Entertained to Death

Touchscreen

I came up behind a well-dressed man seated upon a park bench. It was a bright day, the sun was shining, and the grass was neatly trimmed and covered with a sprinkle of fallen autumn leaves. I accosted the man – but he never moved, nor acknowledged my presence. His eyes remained fixed on his touchscreen device held lightly in both hands, earphone cords dangling from his earlobes. He was oblivious to the world around him. I thought he was rather like a breathing corpse: devoid of conscious thought, motionless, and unaware.

He wasn’t the only statue-like person I saw. Scattered like some macabre tableaux from a zombie apocalypse movie were bodies in various motionless attitudes throughout the park. They gave me the impression of having been somehow teleported into position without moving a muscle. All around me I sensed newsfeeds being avidly devoured, FaceBook statuses being busily updated, photos snapchated, and clips downloaded from YouTube.

None of the bodies took the slightest notice of me – or gave the smallest hint that they were aware of the presence of others. Interpersonal relationships – I reflected, sadly – were far easier these days: there simply weren’t any. Well, no relationships outside the medium of global curators like FaceBook “friendship circles”, or Twitter followers: whose communications are constrained to insanely truncated 128-character messages containing nothing but banal platitudes, hashtags, and always ending in LOL.

I came to see the living corpses in front of me – as I now thought of them – were in a real sense infantile: emotional babies inside full-grown bodies, starved of intimacy and affection; drowning in a continuous stream of alerts, updates, messages, and reminders. They could remain infantile as long as the chose because they never needed to grow up: their toughest obstacle to date had been choosing an ISP. And afterwards – being constantly online – what real-world obstacles needed overcoming? They were now far too busy accessing a lifetime of entertainment carefully designed to prevent them from actually doing something worthwhile, or achieving something of value. The thought that their transient online-game high-score didn’t actually matter never crossed their minds. They remained oblivious to events in the real world – preferring to spend time in the company of avatars and virtual friends.

I left them behind immersed in their counterfeited, ersatz realities. None of them noticed me leave: just as, in fact, none had noticed me arrive. For all I know they remain there still – ordering the occasional pizza delivery which they consume without tasting, flicking their thumbs across their touch-screens: while all around them the world continues to turn, night succeeds day, seasons pass, until at last the heavens fall and the last trump sounds.

And only then will they finally awaken – to stand alongside all the other dead arising from their graves: finally and completely stripped of their virtual realities to stand naked before incarnate Truth: Truth that demands and gets their entire and full attention, forcing them to attend to the ultimate Reality which they had spent a lifetime avoiding.

Mere words simply cannot describe what will happen next.

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Lost Screwtape Letters – A Short Note

stone gargoyle

Dearest Wormwood,

I note with acute embarrassment your recent peevish and ill-considered complaints made to your supervisor regarding supposed difficulties with your present assignment. Your childish mewling is quite demeaning, yet this fails to stop you publicly lamenting your hard lot.

Well, foolish nephew, I am writing to you to say plainly that of course your patient will have difficult moments. Have I now “felt your pain”, dear boy?

Having uttered as much silly pop-psychology poppycock as I can manage, allow me to get to the point. For when I was your age, we tempters had to work 24×7 shifts with multiple patients and never gave it a second thought. How degenerate your generation has become! When will you grow up? Earning a living isn’t all fun and games, you dissipated demon! When will you and your friends ever come to the realise that life isn’t one long party toting pitchforks while tormenting roomfuls of shrieking souls?

In point of fact, young devils like you have never had it so good. What has become painfully clear is your ingratitude – despite all of your generation’s advantages. How I really do despair of today’s young tempters! Your supervisor tells me he receives from you an endless stream of complaints – but never once any acknowledgement that your successes (pitiful as they are) are the inevitable fruit of seeds sown by your elders over decades past.

Gay Marriage. Allow me to make my point: for it is my generation who worked hard to turn the largest western Protestant denominations into publicly supporting Gay Marriage and sodomite sex (a great joke against their church founders!). It was our efforts that trained modern ministers of religion who are so pliable that they vociferously propound every false doctrine we care to suggest (so incapable have they become to discerning Truth from Falsehood!)

