear Wormwood:

I lick my parched lips with delight that our propaganda efforts are going splendidly well. Good things come to those who wait—and growl in anticipation. We may have won the battle of words. Not that we have won any arguments—that is expecting too much. But we may have succeeded in eliminating arguments entirely. Oh, the delight in it!

How careless these vermin are with words—words, the very thing that separates them from the rest of the Enemy’s ridiculous menagerie. With our promptings and manipulations, they readily substitute words for thoughts. These talkative bipeds spew out a million words and few of them make up rational assessment or argument. As I said in a previous letter, we must never move the contest into the world of true and false, good and evil, rational and irrational. No, those silly dichotomies are tools of the Enemy—narrow-minded, dualist, rationalist that he is. These categories quicken the mind. We must numb it.

You must push forward a trend already set in place. Take heed to my tips, my young charge, since my words have meaning, and ignoring them will not advance your infernal vocation.

  1. Always substitute untutored emotion for conceptual clarity. Thus, vilify those speaking for the Enemy. They are so many bad things: narrow-minded, bigoted, reactionary, phobic (how we have profited from that!), and more. Never let them see that, according to the Enemy, reason and emotion should work in tandem, even shake hands with jolly goodness and resolve. Keep them away from that pseudo-intellectual and word-monger, C.S. Lewis, who wrote in The Abolition of Man:

No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical, but they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”

  1. Attenuate their vocabulary, since the fewer words they have to capture thoughts, the less able they are to make distinctions. It is the philosophers that obsess on distinctions, especially that Nazarene. He outwitted all the rhetoricians and theologians we threw at him during that egregious episode they call The Incarnation. His distinctions dispatched our dialecticians.

But we are advanced in the art of retarding thinking, you know. Reading is considered a luxury or even a vice. Emotive utterances and lazy superlatives—awesome, epic, perfect—have replaced the love of words and books.

  1. Make the most of slogans that applaud the loss of precise wording for important arguments. Here are a few delicious ones: “You are over-thinking this.” Of course, we know, from thousands of years of amusing experience, that few humans do this—or are even capable of doing this. “It is a matter of the heart, not of the head.” Jump in here, since this expression excuses all manner of cheap emotion, baseless opinion, and fuzzy thinking. Here is one more (there are many others): “It is what it is.” This may be used to mean “It cannot be changed.” But often it means something more helpful to our cause, such as “I cannot think it through. That would be too tiring.” Or this sentence may endorse a mindless fatalism—Stoicism, but without the intellect. You have to love that: Keep a stiff upper lip and a mind unfit for thought.

You should get the idea, Wormwood.  Claptrap is our snake pit. Keep an eagle eye on their words, especially when they don’t.

Your Ever-so-insightful Uncle,

Screwtape

 

 

 

 

Christian and Eastern Silence

“The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” exhorts the prophet Hosea (2:20). Our world is famished for silence, but does not know it. Our needs often hide from our wants. We want more noise—music piped in everywhere, talking screens in multiple rooms of our homes and work and public spaces, words assailing us by displays in stores. Magic phones speak to us even as we attempt to speak to others. Our ears should be ringing, but only our phones do.

But some are waking up from the roar of words and noise. Several books warn us about the noise that is disquieting our souls. Some are secular, but give good advice. Other books, articles, and teachings are spiritual, but in an unbiblical sense. They seek to still the din within by emptying the mind through yoga and other forms of Hindu or Buddhist meditation. Buddhism is seductive, since it promises inner peace, required no worship, and is usually adopted by Americans in a piecemeal and uninformed way. Mindfulness is pursued, but the temple is ignored.

Humans, as fallen mortals, have a limited ability to sort things out. We often hurry through instead of think about. Then, not surprisingly, we act ignorantly—if quickly. But God gives wisdom.

Christian silence carved an opening to quiet the buzzing mind and twitching body in order to hear from The Word (John 1:1). This God is a God who speaks truth and reveals us our condition before “the audit of eternity” (Kierkegaard). But we are often deaf to God himself because of the noise that assails us on every side. Scripture commands us to listen to God, to harken to his speech.


Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).


Listening is done best without distractions. Silence creates that space. As Kierkegaard wrote in the middle of the nineteenth century:


The present state of the world and all of life is diseased. If I were a doctor and were asked for my advice, I should reply: Create silence! Bring men to silence. The Word of God cannot be heard in the noisy world of today.


The great melancholy Dane wrote this before the advent of telephones, radio, television, or the Internet. Needless noise has emanated ever since the Fall. There is no need to keep silence at all times. There is a time to speak and a time to be enmeshed in noise for the sake of the Kingdom. However, we need to be replenished and rewarded with solitude and silence. Although it is not explained, and is difficult to interpret, the following passage may spark some needful reflection:


When he [Christ] opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them (Revelation 8:1-2).


Even in heaven, silence had its place. It should have its place with us now as well.

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Principles For Taking Every Thought Captive: Part III

Here are some principles and recommendations in how to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). If you missed the last list posted, catch up here and here.

