The Screwtape Option: 3 New Ways to Thwart Christian Witness Today

By Jason Jones & John Zmirak Published on April 4, 2017

LifeSiteNews has reported:

A representative from the George Soros-funded dissident group Catholics for Choice (CFC) said she supports Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider, because “our Catholic social justice tradition compels us to stand with the poor and the most vulnerable in our society.”

This hijack of Catholic language is meant to confuse people. Christians are called to serve the vulnerable. They are “the least” among our “brethren.” (Matt. 25: 40) When we serve them, we serve Christ. Or so He promised.

The most vulnerable, afflicted people on earth have the fewest defenders. And George Soros isn’t one of them. You’ll win little credit for fighting for the truly vulnerable. Perhaps the groups that best fit that description today are:

  • Unborn children in the West, who have zero legal protection, and are cannibalized for parts;
  • religious minorities around the world who are persecuted by intolerant governments; and
  • Christians who face the choice between betraying their consciences and losing their livelihoods or liberty here in the West.

So what would you do today if you were C.S. Lewis’ tempter Screwtape? You have one job: to keep souls out of heaven. To achieve that, you need to keep Christians from serving the truly vulnerable. You aim in fact to:

  1. Increase human misery. Just for fun, of course. But also to goad souls into wrath, dissension, and despair.
  2. Prevent people from doing what the Gospel demands.
  3. Keep them busy doing something else.
  4. Better still, wherever you can, get them to do the opposite.
  5. Convince people that by following your plan they are smarter, cooler, and more enlightened than those Christians who actually are obeying Jesus.
  6. Make it shameful in the eyes of the public, even of Christians, to follow the Gospel.

That sounds like a tall order. You will need to be strategic. People are different, and not every temptation will snooker each soul. So it’s best if you have more than one scheme in your playbook.

The Pharisee Plan

This one is tried and true, and doesn’t require much explaining. Convince people to focus on squabbling over minor points of doctrine. Get them to ignore their own sins and obsess on the sins of others. Teach them that the best way to get the beam out of their own eye is to pluck the mote out of someone else’s. Plant and water the fantasy that their own social or ideological circle is the invisible Church. Their gated community is the City of God. Let them think that grabbing power for members of the church is the same as building Christ’s kingdom on earth. And so on. You already know this one, so let’s move on to the three new, innovative strategies that have emerged in recent years.

The Benedict Option

The technical term for this bold new dead-end in Christian living is “Defeatism,” but that brand didn’t test well with focus groups. This plan works best for those who really are heart-broken about the evils of this world. They aren’t smug. They’re discouraged.

Of course, if they persevere, God will grant them the strength that they need. But that is where you come in.

Barrage them with negative news. Phrase every report in the most alarmist tone that’s possible. Tell them that the battle is already over. They have run the race, and fought the fight. But they have lost, and now it’s over. Time for a breather.

The church has burned to the ground, so now they’re free to salvage whatever they can from the smoldering ruins. And presto! You have turned an army of volunteer firemen into a sullen mob of scavengers. If they pick up a statue or prayer book here and there, don’t be alarmed. They won’t know what to do with them.

These people aren’t thinking about unborn children, or persecuted Christians. They’re focused on themselves and their sense of loss and grievance. Even better if you can turn this newfound Sloth into Vanity, by making them feel superior to those “fools” who continue the fight.

The Seamless Garment

This stratagem has been around since the 1970s. It got a little frayed around the edges, so its advocates had to mend it. To that end, they’ve stolen the name of an actual pro-life group, and re-branded the Seamless Garment the “Whole Life Movement.”

The goal here is to take genuine concern for real, needy people and dissolve it like an espresso shot in an Olympic swimming pool.

Use the arguments we usually associate with Relativism to prevent people from seeing the differences between things. Lump in every hard luck story or bad outcome in a fallen world with the worst injustices on earth.

Forbid people to see what distinguishes (for instance) a murderer on death row from an old lady about to be euthanized against her will. Teach them to equate a Muslim immigrant who’s offended by tasteless jokes with Christian girls kidnapped by ISIS. Convince them that climate change is a crime on the scale of abortion. And so on.

Once people have come to accept the fact that all evils are basically equal, they’ll probably give up fighting evil altogether, and concentrate on enjoying themselves.

The Victimist Gambit

This plan is the most ambitious. But it offers the richest rewards (beyond all that cash from Mr. Soros). Christian philosopher Rene Girard identified this as the worldview that will bring on the Apocalypse. So it’s worth our special attention.

Victimism is the mental trick by which you puff yourself up and congratulate yourself for being an activist. You win praise and social brownie points by identifying with the causes that are most popular with elites. Stick to topics on which Ivy League professors, Hollywood movie stars, and government bureaucrats agree.

Make sure that your efforts get noticed. (In biblical terms, “blow a trumpet” when “dispensing alms.”) If anyone opposes you, conceive of yourself as a genuine victim. You might really begin to believe it!

Our culture cherrypicks tragedies to suit its ruling ideology. It ignores the causes that challenge it. So of course, those who really suffer the most and have the fewest defenders — like unborn babies, or Syrian Christians — won’t make the list. Instead, the Victimist will latch onto animal rights,  transgender activism or Planned Parenthood … whatever cause is coolest among those people he wants to impress.

If you do your job right, the Victimist will scorn and resent those actual Christians who try to help the vulnerable. He will sneer and feel superior. And why not? He will be far from the sweaty, bloody victims. Instead, he’ll walk the red carpet, sniffing after the elite. 