Public Education. I might add – with becoming pride – that it is due to my generation that western Public Education now denigrates and denounces western culture, institutions, and history; substituting for the classics bowdlerised texts and works of revisionist writers that are as empty of facts as they are replete with politically-correct platitudes.

Mainstream Media. And whose generation was it who infiltrated global public newscasters and turned them into the effective propaganda machine they are today? (It always raises a laugh in hell when we hear their latest denunciations of “fake news”! With what brazen effrontery do these news-giants castigate all sources outside themselves!) It is no empty boast for me to say that we have recruited so many willing humans to distribute our propaganda material that our own PR department is becoming quite redundant.

Western Islam. Nor can I refrain from mentioning our latest signal success: badgering western governments into sponsoring and promoting Islam, to such an extent they pass laws to silence their citizens criticising Islam publicly! The West today is more intolerant and less open than during the Middle Ages! (How quick these humans forget history! Inveighing against religion was once a public freedom – now it is “hate speech”! Ha! Ha!)

If you have been paying attention, you cannot fail to realise that with so many of our schemes in play – after all your predecessors have done to smooth your path – you have nothing whatever to complain of. Indeed – nothing you have yet encountered with your patient is anything more than a trifling obstacle. Words fail me when I wonder whether your present generation is anything more than a pathetic bunch of second-rate, sniveling fiends.

Frankly, you need toughening up. Perhaps a spell of re-education on a remote, desert island inside a few wild pigs will do the trick? (Well, I would not go quite so far as all that: it is with a shudder I recall that most deplorable episode when the Enemy imprisoned some of our best field agents inside swine during their Galilean field assignment. What a fiasco!)

Anyhow, now that you have come up against your patient’s token resistance – what are you going to do? Just give up – when you still have so many options left to choose from? My dear boy – you have all the tools to hand to reclaim your patient’s attention and keep it fixed firmly upon temporal things. Modern social-media keeps humans glued to touch-screens all day long, everyday – leaving not a second’s attention to attend to whatever the Enemy might say. If you do you job properly, as you were trained to do, you will soon have your patient back in hand.

I have no time to listen to your bleating that “the playing field is stacked against you”, or how “the universe is so grossly unfair”, or how “the Enemy might do something at any moment”. Your protests are true – but irrelevant.

The real question is: are you to remain a spineless, carping, little fiend – or will you do your duty, stick to your patient through thick and thin, to at last escort him in triumph to our father’s house?

Having read all that I have penned, I am confident that you will make the correct decision.

Your affectionate uncle,

Screwtape.

 

stone gargoyle

Lost Screwtape Letters – Public Apologies

stone gargoyle

Dearest Wormwood,

Public Apologies are one of our newest and most useful tools in deluding the current generation of patients. A modicum of subtlety is required – which you demonstrate on your better days – for optimal results. You have already been taught the basics: now is the time for you to get your patient to practice this most useful activity.

However, as your mentor, I must mention a few points which cannot be too often repeated.

First: never forget that your patient must confess loudly the sins of others – but not his own. Confessing the sins of others is a congenial pass-time leading to the rapid growth of complacent pride: which is most useful to us. Confessing one’s own sins puts the patient in deadly peril – for it opens a route to humility and the possibility of real repentance. Happily for us, keeping your patient focused on pointing out the sins of others is an easy matter: just be sure he daily checks his social media and news feeds – which our agents continually update with the most violent, salacious, and titillating stories possible.

Second: ensure your patient starts making false public apologies a habit. This should be easy enough: because denouncing others allows every patient to feel good about themselves – avoiding all of the personal sacrifices that accompany really being good. Remind your patient of the joys of occupying the moral high ground that is all part and parcel of confessing the sins of others: and stress continually the pain which accompanies confessing one’s own sins. Our message is simple: “pain is evil and must be avoided” – something our Propaganda Department is constantly broadcasting through all the usual channels.

