What follows here is the first of a new batch of letters written by that infamous demon, Screwtape, who was immortalized in a collection put together by the late C.S. Lewis.
. . .
My Dear Wormwood,
When last I had written you, I had assumed that you had everything well in hand with your patient, and so I am dismayed to find this hastily scribbled note of panic. All seems lost, you say. Your patient has turned away from all the pleasures that sexual iniquity can provide and has dedicated himself to a chaste life, and thus has made himself nigh unassailable to our devices. I must say that I am disappointed, Wormwood, not that any mismanagement on your part has led to this setback (though we will discuss that in due time), but that you are so quick to cry defeat. The Enemy ever persists in granting his graces to these featherless bipeds, so you must remember that our work is never done as long as the patient lives.
I took the liberty of examining your patient’s records, and far from a devastating defeat, this attitude of his is a rare opportunity. Part of your problem, Wormwood, is that we have found licentiousness such an effective tool in drawing these pathetic mortals away from the Enemy that we have lost sight that sex was of the Enemy’s devising and still one of his strongest tools. I have ever been of the opinion that the Enemy was foolish in allowing such a powerful weapon to be so easily swayed from its intended purpose, but that is neither here nor there. The true significance is that the absence of sex can become our ally just as much as promiscuity. However, it has to be treated delicately.
Your patient no doubt has filled his head with nauseating platitudes about the Enemy’s call to chastity, and the value of sacrificing something good as an offering to him, and the so-called redemptive quality of suffering. You need not be alarmed by this. By all means, encourage your patient’s thoughts in this direction. Whisper in his ear about the gravity of these platitudes and encourage his struggle. But keep him away from anything that hints at the Enemy’s command “to be fruitful and multiply.” That, Wormwood, is your inroad, and why this seeming defeat is in fact an opportunity to draw your patient further into our camp.
As I said, I have taken the liberty of reviewing your patient’s files. (The internet is a remarkable tool even here Below, is it not?) For years, you have had success in tempting him down every path of sinful pleasures of the flesh, and years of self-indulgence have left their mark. For years, he has bought into and advocated that rallying cry “As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone!” and then refused, for the most part, to examine any evidence that his actions, indeed, hurt others. He has seen a slew of relationships started by sex and ended by sex, and you have done a commendable job, Wormwood, of diverting his attention from all the self-doubt he has instilled in his partners, many of whom now believe the only means of attracting a mate and keeping him is by objectifying and degrading themselves to the most base of creatures.
Your first mistake, Wormwood, may have been in permitting your patient to marry, but his intentions to enter into a lifelong, monogamous relationship caught us all by surprise, so we will let that pass. If you recall, we discussed the point at length and concluded that—despite your patient’s desire to plunge headlong into the Enemy’s vulgar notion of unity, love, and self-sacrifice—his marriage provided us with ample opportunities. His preoccupation with placing his lusts ahead of any other considerations should have opened him to frustration and infidelity, especially since, inexplicably, his chosen mate cares little for sex.
While that possibility seemed ripe for the picking, that it has not come to fruition is by no means a call to panic. Recall, Wormwood, that we are to bring these disgusting creatures into our camp, not by any particular means, but by any means necessary. If the patient shies away from temptation in one direction, we simply offer temptation in another direction. Indeed, we have often had success by bouncing patients between two extremes of temptation, driving them to despair when it seemed that sin so confronted them at every turn that they simply could not succeed in a virtuous life.
There seem to be a few particulars about your patient that have escaped your notice, Wormwood, and I must say you have been quite remiss in not picking them up. First, your patient’s devotion to chastity, while a disgusting desire to avoid harming his mate that the Enemy no doubt would approve, is not without its flaws. He has a mistaken understanding of chastity, in that he believes chastity is merely the absence of sex. It would behoove you well, Wormwood, to encourage him in this view, to nurture the suspicion that any sexual conduct, even with his mate, is a violation of chastity. Do not permit him the opportunity to realize that the Enemy intended sexual intercourse between spouses, as an act of self-giving love open to the very act of creation, to be a part of chastity. If ever he starts to suspect that the Enemy not only allows, but encourages spousal sex, distract him with reminders of all the damage he has done in the past with his promiscuity, and focus his thoughts on how his mate cares little for sex. If your patient has reached the point where he feels remorse over his past, he has certainly reach a point where he can endlessly dwell on his mistakes. If you can encourage him to see only the negatives of his past sexual life, you will most likely find it easier to steer him away from healthy intimacy with his mate.
