The Excuses We Make for Sin

My dear Wormwood,

I’m encouraged to read in your last report that your patient has gotten in the habit of blaming others for his own vices. The way that he lost his temper, and then had the audacity to blame his wife for it, warmed this old devil’s heart. Perhaps something of me is finally penetrating that thick skull of yours.

Continue to work on that wound in their relationship. Whenever he thinks back to those quarrels, keep his attention on what she did to provoke him and not on his own impatience and anger. With any luck, you’ll prevent him from ever engaging in the kind of sincere repentance reflected in those awful words, “Change me first.” I just cringe to think of them.

The question now is what to do should he begin to soften toward his wife; his natural affection and attraction for her could enable this at any time. I see two options. Your man is one of those evangelicals who really believes in the invisible world, including spirits like us. Thus, if you find that his attention moves from his wife as the cause of his outbursts and begins to settle on his own selfishness, you may call to mind his belief in “principalities and powers.”

Devil Made Me Do It

Keep that belief vague. Never let him think that you are in the room suggesting it — more of a general sentiment of “The devil made me do it.” We’ve been running that play on humans ever since their first mother blamed Our Father Below for the glorious incident with the fruit. You might even inflame his curiosity about devils and angels and spiritual warfare and all that, anything to keep him from truly owning his culpability in the quarrel.

Of course, in such matters, there is always the risk of awakening him to the thought that he is not, as he perceives, considering a distant battle (as some old historian might in a dusty library somewhere). Rather, he might realize he is in the thick of the conflict right then, bombs bursting in air all round him, our schemes and plots hatching and entwining him as he sits musing like the silly fool that he is. Should he come to an awareness of this fact, it might awaken some latent courage and nobility in him; he might sit up straight and resolve to “fight the dragon in his own heart” or “take the log out of his own eye.” Worse, he might run to the Enemy for help.

Thankfully, there is another method available to us.

Good and Perfect Gifts

As delightful as Eve’s “the devil made me do it” is, Adam’s “the woman you gave me” is even better. Ah, how the phrase rolls off the lips. Note the subtlety: “The woman you gave me.” Yes, you’ve gotten your man to blame the woman. But can you implicate the Enemy as well? You must be careful. The humans are stupid, but even they recoil from directly blaming Heaven for their transgressions. Instead, funnel their blame of God through the things that he’s given them. Let them say, “I was just born this way” or “That’s the way I was raised” or “That’s just my personality.”

All of these, of course, are from him. “Good and perfect gifts” he despicably calls them. Their design, like everything in this cursed world, is to testify to him and lead them back to him and be the pathways for adoring him (one shudders to imagine it). We must take them on a detour.

Unfortunately, we must always start with something true, some real feature of the world. Let it be their genes, their physical makeup, their emotional constitution, the circumstances of their lives — anything that is a real influence on them. And then, subtly, imperceptibly let them ascribe more significance to these things than to their own choices. The trick is to get them to turn explanations — even true explanations — into excuses.

Thus, “If I hadn’t had such a hard day, I wouldn’t have lost my temper” subconsciously comes to mean “I am being tempted by God.” “I’ve got a lot on my plate right now” turns into “My anxiety is justified. If God wouldn’t overburden me, I wouldn’t be so worried about money.” Let the Enemy’s wretched truth, “God ordains trials for the testing of my faith,” serve your lie: “Therefore, he is to blame if I fail.” Above all, never, never, never let them forthrightly take responsibility for what they’ve done.

Little Sins, Big Sins

While we’re on the subject, let me remind you of one of old Slubgob’s lessons from the Tempter’s College. You must always obscure the distinctions between desire, temptation, little sins, and big sins. To do this, we must squarely face the “truth” of the matter. Bringing a human from a state of obedience to a state of death is a process. The Enemy himself describes it like a pregnancy. A man’s own desires entice and lure him (with our aid, of course). These desires conceive and eventually bring forth sin — real, delicious, deliberate sin. And then sin, as it grows and flourishes under our infernal care, eventually brings forth that bitter yet tasty fruit of death.

You must flatten out these distinctions. Press them down, compel them to meld together, make them all the same in the patient’s mind — and then watch the vermin squirm no matter which way he goes. One man will develop a hypersensitive and false conscience. He will experience each temptation as though death was already born in his soul, and he will despair. The slightest hint of a temptation in his heart will kill all joy, all comfort, all security in the Enemy’s vicious promises.

Nevermind that the Tyrant himself, when he was on earth, was tempted, yet without sin.

On the other hand, flattening the distinctions serves in another way. I knew a woman once who would be practically glorying in self-pity and bitterness and rage at God and her husband and the world, yet all the time was convinced that she was resisting temptation like a hermetic monk. To her, the sin, if it even was there, was so small that it was hardly worth the name. In reality, she was thirty-nine weeks pregnant and baby Death was due any day. She is now safely in Our Father’s house.

Of course, the best of all is to convince your man that it is possible to be a little bit pregnant. Like the silly fish that he is, let him think that he can play with the lures, fondling lustful fantasies or envious impulses or bitter thoughts, without ever being caught. Let him try to be two months with child and stay there. What he doesn’t know is that giving in a little makes it harder to resist the next time. Each small choice in our favor curves his soul further inward. Gradually the pressure builds and builds until finally the great Sin, the glorious Calamity breaks forth, much to the surprise of the patient himself. Those who fall into great sin rarely fall far.

Way of Escape

These kinds of situations are precisely the best ones for fostering in your patient a deliberate accusation against God for his own sin. In fact, Paul, that cursed apostle, can actually be twisted to our use. His words about no man being tempted beyond his ability and God always providing a way of escape can be very useful to our plots. One of my own patients, whose soul is now swirling in agony in a bottle on my shelf, used to indulge lustful fantasies in his mind day after day. After a few minutes of drinking from my draught, he would catch himself and resolve to “do better next time.” He might even pat himself on the back for his “noble resistance.” But he’d never repent of the little sin.

Day after day, I would work on him, each time letting his mind swim in vileness a little longer. Finally, I would spring my trap and the man would fall headlong into debauchery. But the most delicious moment was always afterward when he would be groveling in self-loathing and shame, and then, in a moment of righteous indignation, accuse the Enemy of failing to provide “the way of escape.”

Little did he realize that the way of escape was three days earlier when he was busy caressing those fantasies as he drove down the road. He blew right past the exit and then had the gall to blame the Almighty for his crash. When he eventually left his wife and family and the faith, I received our institution’s highest honor, the Diabolical Medal of Slavery. Ah, I think I need a drink.

Your affectionate uncle,
Screwtape