07/21/17
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A Contemporary Screwtape Letter (3 of 3)

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*Final part of my homework assignment for a CS Lewis seminar. All trolls will find a purgatorial home.  

My dear Wormwood,

Have you not yet understood anything I have been saying? How can you ask me such a stupid question? You have fallen into the same trap as our prey with expressing wonder at the digital world and your unfounded fears as to its potential service to the Enemy. When Lysias proposed to Socrates that the new invention of writing would allow humans to access speeches and remember everything Socrates chastised him, pointing out that humans would now forget everything. We have seen this steady progression of forgetfulness for centuries, and this new invention accelerates humanity’s demise even faster.

I will be as frank as possible in my final letter to you, so there will be no mistaking how we are populating hell, and so you can spare me your fanatical worries. The Christian faith hinges on historical events that occurred in real places. More than an abstract philosophy, this faith seeks embodiment. The Internet enables us to directly attack time, space, and presence.

Screens have replaced geography and presence. Our prey believes nothing is real unless it can be delivered in the form of an image. Even the dangerous words of Scripture have become “floating text” in the digital ether, subjecting them to all manner of wonderful misquotes and partial readings. They turn themselves into images, managing multiple fragmented identities in various locations. Images can be powerful catalysts for imagination, which is dangerous, but we are corrupting the power of the image so that it warps the imagination. We create an image of everything from breakfast cereal to snakes so that it dulls their power to stun and shock. Everything is an image. What’s more “screenshots” allow for images of images which further remove presence, geography, and identity. They don’t know who they are anymore, and no one truly knows them either as images only show fragments of life, or alleged life to be debated among complete strangers.

We have compressed space and time. Instant communication and real-time updates on world events inspire our finite subjects to keep up with infinite messages of every kind. Sabbath is lost even by those who profess to practice it. A never-ending stream of divergent digital revelations follow them as closely as the Enemy’s goodness and mercy would if they had time to experience them. Instead they practice a way of life marked by present absences.

Notice how they can be in each other’s presence but only engaged via screens? New laws trying to ban them from engaging the digital ether while driving continue to fail as they cannot look away. No matter what they do they are distracted by the glow of the virtual icons they carry. They are physically present but otherwise absent. They cannot totally exist “in the moment” because the moment must be memorialized as an image to be shared with others wishing to live vicariously through the image, and they can’t look away. Like an unfortunate soul caught staring into the eyes of Medusa they turn to stone—both in ambition and in capacity for compassion. This ether is an all-encompassing ambient reality that haunts humanity.

Yet they won’t see this, so it isn’t something to waste energy on trying to prevent this realization. Just continue to flood the ether with images of every kind, from the tame to the profane. The Enemy’s image will be undone as the multiplicity of images pressures our subjects to conform by constant engagement. Soon hyperreality will replace the screens altogether and overlay our Enemy’s creation with holographic images. Reality and virtual reality have become one, and people will forget which space they actually occupy. It will be a civilization that functions through disembodied faculties in an augmented reality that will usher in the age of the post-human.

Which is to say, a world of ghosts.

Humanity will devolve into ghosts in the machine and create a spectral paradise. The very thought brings a tear to my old eyes as I see signs of its soon coming.

Until that great day…

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

07/15/17
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A Contemporary Screwtape Letter (2 of 3)

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*The second part of my class assignment. Once again the tyranny of the deadline reverted further tweaking, but here is what made the cut thus far.

My dear Wormwood,

I am pleased with your progress with our digital tools, but you still lack a nuanced understanding of their effect on our subjects. Like our prey you naively focus on instrumentality without a concern for ontological potential. Have you noticed the vehement reaction when anyone attempts a criticism of digital mediums? These tools are no longer tools they are culture and identity. They a part of who people are as much as their ancestry and native tongue, and their being is more enmeshed with the machine than ever.

This close relationship with the machine results in their trying to keep pace with it. They receive a notice, usually via some obnoxious dinging or vibration, that lets them know a new piece of information has arrived. Like Pavlov’s dog they check instantly no matter if they in the middle of cooking, reading, or even driving (the rhythm of this culture demands instantaneously engagement)—and consume the images and information.

Efficiency is the new humanity and watching them implode in their race against the machine is the most exquisite delicacy in an age.Even though the Enemy has tried to prevent this through His Sabbath, and through voices like McLuhan, they are too preoccupied arguing with complete strangers to have time to listen.

Remember when writing came into the Enemy’s camp? The community of storytellers became dependent upon a reader, then a scholar, and all manner of hierarchies and abuses of powers ravaged them. For all they knew the Priest pronounced curses on them in church—helpless until that miserable Luther…but we managed to use the printed press against them too. They sacrifice critical thinking for the promise of progress and wait in long lines to obtain the latest tool they will not only use to make their life but break it. Remember, the computer developed to handle calculations for the hydrogen bomb—not so people could watch a cat “boop” a dog on the nose. Ignorant humanity still believes in the neutrality of their tools. Their children livestream their own suicides and they simply choose to swipe those images aside with that of a kitten smelling a flower.

