On Spiritual Warfare | From "The Snakebite Letters" | Peter Kreeft | IgnatiusInsight.com
On Spiritual Warfare | From The Snakebite Letters |
Taking his cue from the new literary genre invented by C. S. Lewis in Screwtape Letters, Peter Kreeft has gathered together fifteen spicy
letters from Satan's agents below that allow the reader to spy into Hell's inter-office communication. Now that it is becoming more and more
obvious that we are at war--not only cultural but spiritual war--it is also more necessary to understand our diabolical enemy and his strategy.
Combining satire, humor and devilish insights, these fifteen letters from Snakebite to his trainee, Braintwister, provide a complete Satanic
strategy for corrupting American society, public and private morality, and the Church. Focusing especially on the critical areas of sex, media,
liturgy, theology and religious education, these letters reveal the inroads that Screwtape's satanic American counterparts have made into subverting
our modern culture. The Koran says: "Before shooting the arrow of truth, dip it in honey." This genre of devilish correspondence allows serious
this-worldly social criticism to take the form of witty other-worldly letters.
This excerpt is Chapter One of The Snakebite Letters.
My dear nephew Braintwister:
As your great-uncle I was, of course, signally pleased when the Education
Directorate asked me to train you as the new case officer for Patient No.
66,589/ADFgm. As a veteran, I do so enjoy working with fresh talent from the
It's an unusual honor to be assigned to a new patient in the middle of his
life. So perhaps you've been "noticed" by the Lower Downs. Doubtless
you've also been briefed on the terrain: the regrettable failure of Wormhole,
the comrade you're replacing, and the patient's recent conversion to the
Enemy's Church. However, as I shall demonstrate below, all is not lost--by any
Take a lesson from Wormhole, though. Hell, unlike the Opposition, focuses quite
realistically on results. Remember the ruling slogan of your plebe-year
philosophy seminar: "Nothing succeeds but success." I also encourage
you to review the fine print of your executive-incentive plan.
I'll miss Wormhole, naturally, but his work had been shoddy since the Cure
d'Ars fiasco. And it's only fitting that the final act of his long, if
undistinguished, career should be to nourish and refresh his fellow officers. I
must say it's a gourmet's delight when a former comrade is sauteed to
perfection for the rest of us to savor. The quality of human souls is so
decidedly bland lately.
Well, to the business at hand: Your patient has become a Catholic. A modest
setback. You novices don't realize how even an inconvenience like this can be
turned to our advantage. This may shock you, since the Church is our only remaining
earthly enemy of any substance, and his conversion to that Church is
sincere--for the moment. But you forget that your patient is American;
delightfully, typically American.
What does that mean? A Catholic college professor recently polled his students
and found that the vast majority of them, by their own reckoning, thought of
themselves as "Americans who happened to be Catholic" rather than as
"Catholics who happened to be Americans". This confusion about their
true fatherland can be our wedge.
Like most Americans, your patient is a sentimentalist. He lives by emotion more
than by thought. He's presently feeling like a new bride on her honeymoon with
the Enemy. But once the honeymoon is over, the Enemy's policy is almost always
to withdraw those special graces He showers on new converts. He wants to
toughen them up. That's our opening: Where there are tests, there can be
failures, and where a soul has to be toughened up, it can also be softened up.
There's little chance your patient will slide back into conscious unbelief
anytime soon. But prospects are very good indeed that you can erode his faith
to such an extent that he'll end up even more securely under our influence than
a total atheist. How can this can be? Consider the facts:
What happened to him when he believed nothing and knew it? Why, he snapped like
a hungry fish right onto the Enemy's hook! Unbelievers who know they are
unbelievers are in constant danger of questioning their own emptiness and considering
the alternative in the clear light of day. But unbelievers who think they
believe--these are our securest prey. Right now, No. 66,589/ ADFgm is a
believer who knows he's a believer. The goal is to make him an unbeliever who
still assumes that he believes.
Therefore, do not attack his faith head-on but rather subvert it, carefully
leaving enough residue so that he'll still think of himself as a believer-an
"advanced" or "sophisticated" or "nuanced" or
"modern" believer, or even a "dissenter". But not an
unbeliever. Thus he'll grow increasingly smug, self-satisfied and immune to any
more of the Enemy's blandishments.
You see, a little religion often does more good than no religion at all. It's
the principle mortals use in treating their diseases. They inject a healthy
body with a light dose of the disease germs so that their system builds up a
resistance. A little religion is like a mild case of cowpox: It prevents the
far deadlier smallpox, the real danger. (Seasoning these creatures with just a
touch of faith also brings out some wonderfully interesting flavors once we get
them Down Below.)
