Notes on How Not to be a Saint

ephesians-6-12

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic, and I thought the CS Lewis mavens of Almost Chosen People might find it amusing.)

 

 

We at The American Catholic often receive unsolicited manuscripts.  What follows is from a lengthy collection of documents, smelling faintly of brimstone, that purport to be the notes of a Mr. Wormwood taken while he was attending a class colorfully entitled Damnation 201.  The documents are dated, but the dates given are gibberish:

Ah, Sleek Sylph looks especially delicious.  Oof, Professor Thornbit is saying this could be on the final.  Concentrate Wormwood!

Thornbit:  After what mortals call death patients who escape our clutches are designated Saints by the Enemy.  The penalty for a tempter allowing a patient to become a Saint is as final as it is terrible, albeit succulent for those of us who gain sustenance from those of you who prove incompetent.  Here are ten simple rules to prevent you from ending up on my table.

1. Encourage your patient to violate those laws the Enemy calls his Ten Commandments.  Emphasize to the patient that these are unmerciful rules that do not allow for the complexity of life.  You will find, at least those of you who are not a waste of Hellfire, that the term “complexity” is ever useful in causing a patient to ignore the clear commands of the Enemy.

2.  Most patients, ludicrously, are proud of their intellects.  Encourage the cretins in this, as one of the few true human sayings is that “pride goeth before a fall.”

3.  If you can, make your patient an atheist;   the shock of such patients when they arrive here is an amusement that is indescribable.  Take care however, some who claim atheism merely hate the Enemy and the Enemy has a way of turning strong hate into strong love in an instant if you are not careful.  Also, make certain that your patient embraces atheism as a substitute religion and not as a proposition that he may rethink given evidence to the contrary.  The Enemy and his agents are too cursed good at argument, and in providing evidence, against the useful absurdity of atheism.

4.  The patient should be taught to regard every mortal he encounters as a potential victim for him to exploit.  Although humans tend to be selfish animals, this isn’t as simple as it sounds.  Honest affection and even love can spring from the most unlikely of mortals if his tempter is not ever vigilant.

5.  Sexual excess, especially if channeled into what the Enemy considers perversions, can be a useful aid to propel a patient along our Downward Path.  However, lazy tempters view this as a foolproof temptation at their peril.  That abomination that the Enemy calls love can spring from the most wonderfully sordid sexual entanglements if the tempter of a patient does not take proper precautions. (more…)

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Published in: on May 23, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Notes on How Not to be a Saint  
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Why Do We Honor Veterans?

 

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today 

Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Division at Kohima

 

Sometimes simple questions can help illuminate great truths.   Why do we honor veterans?

 

One veteran of World War I, CS Lewis, perhaps can help us understand why we honor veterans.  Lewis served on the Western Front as a Second Lieutenant in 1917-1918 until he was  wounded on April 15, 1918.  Lewis, the future Oxford Don, was an unlikely soldier and he wrote about his experiences in the War with humorous self-deprecation.  However, he had immense respect for those he served with, especially the enlisted men under his command, for their good humor and courage under the most appalling circumstances.  His war experiences had a vast impact on Lewis, as can be seen in his Screwtape letters, where Lewis writes about war.

In the fifth letter Screwtape admonishes junior tempter Wormword not to allow the sight of human suffering in war to allow him to believe that the war makes Wormword’s task any easier.

For it has certain tendencies inherent in it which are, in themselves, by no means in our favour. We may hope for a good deal of cruelty and unchastity. But, if we are not careful, we shall see thousands turning in this tribulation to the Enemy, while tens of thousands who do not go so far as that will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self. I know that the Enemy disapproves many of these causes. But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew.

Most of us dread death.  Members of the military in war time have to set aside their fear for causes greater than themselves.  It brings to the fore that very precious virtue:  courage.

We have made men proud of most vices, but not of cowardice. Whenever we have almost succeeded in doing so, the Enemy permits a war or an earthquake or some other calamity, and at once courage becomes so obviously lovely and important even in human eyes that all our work is undone, and there is still at least one vice of which they feel genuine shame. The danger of inducing cowardice in our patients, therefore, is lest we produce real self-knowledge and self-loathing with consequent repentance and humility. And in fact, in the last war, thousands of humans, by discovering their own cowardice, discovered the whole moral world for the first time. In peace we can make many of them ignore good and evil entirely; in danger, the issue is forced upon them in a guise to which even we cannot blind them. There is here a cruel dilemma before us. If we promoted justice and charity among men, we should be playing directly into the Enemy’s hands; but if we guide them to the opposite behaviour, this sooner or later produces (for He permits it to produce) a war or a revolution, and the undisguisable issue of cowardice or courage awakes thousands of men from moral stupor.

Lewis theorizes that the virtue of courage is perhaps why God created the world as dangerous as it is:

This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world—a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.

A gentleman I know was a Marine during the battle for Hue in 1968.  He told me that he was absolutely terrified throughout, often vomiting from fear, and regarded himself as a coward even though he was decorated for bravery after the battle.  Then he told me he read this passage in the Screwtape letters and truly understood courage for the first time:

I sometimes wonder whether you think you have been sent into the world for your own amusement. I gather, not from your miserably inadequate report but from that of the Infernal Police, that the patient’s behaviour during the first raid has been the worst possible. He has been very frightened and thinks himself a great coward and therefore feels no pride; but he has done everything his duty demanded and perhaps a bit more.

We honor veterans because for a time in their lives they risked, or potentially risked, their lives for us.  Not all veterans of course are heroes, old news for most veterans, and most veterans who serve never see combat, but the potential risk was always there during their service.  Most veterans at that point in their life personified the virtue of courage, the ability of we mere mortals to rise above our fears and terrors, and that always deserves to be honored.

