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Screwtape Considers the Culture Wars

January 9th, 2024 | 5 min read

By Susannah Black Roberts

My dear Wormwood,

I’m pleased to hear that your patient has begun thinking of his Twitter use as a kind of chivalric act, equivalent to taking part in an actual war. Sloth and wrath are powerful weapons on our side, as, of course, is self-righteousness.

Not seeing the face of the man he speaks to will encourage him to give vent to contempt and hatred against another of his kind with a much greater degree of freedom—there’s nothing so frustrating to our efforts in this area as the sense of shame which the Enemy often allows to be kindled in the breast of such a man when he hears himself speak aloud in ways that he has habituated himself to on Twitter. One moment of that shame has been enough to lose us many who were well on their way to being firm adherents of our cause.

As I wrote you earlier, war— actual war— is not nearly as helpful to our purposes as you (somewhat naively, I am sorry to say) seemed to think. In war men may exhibit courage; many soldiers die literally laying down their lives for their friends, and are lost to us.

Culture war, however, is a much more helpful tool. It can promote all the jingoism and hatred of an enemy, all the sense that since one is on the right side, that makes all one’s actions justified, that one gets in a real war, but without the attendant dangers.

I should point out here that as with so many of such things, the bait is effective because there is in it a great deal of truth. Many, though by no means all, of the issues over which these cultural battles are fought are in fact extremely important, and our Enemy has many who engage in them with precisely that spirit of chivalry that I know you join me in finding cloying. Meekness! Humility! Gentleness! Patience! Kindness! It’s a revolting brew - when someone brings those things that are called fruits of the spirit into a cultural conflict on our enemy’s side, along with stoutheartedness. There are dangers for us there.

But the opportunities – they are so rich! Only convince your patient that those fruits of the spirit are not applicable, or not manly (if he is on the right) or are psychologically unhealthy and undermine the fight for justice (if he is on the left) and you’re home free.

The crucial thing in these matters is for your patient to never look at his own words in terms of basic courtesy. “But is it discourteous, is it bad manners, to speak in this way?”— that is the one question which he must never raise to himself. He must be encouraged to think of himself as “forceful” or “bold” and never once suspect that he may in fact simply be breathtakingly rude.

Schmitt has of course been a nearly endless source of help for us, for decades now, but one must hope that those culture warriors who are taking him as a guide do not press too deeply—let them linger on the friend/enemy distinction, and not understand the distinction he makes between enemy and foe.

Let them treat their personal foes, those fellow-citizens and often enough fellow-Christians, with whom they have a grievance, as though they were the enemies of their country in war.

Indeed, what is wanted most is to stir up hatred against those who are in these matters as close as possible in terms of shared Christian belief and shared institutions, while being in some sense competitive precisely because of that proximity.

Of course stirring up hatred of those who are distant, physically or culturally, is always helpful - a mainstay of our work, really, and this basic and rather easy form of hatred has gotten us through some lean times indeed. Still, it is my opinion - and I think I am not an amateur in such matters - that it’s much more helpful for our longer-term strategy for people to hate and attack those who are quite close to them. If a man can be convinced to hate his actual neighbor while loving a distant abstraction of humanity, or his race, or some other such thing, we can be fairly sure of him.

And while this cultivation of hatred of the close-to must apply to physical neighbors, it can with great effect be applied as well to those with whom your patient shares, or could share, institutions; people with whom he very nearly agrees.

Your patient is an American evangelical— let him by all means focus most of his vitriol on American evangelicals very slightly to his left or to his right. This narcissism of small differences creates, to my palate, one of the more piquant deformations of soul.

Of course, your patient must never be permitted to reflect that one of the things that he is doing in his attacks on those whose friends he may share, whose writings may appear alongside his in journals, is an attempt at market differentiation. There has been nothing so helpful to our strategies in these areas as the creation of a marketplace of personal brands, of potentially profitable public profiles among those who profess our Enemy’s name; this is in fact one of the areas of psycho-technological research and development in which I have been investing most heavily of late, and I advise you to do the same.

Remember, our primary task is to foment hatred and schism and disunity within that interesting object which the Enemy has pleased himself to describe as his Body. (I am sorry to speak so crudely.) In the very best cases, we have been able through this strategy to divide family members from each other, though all members of the family profess the allegiance of our Enemy.

The state of mind that can be created in those who fall on the left of the current cultural divide in our Enemy’s camp, and those who fall on the right, is remarkably parallel, though there are differences. Both groups must be encouraged to regard themselves as underdogs, as bravely fighting unscrupulous power, represented by their opposite number on the other side of the divide. Both must be encouraged to regard themselves as understanding the true nature of our Enemy’s… social movement, or however one wants to think of it. They must be encouraged to look on each other with loathing, to allow their vision of those on the other side to bloat and sour. There have been three or four cases in the last several months of people who had formerly been friends and colleagues, and who are still professing Christians, whose distorted visions of those who are now their enemies have been captured by some of our artists; they make for extremely entertaining viewing.

Of course this is not the only way these culture wars can serve our plans— disgusted with them, a patient may abandon the actual ethical positions over which they are fought, or become indifferent to corruption in the church, or indeed find great self-satisfaction in considering himself to be “not like those other Christians”.  This is a very good position for a man to be in, for our purposes, and I will have a great deal more to say of it in the future.

But for now I will send these few lines along, and I can assure you that your report of your patients progress will do a good deal towards allaying the dissatisfaction with your work which I have been hearing, to my great regret, from some of our friends in the Lower Echelons;

and believe me to be,

Your affectionate Uncle

Screwtape

Susannah Black Roberts

Susannah Black Roberts is senior editor at Plough. She is a native Manhattanite. She and her husband, the theologian Alastair Roberts, split their time between Manhattan and the West Midlands of the UK.