Third: ensure your patient expresses their false public apologies to as many as possible, in as many different fora as possible, as loudly as possible, for as long as possible. Teach him that “a virtuous person is not one who practices virtue – but one who expresses the correct viewpoint”, and therefore the most virtuous person expresses the correct view the most loudly and most often. Be careful to avoid anything that might spur the patient to action: patients who begin acting virtuously have been known to trigger The Enemy’s deadliest weapon – Grace – against which we are helpless. But nothing ventured, nothing gained: and we take comfort from most patients’ natural aversion to any kind of positive action. With our help, every patient will embrace our motto of “more talk – less action”!

Finally: cultivate your patient’s comfortable feeling of self-satisfaction. False public apologies naturally lead the patient to expressing themselves in terms of grandiose unctuous moralizing. Encourage such sentiments by every means at your disposal: for self-satisfied patients rarely – if ever – bother taking concrete action of any kind. Your patient should, by this stage, feel in high spirits for having exposed the sins of others: which lesson is reinforced whenever you helpfully remind him of his own shame should his own faults ever be similarly exposed. Hypocrisy is such a wonderful tool of the trade!

I trust that you will apply my suggestions assiduously and dutifully. If you do, your patient’s presumptuous pride cannot but flourish – and so, in time, we may safely usher him to a warm welcome in our Father’s House.

Your loving uncle,

Screwtape.

Is Your Church a Family Franchise?

Church Franchise

Has your church transmogrified into a family business franchise? It happens all too often: for no denomination is completely immune to this disease (and independent churches appear to be quite susceptible.)

But don’t panic: help is at hand! The process of becoming a church franchise follows an easily discoverable pattern: key features of which are described below. Anyone can use the following points as a checklist to identify whether their church is turning into another family-run and operated business franchise. So how does your church stack up?

1. Nepotism.

Churches have a small number of remunerated positions and an infinite number of volunteer positions. The latter are fobbed off as “rewards” to energetic church members: but the former are zealously reserved for the pastor’s family members, relations, and closest friends. Whenever you notice salaried position becoming available: note carefully to whom the job is awarded. Nepotistic appointments are quiet affairs – made without advertising or drawing attention to the fact – until public announcement of the fait accompli.

When speaking of “renumeration” we refer to more than mere salaries: petrol allowance, phone allowance, and expense accounts are common types of additional renumeration awarded nepotistically.

2. Group Think.

Group-think is strongly encouraged in family franchise churches. Just as in any family business, open dissension is costly and is therefore avoided. One common reaction is to endlessly circulate propagandist-mantras such as “our church must be of one mind”. Public discussion of real issues is strenuously resisted to protect: the pastor’s freedom of action, the pastor’s income and system of patronage.

Church members who disagree with what their church is doing retain only their right to “vote with their feet”: and many do just that.

3. Financial summaries.

Church financial summaries are glossy, positive, and absent of any detail. Externally audited financial statements are impossible to come by: either they do not exist, or they are seen only by salaried staff. Detailed questions from church members are discouraged: avoided, dodged, or glossed over. Congregational meetings – if required – are always used to divert attention away from: who is getting paid how much to do exactly what.

It is fascinating to note how church family business franchises consistently ignore all accountability towards the people who actually pay their weekly salaries!

Missionary Programs

missionary

Missionary Programs – the past.

In previous times, missionary work used to be one of the key activities of the Christian church. Today, it is an optional extra.

Missionaries once traveled from their home country to the target country to preach the Gospel to all and sundry. Over time, these heady ideals became too hard to maintain: so performing charitable good works superseded preaching the Gospel; which in turn have been replaced by “cultural exchanges”.

Critics ascribe such bowdlerisation of missionary activity to various causes. Some charge that church missionary budgets are misappropriated to pay pocket-money to pastors’ brats for overseas backpacking holidays to perform “friendship evangelism” at church expense. Others contend that charitable works – digging wells, mending roofs, and etcetera – have nothing at all to do per se with spreading the Gospel and therefore should not be missionary-funded. Other critics point out that today’s cities contain multiple ghettoes of unreached ethnicities (immigrant-suburbs of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Chinese, Indians…): so why waste money sending missionaries overseas when they could instead simply bus themselves into the next suburb?

Missionary Programs – the present.

Criticisms – such as those above – must be dismissed out of hand if a church is to establish a well-funded Missionary Program. Unpleasant facts must be reshaped, redefined, and selectively ignored for a church missionary program to garner funding.