Published in: on November 12, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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They Shall Not Grow Old

I am surprised that I did not dislike the Army more. It was, of course, detestable. But the words “of course” drew the sting. That is where it differed from Wyvern. One did not expect to like it. Nobody said you ought to like it. Nobody pretended to like it. Everyone you met took it for granted that the whole thing was an odious necessity, a ghastly interruption of rational life. And that made all the difference. Straight tribulation is easier to bear than tribulation which advertises itself as pleasure. The one breeds camaraderie and even (when intense) a kind of love between the fellow-sufferers; the other, mutual distrust, cynicism, concealed and fretting resentment. And secondly, I found my military elders and betters incomparably nicer than the Wyvern Bloods. This is no doubt because Thirty is naturally kinder to Nineteen than Nineteen is to Thirteen: it is really grown-up and does not need to reassure itself. But I am inclined to think that my face had altered. That “look” which I had so often been told to “take off it” had apparently taken itself off–perhaps when I read Phantastes. There is even some evidence that it had been succeeded by a look which excited either pity or kindly amusement. Thus, on my very first night in France, in a vast marquee or drill hall where about a hundred officers were to sleep on plank beds, two middle-aged Canadians at once took charge of me and treated me, not like a son (that might have given offence) but like a long-lost friend. Blessings upon them! Once, too, in the Officers’ Club at Arras where I was dining alone, and quite happy with my book and my wine (a bottle of Heidsieck then cost 8 francs, and a bottle of Perrier Jouet, 12) two immensely senior officers, all covered with ribbons and red tabs, came over to my table towards the end of the meal, and hailing me as “Sunny Jim” carried me off to their own for brandy and cigars. They weren’t drunk either; nor did they make me drunk. It was pure good will. And though exceptional, this was not so very exceptional. There were nasty people in the army; but memory fills those months with pleasant, transitory contacts. Every few days one seemed to meet a scholar, an original, a poet, a cheery buffoon, a raconteur, or at the least a man of good will.

CS Lewis, Surprised by Joy

 

 

 

Hattip to Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts who alerted me to this grand updating of World War I films by Peter Jackson.  Go here to read his post.  This is the proper way to approach history:  to always remember that real men and women made the history in which they lived, and that they are not merely dead figures on cold pages in books.

 

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon

 

 

Published in: on October 22, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on They Shall Not Grow Old  
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Notes on How Not to Be a Saint

ephesians-6-12

(I posted this at The American Catholic on All Saints Day and I thought that the CS Lewis mavins of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

We at The American Catholic often receive unsolicited manuscripts.  What follows is from a lengthy collection of documents, smelling faintly of brimstone, that purport to be the notes of a Mr. Wormwood taken while he was attending a class colorfully entitled Damnation 201.  The documents are dated, but the dates given are gibberish:

Ah, Sleek Sylph looks especially delicious.  Oof, Professor Thornbit is saying this could be on the final.  Concentrate Wormwood!

Thornbit:  After what mortals call death patients who escape our clutches are designated Saints by the Enemy.  The penalty for a tempter allowing a patient to become a Saint is as final as it is terrible, albeit succulent for those of us who gain sustenance from those of you who prove incompetent.  Here are ten simple rules to prevent you from ending up on my table.

1. Encourage your patient to violate those laws the Enemy calls his Ten Commandments.  Emphasize to the patient that these are unmerciful rules that do not allow for the complexity of life.  You will find, at least those of you who are not a waste of Hellfire, that the term “complexity” is ever useful in causing a patient to ignore the clear commands of the Enemy.

2.  Most patients, ludicrously, are proud of their intellects.  Encourage the cretins in this, as one of the few true human sayings is that “pride goeth before a fall.”

3.  If you can, make your patient an atheist;   the shock of such patients when they arrive here is an amusement that is indescribable.  Take care however, some who claim atheism merely hate the Enemy and the Enemy has a way of turning strong hate into strong love in an instant if you are not careful.  Also, make certain that your patient embraces atheism as a substitute religion and not as a proposition that he may rethink given evidence to the contrary.  The Enemy and his agents are too cursed good at argument, and in providing evidence, against the useful absurdity of atheism.

4.  The patient should be taught to regard every mortal he encounters as a potential victim for him to exploit.  Although humans tend to be selfish animals, this isn’t as simple as it sounds.  Honest affection and even love can spring from the most unlikely of mortals if his tempter is not ever vigilant.

5.  Sexual excess, especially if channeled into what the Enemy considers perversions, can be a useful aid to propel a patient along our Downward Path.  However, lazy tempters view this as a foolproof temptation at their peril.  That abomination that the Enemy calls love can spring from the most wonderfully sordid sexual entanglements if the tempter of a patient does not take proper precautions. (more…)

Published in: on November 6, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Notes on How Not to Be a Saint  
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CS Lewis Explains Why He Was Not a Pacifist

 

(I posted this at The American Catholic and I thought the history mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

 

 

It is, of course, true that wars never do half the good which the leaders of the belligerents say they are going to do. Nothing ever does half the good — perhaps nothing ever does half the evil — which is expected of it. And that may be a sound argument for not pitching one’s propaganda too high. But it is no argument against war. If a Germanised Europe in 1914 would have been an evil, then the war which would have prevented that evil would have been, so far, justified. To call it useless because it did not also cure slums and unemployment is like coming up to a man who has just succeeded in defending himself from a man-eating tiger and saying, “It’s no good, old chap. This hasn’t really cured your rheumatism!”

CS Lewis

Published in: on October 19, 2016 at 4:05 am  Comments Off on CS Lewis Explains Why He Was Not a Pacifist  
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