Some sixty years ago, the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis wrote a famous book, the Screwtape Letters. It was the imaginary letters of a junior tempter to a senior devil, which Lewis used as a means to give many insights to the Christian life and faith.
At least, I always assumed it was imaginary – until one day, as I worked on my Sunday sermon, an email arrived on my computer screen, clearly sent in haste and in error. It purported to be a message from the devilish head of some infernal laboratory, reporting up the chain of command to his senior. Oddly enough, they seemed to have been studying the same passage as me and also doing some practical research, and it seems they had made a remarkable discovery. It struck me that it might be worth sharing more widely – though of course, we should not take everything Scumprobe says at face value…
To my Lord Gluespite, from Scumprobe senior analyst: preliminary report.
We have at last succeeding in isolation a pure sample of that vile substance the human creatures call “love.” We have worked hard to establish its authenticity, which is more difficult than might first be supposed. It is of course highly toxic to us. And humans themselves - at least, those under our control in the laboratory - have such a limited experience of the real thing that they are now unable to identify or distinguish it from the numerous alternatives. Many have never even tasted it in its pure form.
This reflects the solid achievement of our product development department. We have, therefore, at your advice, taken the calculated risk of observing the effects of this substance on humans in the wild, and made use of the enemy’s own analysis, found in the book called “Romans 12”, to authenticate it. I trust my Lord will accept that the evidence to be gained is worth the element of risk. We have every hope that, once analysed thoroughly, we will finally be able to generate a working antidote.
The first observation to be made is that it is a completely transparent substance which itself induces transparency. If injected into a human subject, we estimate that our enemy would be able to see right through to the person’s heart. As the book says, “Love must be sincere.” Here is our main problem in creating a substitute for it, for we have not yet been able to make one that obscures the truth beneath without becoming cloudy. And while we can mimic its initial sweetness, our versions always have an unpleasant aftertaste which even the human creatures themselves can become sick of in the end. If we were able to generate a clear version, victory would be within our grasp.
The authentic substance has strong properties of attraction and repulsion. An infected human finds his natural taste for our offerings subdued. Instead, he is drawn like a magnet toward thoughts, entertainments, societies and situations which are disgustingly wholesome and positive. It can even affect their choice of TV channel!
But according to the enemy, authentic love will make its victims “hate what is evil and cling to what he calls good.” This contradicts all our attempts to define love as a general feeling of vague benevolence to anything and everything; we do not want humans to think that love can mean saying no or standing against anything!
And the results of this strange attraction can seem truly bizarre to us. As the enemy himself claims, they can indeed become “devoted to one another in brotherly love, and honour one another above themselves.” This perversion is wholly unnatural for the human species. Humans who have no particular natural affinity for one another – nothing to gain from them, no personal benefit to be extracted, no genes to propagate – nevertheless seem to form a genuine affection for one another, even rejoicing when other people get credit or attention that they themselves might have claimed. Even the most hardened tempter will find the sight of it repulsive and sickening.
Yet observing the effects of this substance in the church, this “love” is capable of genuinely uniting people who we have spent many years distancing and alienating from one another – and they even seem to enjoy the experience! We can devote untold demon-hours inspiring them to accumulate possessions and houses in order to firmly anchor them down to hell. And yet a tiny injection of this substance and they are sharing them freely with one another - not to mention people on the other side of the world! Worryingly, this is also what the enemy predicts will be the case – “share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
Of particular concern are the feelings of empathy the love engenders. By rights, humans should feel jealous or threatened when others are joyful, and entertained when others suffer, or at least relieved that suffering is affecting someone else and not them. We expend ourselves encouraging these responses; yet instead, I report with regret, love causes them to share the others’ feelings – again, as the enemy instructs: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn.”
Perhaps worst of all, this substance generates a strange cushioning effect around it. The angles, the differences, the elbows and knees, as it were, which are so useful for creating difference and discord, seem to be absorbed by it so that no harm is done. Live in harmony with one another, is his vomit-inducing injunction. As you know, we are happy with either cacophony or conformity. We don’t care whether human beings are forced to chant in unison with their spirits crushed, or whether their differences are encouraged to create discord and conflict. Either will do! But love has a mystifying capacity to generate a kind of hideous harmony, the differences add together rather than destroy each other. Hard to believe, I know, yet our agents have seen it in the field, in Churches. Fortunately they are often able to disrupt it for a while, but never permanently.”