In such a climate, the following suggestions are offered as tried and tested strategies for inspiring church attendees to willingly pour their hard-earned savings into your church missionary fund:

  1. Missionary as Marketing. Label everything “Missionary” to attract donations. Don’t worry about “misapplying” the label to activities that have nothing to do with spreading the gospel: instead, introduce the concept of “Missionary Support” (see below).
  2. Missionary = Missionary Support. To circumvent the contentious problem of identifying which activities spread the Gospel and which do not: adopt and generously construe the label “missionary support”. Categorising an activity as “missionary support” gives churches the flexibility to fund literally anything out of missionary funds. As long as churches consistently repeat that some given activity “supports missionaries”, church attendees will continue consenting to part from their cash.
  3. Report plentiful activity. All donors want to see value for money: so provide regular reports showing how busy church-funded “missionaries” are. List activity after activity: omitting all incriminating details. When the eventual question of “How fruitful is all this activity?” emerges: deflect embarrassing investigations by citing “Spiritual Progress” (see below).
  4. Spiritual progress. “The Material has nothing in common with the Spiritual.” These and similar mantras must be repeated endlessly to counter any donor expectations of measurable results. Endlessly reassure donors of the boundless “Spiritual Progress” of your “missionary” activities.
  5. Church expenses. The missionary fund cash-cow is now ready for milking! Churches must deduct: administration feeds, handling feeds, paperwork fees, transfer fees… – the list is limited only by your collective imagination.

The Giving Talk

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Christendom has promoted church-giving to new heights in this enlightened century. Always a centerpiece of church devotion, church-giving in the 21st century has now been elevated into a virtuoso performance: justifying the pride of its adherents everywhere.

The best contemporary examples of the extraordinary lengths churches will go to, to coax their flocks into happily emptying their wallets are ably demonstrated by the weekly “Giving Talk” delivered in large Churches every Sunday.

For those of us who have yet to experience this delightful ritual firsthand; a short description is helpful. The Giving Talk is a veritable “sermon preceding the official sermon”. In the order of service, the Giving Talk comes immediately after the emotional highs of a rock-concert style worship. The speaker chosen to present the Giving Talk is no lightweight: they are as passionate, as articulate, and (inevitably) as lengthy as the preacher scheduled later that morning.

Unlike a sermon, the Giving Talk has but a single refrain: that is, to coax every listener to “dig deep” and “give generously” to the church. The speaker provides a continuous stream of persuasive arguments, anecdotes, maxims, and scripture references to make their point over and over again. To put it differently, the Giving Talk aims to persuade that: giving is good, giving to the church is better, and giving to the church right now is best – sayings that cannot be too often reiterated.

The Giving Talk is – of course – directly solely for the spiritual benefit of those who hear it. And so what if the church benefits materially, and that merely inadvertently? Great spiritual benefits are conferred upon the faithful hearers who separate themselves from filthy mammon by pouring whatever wealth they possess into church coffers for “the work of the kingdom”. This, at least, is the fevered assurance of the Giving Talk speaker: whose reiterated blessings kindle within the newly-shorn flock a warm, internal, charitable glow for having “done good”. And indeed: the larger the church bank balance becomes, the more good has been done; apparently. So we are solemnly promised.

Detractors have rather unkindly accused proponents of the Giving Talk of dressing up a “Greed is Good” message in Christian garb: disguising church cupidity behind a covering smoke-screen of platitudes, including: “doing God’s work”, “building God’s kingdom”, and other pious-sounding banalities. More heated accusations sometimes follow: that Giving Talks serve only to cultivate a parasitical class of churchmen living in comfortable idleness: whose days are divided between gossip and drinking coffee at others’ expense during alleged pastoral visits. But since such vituperative claims are clearly made only by the envious – they can be easily discounted. Besides: who dares contend that indisputable worldly success does not clearly show the sanction and approval of God Himself?

The Giving Talk is clearly here to stay: and is already the focal-point of denominations world-wide. Those wishing to themselves participate in such a congenial and wholesome experience need only attend a regular morning service at the largest church in their vicinity: although I recommmend that they first divest themselves of all loose change and credit cards, and leave their wallets behind at home.