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  • Deacon Keith Fournier


    That is my inarticulate, gut level reaction to this stunning, timely and insightful article.

    I have been telling my fellow ministers and servants of the Lord to re-read – The Screwtape Letters – no matter how many times they have read it before.

    I do so because the demonic activity behind so many of the challenges we face in this hour of Christian history must be exposed – in order to be opposed.

    I have been very,very cautious about some of the concepts set forth in some recent, well written and probably well intended Christian books.

    Though purporting to analyze our times, they offer retreatist options which are at odds with the Christian mission.

    They also mis-read Christian history, using it as a proof text for an agenda rather than a lesson book for the ongoing and unbroken history of the Church..

    This powerful article, written by Jason Jones and John Zmirak, and unites both of these spiritual concerns in a consistent rescue rope.

    This article hits the proverbial nail right on the head….of the serpent, the thief and the cunning adversary of individual Christians and the Body of Christ, the Church.

    But, Jesus Christ is Lord!

    God bless you both and thank you

    Deacon Keith Fournier

  • Paul Kosokowsky

    Excellent, well done gentlemen. I can see several sermons in
    this article that I would love to give, just as a wakeup call.

  • ImaginaryDomain

    This is great…it truly is. BUT, how does this translate to boots on the ground? How will the average Christian leverage this information to transform hearts and minds? I live by the maxim that living and being a Christian is simple, not easy, but simple (HT to Sr. Margaret from the 6th grade for this one). I’m afraid that those unfamiliar with your references might come away from this puzzled…

    Just a thought. Again, really great stuff here. Thanks!

  • Shannon Marie Federoff

    “The Benedict Option” that you paint is a straw man. As an “option” it has never been defined, because it will look differently to the people/ organizations that participate in it. I homeschool, and we do 4H and Trail Life (Boy Scout alternative). We are picky about who our 11 children hang out with. We have given them a short list of colleges we will help them attend (so far, the top 4 have gone to/ are going to FUS). Catholics need to start making different choices than the secularized world around them… choices that bring Faith and Family to the forefront, and choices that bring them into contact with like-minded individuals. Because either WE form our children… or the state and the pop culture will.

    We are not removing ourselves from the culture. We vote. We teach pre-Cana classes at our parish that are heavy on TOB to couples who have never HEARD the richness and cohesion of the Church’s teachings on marriage and family. (Often they receive this new education as a wonderful gift!). My husband built our house, himself, out of straw bales so we have contact with the sustainable builders who value the environment (often not a crowd positive about Christianity!) BUT… again…. we purposely work to form our children and our family in a Catholic Christian environment.

    THAT will give my children the best chance to choose Christ.

    • Bryan

      I think I disagree with you regarding “The Benedict Option” being a straw man because it’s not defined. It may look different for each person/family but doesn’t mean that the option is not defined. I have not read the book but it seems to me that it calls for Christians to form pockets of community within the world but that endeavors to be as apart from the world as possible and to only interact with other Christians whenever possible.
      My childhood was not much different than what you described. I wasn’t homeschooled, but public schools weren’t quite what they are today. I went to a public university as well. My children will probably go to a private Christian school because my wife teaches there. After 8th grade we’ll reevaluate. The reason I write this is to say, yes we are choosing not to follow the world on everything but we are not choosing to abandon the world either. You seem to have a similar approach. This is different from what I understand of the Benedict Option, where the Christians cut themselves off from the world on purpose because they despair that the world is the world. It’s actually similar to or a sub-type of the Victimist Gambit where they the victim of the world that hates them. While the world may hate us, that is not a reason to shut off the world.

      • Howard

        I haven’t read the book, but I’ve read a lot of what Dreher writes at The American Conservative, and frankly too much of it can be accurately paraphrased as, “Buy my book! It’s the most important book written in decades and the only hope for Western civilization! Anyone who doubts this is evil, stupid, or both!” As should be obvious, these antics do not support his ambition to be seen as one of the important deep thinkers of our time.

        Honestly, he reminds me a lot of Mark Shea. Both have written some very good articles that raise important points. On the other hand, neither of them have reacted well to their growing reputations. They have both become prickly and defensive, and both have been willing to lash out at anyone who dares to disagree with them with whatever argument, valid or fallacious, is handy at the moment. It’s probably just a typical problem with pride and anger, something many of us struggle with; I know for a fact that I do. Regardless, it poisons their works.

        My suggestion would be to forget The Benedict Option and instead read a good lives of the saints. As much as we may wish to believe that we are special, unprecedented people living in a time of special, unprecedented danger, the fact is we are pretty ordinary and threats to civilization and the Church have been seen, with mostly irrelevant differences, many times over the centuries.

        • Zmirak

          Very well said, Howard. Dreher & Shea have a lot in common, alas.

  • Suellen Ann Brewster

    Praise Jesus! Thank you for this article. May God protect you from the inevitable backlash from our enemy at exposing his tactics.

  • Jo Jjp

    Very interesting article – I can feel the pull of defeatism daily, especially after a diet of too much negative alarmist news. It is very hard to focus on what little good news is out there when the media basically ignores it on purpose. Also agree with the ‘seamless garment’ argument about lumping all the ills of the world together as though they were equal and then picking the most fashionable to champion! I particularly loved the line: “The goal here is to take genuine concern for real, needy people and dissolve it like an espresso shot in an Olympic swimming pool.”

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