As for the Church, it isn’t much of a concern so your alarm at the handful of techno-critics is grossly unfounded. The Enemy’s camp has been successfully divided into those who pine for new and those too terrified to use it critically—the blind and the scared are easy marks. Those who avoid the Internet are chastised as Luddites and those who choose to use it critically are labeled the same, and shamed as those who would deny knowledge to humanity.

Now about your own relationship with this culture, I understand you spent the entire evening Pinning sunsets, puppies, and other aspects of creation? You either have not been told or simply forgotten that, unless you adjust the settings, everyone can see. You have an unnatural love for the nature that is most troublesome. Be a bit more selective.  We want people to fall in love with the images themselves not to the reality they reveal.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

07/7/17
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A Contemporary Screwtape Letter (Part 1 of 3)

1467887167_bbf2bacf75_o*I recently took a doctoral seminar held at Oxford exploring the communication style of C.S. Lewis. This post, and the two following, are part of an assignment to create three contemporary Screwtape Letters. I would have liked more time, but such is the reality of homework deadlines. Gentle critiques are welcome, trolls will be sent to purgatory. 

Letter One

My dear Wormwood,

I am gratified to hear of your recent release after 75 years. No doubt decades submerged in the Stygian Marsh and a year spent in a flaming tomb have given you ample time to appreciate the gravity of your previous incompetence. I trust that you also found time to meditate on my previous lessons.

Much has changed since we last spoke and it has fallen unto me, your benevolent uncle, to enlighten you about our current work in the world. You will remember our discussion about how we confused humanity’s ability to discern truth with the bombardment of the weekly press? How your previous subject had been “accustomed” since childhood “to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing together inside his head?”  Well, we have since improved upon that approach…substantially.

We have a new ally called the Internet. Like the press, it serves the Enemy. Yet, through careful manipulations we have turned it to our advantage. It functions as an ether of information. It is a noosophere–an invisible cloud of humanity’s ideas that hovers around the subject at all times. The Internet is place (which is why we treat it a proper noun) where people deposit and access their knowledge through technological devices.

Like mediums searching their crystal balls, they look into their glass screens into a world of floating texts and images—searching for answers.  You are too young to remember, but in medieval times followers of the Enemy used to carry relics around with them as links to the transcendent. Through a careful application of pressure for continual connection, and a fear of silence and solitude, we have replicated this dynamic with mobile technology. They panic and are practically lost without their devices! They bypass contemplation, prayer, and conversation with one another for instant information. Their lives are bound to this ether of knowledge and it is this ether that we will use to undo their humanity and destroy the image of the Enemy.

I will write more later, but it would serve you well to spend time in Hell’s computer lab doing research. I am sure one of the other demons can help you send me your first email.

Your affectionate uncle

Screwtape

Photo credit: Martin Gommel via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

03/6/13
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Conclave Cage Match: ACII Lets You Use the Pope as a Punching Bag

8435775193_1ccca381f2_oThanks to the upcoming conclave at the Vatican I now have a reason for sharing a bizarre piece of video game history that has been burning a hole in my mental pockets.

It also gives me reason to use awesome amounts of alliteration.

In 2009 Ubisoft released the second installment in their popular Assassins Creed series.

In case you enjoy being productive with your time, I will give you a brief synopsis of the plot before explaining the reason for punching the pope in the face–or grabbing him by his vestments and throwing him on the ground.

Yes there are multiple prescriptions for pontifical pain.

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03/4/13
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Does Lazy Make Crazy?

my-blooming-beardA couple years ago I picked up the book Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry, 
by Albert Bernstein as an introduction to learning about personality disorders.

The book is well written, entertaining and its made me curious.

I have this thought that people in our churches–especially “problem people”–are not only drawn to certain beliefs but create certain beliefs based on personality.

For example, one of the “emotional vampires” discussed in the book is the Obsessive Compulsive Personality. The author suggests that these people have an acute sense of their tendency towards violence, sex, selfishness etc [feelings we all have].

They feel chaotic inside and so they compensate by having rigid rules to keep themselves in order.

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02/28/13
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The Hurt That Heals

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The most frustrating part of having my wisdom teeth removed was when I blindly tried to find a different song on my iPod and inadvertently shut it off.

Replacing my chosen sound track was a high-pitched drill and the snipping of scissors cutting into my fleshy gums.

I fumbled in vain to turn the device back on and get back to my playlist, but instead wound up playing a song I had never heard before, and didn’t even know was there.

To make matters worse, I hated it. So I turned off the iPod again and patiently waited for the surgery to end.

After the procedure was complete, I made my way back to the lobby with a thick wad of gauze in my mouth and half my face numb. My wife grimaced when she saw me.

“Are you OK?”

“Ungfh,” I replied eloquently.

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02/18/13
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Beyond Spiritual Hot Flashes

flambe-2At some point in history someone decided to write a song with the lyrics “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.” This person has obviously never been camping with me. When I or someone I’m camping with tries to “get a fire going” in that charcoal-caked fire pit, we’re about as effective as a matchstick on an iceberg.

Sure, getting a fire going would seem like a simple task. Put wood in a pit, throw some paper in with it, and light a fire.

Despite the amazing simplicity of this act, I still struggle. I’ve tried arranging the wood into a tepee with paper in the middle, a log cabin with paper as the foundation, and even into an ark with a paper dove.

Nothing.

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