  1. Carefully and prayerfully consider your use of all electronic communications media. These often sap our knowledge and divert us from godly habits of the heart. Consider engaging in a protracted media abstention in which you eliminate a commonly-used electronic system for a week to ten days. It will profoundly change your view of technology. See my book, The Soul in Cyberspace. For my more recent thoughts see my interview with Tim Challies at: http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/challies/the-soul-in-cyberspace-an-interview-with-douglas-groothuis-11603254.html Consider also the thoughtful, secular book, Hamlet’s Blackberry. For a broader historical and culture critique read Neil Postman’s magisterial work, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. The best book on television is Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. See also my article in The Christian Research Journal, “Understanding Social Media” at: http://www.equip.org/PDF/JAF2333.pdf. For a more scholarly paper, see Douglas Groothuis, “Christian Scholarship and the Philosophical Analysis of Cyberspace Technologies,” (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 4 14 (December 1998): 631-640. This is on line at: http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/41/41-4/41-4-pp631-640-JETS.pdf.
  1. Listen to thoughtful radio programs and podcasts. Many gifted Christian teachers and preachers can be heard in this manner. Redeem the time by listening to them in your car or while exercising or when you cannot do anything else, such as when you are ill. Of the talk radio, hosts, Dennis Prager, a conservative Jew, is probably the most civil and intelligent. He is refreshing in that he addresses more than just politics. Another excellent source of cultural criticism from a Christian or Christian-friendly viewpoint is Mars Hill audio, hosted by Ken Myers, author of All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture. Some audio books of thoughtful books are available for purchase or from a library.
  1. Take periodic times of silence, for either short or long periods of time. Our culture is too noisy and over-stimulated. We need quiet to compose our bodies and souls before God in cognitive meditation, prayer, and rest. As Ecclesiastes says, there is

a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak  (3:7; see also Habakkuk 2:20).

  1. Consider Denver Seminary for further education. I head the MA in Apologetics and Ethics. We also offer a Certificate in Apologetics and Ethics (10 semester hours). See: denverseminary.edu

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Principles For Taking Every Thought Captive: Part II

Here are some principles and recommendations in how to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). If you missed the last list posted, catch up here.

  1. Develop your skills at speaking and teaching and conversation. American linguistic culture is ugly, sloppy, and lazy. Instead of blending with the inarticulate herd, broaden your vocabulary, work on articulation, and listen to the people with which you are speaking. On writing see the classic Elements of Style by Stunk and White. On public speaking see Stand Like Lincoln, Speak Like Churchill by James Humes. Consider joining a Toastmasters club to refine your speaking skills.
  1. Read thoughtful Christian books, both classic and contemporary. While we often emphasize popular books, we should not forget time-tested classics written by Augustine, Calvin, Pascal, and Jonathan Edwards. Twentieth century writers such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, John Stott, J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, and Os Guinness make for hearty and rewarding reading as well.
  1. Certain periodicals are edifying as well. For keeping the pulse of contemporary evangelicalism, see Christianity Today. Political and cultural issues are carefully addressed in First Things, which now has a rather strong Catholic focus. To stay abreast of cults, religious movements, apologetics, and ethics read The Christian Research Journal.

4. Be aware of secular culture and non-Christian religious expressions through your reading of periodicals and books. I also read the Sunday New York Times and The New Yorker for sophisticated secular views—in, in the latter case, for their superb cartoons. Commentary is excellent for conservative Jewish views. Books and Culture reviews significant Christian and other books. This is a resource for discerning what non-Christian books you should read, as is The New York Times book review. I also check Harpers, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, and Wired to look for significant articles. I find browsing at bookstores especially helpful, if you can find a brick and mortar bookstore left. We should be grateful that the Denver area has three locations of The Tattered Cover.

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Principles For Taking Every Thought Captive: Part I

Here are some principles and recommendations in how to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

  1. Remain faithful in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, which are God’s cognitive revelation of himself and the ways of salvation (2 Timothy 3:15-16). Acquire and use study aids such as one or more study Bibles. I recommend The Apologetics Study Bible, The Reformation Study Bible, The NET Bible, and The NIV Study Bible. Of course, there are many other tools such as commentaries and other helps. The excellent commentaries of John Calvin and Matthew Henry are available on line for no charge.

2. Discern your unique calling as a Christian. No one can do everything, so we must concentrate our energies where we are gifted and in accordance to God’s leading in our day. I highly recommend Os Guinness book on this vital topic, The Call. See also John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life.

3. Be involved in a Bible-believing local church and seek to serve through what you have learned. Biblically, we are responsible to use what we know wisely and for the glory of God. We should not hide our gifts under a table, but employ them to build up the church and witness to the world (Matthew 5; Ephesians 4:15). Specifically:

A. Develop adult education classes on the Christian worldview, biblical interpretation, theology, apologetics, and social issues.

B. Make sure your church has some way of preparing high-school students for college. Many churched teenagers either put aside their Christian convictions or lose them during this time. For how high-school students in the church tend to think, see Christian Smith, Soul Searching. Also consult the essay “Faithful Christianity in College” by Douglas Groothuis and Sarah Geis at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/philosophicalfragments/2013/04/09/faithful-christianity-in-college

C. Be involved as a mentor to those who can benefit from your gifts and what you have learned through The Centurion program. Try to find a suitable mentor for yourself as well (Proverbs 27:17; 2 Timothy 2:2).

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