Second, your patient’s mate has a strong influence over him. Her lack of interest in sex stems partially from a fear of procreation. If ever you have wondered why we have endeavor so forcefully to divorce the notions of sex and procreation, she serves as a wonderful example. While she herself fully appreciates the connection between sex and spawn, she fears that children will ruin her life, just as she views that her existence ruined her mother’s life.
You see, Wormwood, when sex becomes nothing more than recreation, offspring inevitably come as an unwelcome burden. Those that survive to adulthood (such as those that are not killed before we have the chance to influence them into the house of Our Father Below) have learned just how unwelcome they are in the world, and cannot see any progeny of their own as anything but equally unwelcome. And this conflict between generations persists even if the survivors have an appreciation for the Enemy’s true intentions for sex! Why, in these cases, we barely need to expend any effort to maintain resent, anxiety, and a host of other emotions that serve our purposes.
If you examine closely, I suspect that you’ll find that your patient’s urge towards chastity reflects his mate’s aversion to breeding. What sounds like a pious “I’ll respect her wishes and do her no harm” in his mind undoubtedly masks a similar fear of losing his precious freedom. (Granted, this need not be so. His intentions may indeed be genuine, but there are many other venues to work with. However, given his predisposition to seeking self-indulgence over concern for others, he has probably shifted his pleasure-seeking from sex to other recreation. If this proves to be the case, focus his energies there.)
The delightful dilemma he faces now is fighting against his desire for his mate, a desire the Enemy provided naturally, and fighting against their mutual aversion to procreation. If ever his desires start to trump fear, whisper in his ear about the grave harm he will do to his wife by disrespecting her wishes. Whenever fear starts to trump desire, whisper to him how many methods are available that prevent conception. Even the natural family planning the Enemy’s Church promotes can be used illicitly in this regard. Though by nature it is designed to respect the natural functions of those disgusting bodies, when used solely to indulge in sex without any desire to procreate, it can become as damaging to the soul as any artificial means on contraception.
Whatever you do, Wormwood, do not let your patient dwell on the fact that the Enemy designed families for the rearing of offspring. Do not dare tempt him to disregard his mate’s concerns about breeding by suggesting that, without little bipeds running around, a couple runs the danger of becoming two people sharing space, rather than one union created from mutual self-sacrifice. I understand that you might think it reasonable to make these suggestions. If your patient gains a desire for children, a desire that overcomes his little vow of chastity, you reason that he might be tempted to abuse his wife by attempting to beget from her against her wishes. The spousal rape is a commendable goal, but if you reintroduce a desire for procreation, after we have struggle for so long to set sex and procreation at odds, then you run a risk of letting the patient slip even further from your grasp. Better instead would be to encourage frustration, to continue to build up the self-deception that his vow of chastity is really for his mate, not himself. As long as his motives remain inward, he will find his vow an increasing burden, until he at last caves to temptation.
What then if his vow is genuine? Then we must adjust our strategies, for now the patient might already have an appreciation, even a desire, to reproduce. But even here we have an open path. Keep in mind that the Enemy does not discourage marriages that result in no children, as long as the reasons follow his narrow-minded view of what is acceptable. Sterility, barrenness, and even financial concerns can validate a childless union, but these are rare cases. The Enemy has a sickening propensity towards generosity for those fools that think a brood of six or seven or eight is somehow delightful.
The trick here—and you’ll notice that I now am reversing what I said before—is to focus your patient on the aspect of marriage designed for the rearing of offspring. Distract him from the childless unions that are yet still licit—perhaps draw his attention to those unions that are barren out of mere selfish reasons—and lead him towards the idea that a marriage absolutely must have children. If you can convince him of this, then you can lead him towards an obvious conclusion. If his mate does not desire children, will not allow them to have children (by all means, make the case as exaggerated as you can to feed into his resent), then why are they even married?
I will caution you strongly, Wormwood. The situation is delicate. I will not argue that your patient’s abrupt turn towards chastity is a serious setback. But the strategies I have outlined should prove fruitful. In addition, there is always the chance that his sudden fascination with chastity is no more than a passing fancy, and he’ll return to his usual antics within a year. Indeed, it can be hoped that if you present his decision to live chastely as a dead-end that can only lead him into sinful behavior, he’ll find his old ways all the more tempting.
Keep me informed about the patient’s progress in this regard, and be meticulous in your details. Any misstep here could just as easily push the patient into the Enemy’s camp as tip him into our own.
(Disclaimer: Screwtape and Wormwood are characters created by C.S. Lewis. I in no way claim any right to them. This work is mainly a tribute to Lewis’ classic The Screwtape Letters.)