As I was preparing this message on Freedom and spiritual bondage, this letter came into my hands. It seems suspicously like what we read in C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, but I am certain this letter was never seen by Lewis.
My dear Wormwood,
Reading your last letter, it seems I must remind you of what you should have learned in your first year at the Tempter’s Training College! One of our chief aims is to keep our patients in prison. Not in physical prisons that constrains them bodily, but in spiritual prisons that bind their souls. Your patient can be imprisoned by anything that makes him desire his will over the Enemy’s will. There are any number of prisons he can be persuaded to enter. Pride, drugs, prestige, relationships, physical health, career, pornography, wealth, alcohol, can all make excellent prisons; the possibilities are nearly endless. Most likely you will find your patient already in a prison. Most of them, well estranged from the Enemy, naturally find their way into spiritual bondage. Anything that serves to keep your patient’s attention away from the Enemy can become his prison. What does he rely on? What does he find himself drawn to? Those are your candidates for his prison. Anything that pulls him into himself and away from the Enemy, that becomes his prison.
Once he is in a prison you must keep him from suspecting that he is indeed in bondage. He must believe that he can walk out of prison anytime he wants to. As long as he thinks he is in charge, he remains safely in our tender care. Never let him feel the bars of his prison; never let him know that he has no freedom.
For your position is still not secure: The Enemy will be trying to free your patient. Unlike our Father below, he foolishly desires to preserve the free will of his wretched creatures. He won’t compel his creature to come out to him, but he will contrive to let a little sliver of light into the dungeon, to make your patient aware of his bondage. That is the most dangerous time for you, when your patient begins to realize that he is in a prison and cannot get himself out. Should this be the case, your strategy is simple: as soon as he begins to sense the hopelessness of his situation, let him out! Let him have his victory! It will be easy enough to ensnare him again, likely in the same cage he thinks escaped, especially if you encourage his sense of self-sufficiency in managing his “escape.” Does he fancy himself clever? Help him believe that his cleverness got him out. Does he think his will is especially strong? Let him believe that it is by strength of his will that he escaped. Perhaps the most amusing: if he thinks himself righteous, help him believe that his self-righteousness was his salvation.
The key thing is to ensure that your patient maintains the delusion that he is managing his own life, that he is his own man — in charge of himself. If he should realize the hopelessness of his situation, he may throw himself at the feet of the Enemy. Your goal must be to keep his focus on anything except the Enemy and his dreadful cross, a power we have not yet been able to overcome. If your patient ever avails himself of that power and claims the Enemy’s so-called “mercy and grace” our case may be badly damaged, if not utterly lost. I need not remind you the penalty you will pay should you fail in this most basic of temptations and your patient is lost to us.
Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.