The Enemy's Son understood the strategy. He told them, "Those who are sick
need a doctor, not those who are well. I came to call not the righteous, but
sinners, to repentance." Before his conversion, No. 66,589/ADFgm knew he
was a sinner. This knowledge put him in jeopardy of seeking out the Doctor for
help. Sure enough, he succumbed to that danger, behind Wormhole's back. But if
you can convince him even now that "sin" is an outdated concept of
pre-modern psychology, we can recoup all our lost ground, and more.
But how can you keep him from noticing the obvious? Of course he's a sinner.
They all are; don't they read the news? Sin is the only dogma of the Enemy's
Camp that can be proved just by reading the papers.
Here's where the psychwar mavens in the Public Information Directorate have
prepared the way for you. They've insinuated their arguments into the very fiber
of the surrounding society and even into his Church. In fact, a surprising number
of the creatures' theologians and religious education "experts"
believe the only "sin" is to believe in sin! That's the lynchpin.
Knock out sin and the Enemy's whole structure caves in. If there's no sin,
there's no need for salvation, and thus the dogmas of the Incarnation,
Atonement, Resurrection, Ascension and Second Coming can safely be filed under "mythology".
Furthermore, if he doesn't believe in sin, he won't believe in us. Even if he
does believe in sin, he probably won't believe in us; few of them do these
days. And even fewer realize the enormous advantage that gives us.
In the past, our strategy was to get them to think about us too much, so that
their fear would be stronger than their faith. We had some spectacular
successes here, especially in Spain and Salem, and we certainly dined well from
the troughs of passionate hate and fear. Ah, what I would give for just a
morsel of another Torquemada!
But times change, and enterprises like ours must adapt or die. We now get them
to think about us too little, and preferably not at all. This may seem unsound,
because when they thought about us more, they were also more inclined to the grand
vices, like cruelty. Unfortunately, they found the grand virtues, like courage,
equally appealing because they were hardier souls. Since they knew about us,
they understood that they were fighting a great spiritual war.
When mortals know they're at war, a kind of Emergency Consciousness arises in
them. This can be turned to our advantage, by creating anxiety, but it's a very
unstable compound because it can also foster self-sacrifice for a higher cause.
When they know they're at war, they live with passion and alertness. They don't
greedily demand comfort. There are no yuppies on a battlefield.
But when they believe they're not at war, they become soft. They demand their
"rights". They think of the earth not as their training ground but as
their home. They confuse wants with needs.
How did we get this immense strategic advantage? Propaganda, Braintwister--it's
our metier. Of course they had no evidence to prove we didn't exist. They just
drifted with "the spirit of the times" and "the climate of
opinion" out of the medieval fire and into the modern fog.
We didn't achieve this all at once. The campaign developed in two steps. First,
we got them to disbelieve only in sin, not in sanctity; only in Hell, not in
that Other Place. But without the depth of the valley, there can be no height to
the mountain, and they soon found themselves on a flat and featureless plain.
That's why their mental pictures of God, eternity, angels and saints are all so
insipid today: There's no contrast. In the Middle Ages, those images were vivid
and powerful, moving pictures. They no longer move men's minds.
If there's a war, there must be an enemy. Who do they think their enemy is?
There are only four possibilities:
1. They often used to believe their enemies were concrete human beings. This
lie was extremely useful to us when people were passionate enough to know how
to hate and stupid enough to ignore the teaching of that inveterate
troublemaker Paul, that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood but
against principalities and powers."
2. Second, the enemies could be abstract: vice, ignorance, injustice--that sort
of thing. That's safely vague. Only scholars can be passionate about
3. The third and true possibility, of course, is that they have real, actual
spiritual enemies: us.
4. But if they no longer believe that, nor either of the other options, then
the only possibility left is that there are no enemies, and no war, and thus no
And that's where we have them now. Ninety-nine out of a hundred of them never
once in their lives get up from bed in the morning with the thought that the
forthcoming day will involve a battle in the greatest war of all, and that
their Commander is sending them on a mission only they can accomplish. Instead,
they think of their planet not as a battlefield but as a bathtub.
Be sure to keep the water tepid. At the right moment, we pull the plug. What
delight to contemplate their surprise and terror as they discover they can go
down the drain!
Your affectionate uncle,
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Ph.D., is a professor
of philosophy at Boston College. He is an alumnus of Calvin College
(AB 1959) and Fordham University (MA 1961, Ph.D., 1965). He taught at Villanova
University from 1962-1965, and has been at Boston College since 1965.
He is the author of numerous books (over forty and counting) including:
C.S. Lewis for the Third Millennium, Fundamentals of the Faith, Catholic
Christianity, Back to Virtue, and Three Approaches to Abortion.
More info about Kreeft and his many Ignatius Press books can be found on
his IgnatiusInsight.com author page.
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