“It is also worth noticing the effects we have observed upon the infected humans interactions with the enemy himself. An injection of this substance generates a dangerous level of spiritual heat, so that they are not “lacking in zeal but keep their spiritual fervour.” This is most frustrating. As you know we have developed a particularly potent love substitute which is very similar to the romantic form that our enemy has created. We advertise our product widely on the human media, and offer it in vast quantities. Even the enemy’s subjects will imbibe it with gratifying readiness.
It has the effect of cooling off whatever spiritual heat they might otherwise have developed. Their passion to serve the enemy is replaced by apparent desire for the other person which actually conceals self-interest and self-indulgence. Many potentially dangerous enemy agents have been effectively neutralised or even won over to our side by this means.
However, genuine love ignites a flame very difficult to extinguish; and when two infected humans combine that love closely together, we struggle to get close enough to attack the flames. Various methods have been tested in order to quench it. Most obviously, it would be thought that adverse circumstances would reduce the infection; how can humans feel love towards a God who is inflicting pain upon him? It is against all logic! But however preposterous this seems, we find in field studies that genuine love is not extinguished by this means; indeed it can even be strengthened. As the enemy propaganda states, be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. This is typical of the underhand techniques to which our enemy will resort; how is it that he can allow his subjects to be mistreated, and yet see them persist in loving and serving him?
We must therefore admit our ignorance – but our investigations are not ended. Tomorrow we shall initiate a series of experiments examining the interaction of the infected humans’ relationship with other non-infected humans. I shall report in the next instalment.”
Now at this point there is a break in the email, and the author has clearly dashed off the rest and sent it in rather a hurry.
“My Lord, I must report a serious malfunction in our experiment. We subjected the infected humans to a variety of steadily incremented hostile pressures from humans we thought we had inoculated against the substance. We had assumed that, as the pressure was increased, there would come a point when the infected human would begin to behave like the uninfected subjects. However, the infected subjects “blessed those who persecuted them and refused to curse; they did not return evil for evil.” Against all expectation, the infection seems to have transmitted, human to human, and a number of them have escaped into the environment and are demonstrating love-like behaviour. I must report to my utter disgust and regret, as the enemy’s propaganda said, “they overcome evil with good.”
We have at least learnt one valuable piece of information from this appalling result. The infected humans were not resisting persecution by the power of love alone! There was another invisible substance working alongside which I believe the enemy calls faith. The nature of this seems beyond us for now; but the effect was this: under pressure they seemed able to call upon the strength of the enemy himself to bear what they were going through. And this showed in our experiment in one particular way.
The enemy enjoins his minions: “Do not repay evil for evil… Do not take revenge, my friends” (Is there no height to which he will not rise!)He even demands that they leave vengeance to him, and denies them that most basic of rights. Of course, many humans have long paid lip-service to forgiveness. But we have convinced most of them that to forgive means to pretend that nothing happened, and that the offence didn’t matter, it wasn’t really bad, they should just forget about it. And of course, their capacity to pretend is limited, which means when they really suffer they can’t help but be vengeful and angry. They either feel justified in it, or they suppress it; either way, it destroys them.
But these subjects were not pretending everything! They were completely frank about what they suffered. But they clearly believed that their master would deal with those who caused their suffering, and that they could leave it to him. They themselves could bring on “repentance” to their persecutors through their kind responses. A most cunning ploy on his part, I must say. Of course, my lord, our official doctrine rightly denies his pretentious delusions to pass final judgement. Yet field evidence conclusively demonstrates that, when people believe it to be true, our most powerful attacks become futile.
Unfortunately, following contact with the substance, I and my staff are experiencing a form of paralysis severely limiting our activity. We are, naturally, seeking to reclaim the lost subjects and terminate them, once we have recovered. In the mean time, anticipating your inevitable reaction to this mishap, I respectfully remind my Lord that it was he who authorised this dangerous experiment, and suggest that there is no need to report it to the higher authorities. Yours spitefully, Scumprobe.”
Well, that’s it from him; I don’t know whether we will hear from him again. I don’t know how the email got to my desk in the first place; somehow I doubt he was real at all. But he prompts us to think; suppose a Scumprobe did exist; suppose he sent agents to our churches and closely examining our responses to the world around us; suppose he could distil a sample of our “love” and compare it to the description in the book – would he still be so frustrated, confused and appalled? Or would he be able to send a rather more encouraging report after all…
With utmost respect to the great professor himself!
More from Tom next week