Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Updating C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters (epistles from a veteran demon to his young nephew) for the late twentieth century, Jean Bethke Elshtain published the “Newtape Files” in the pages of First Things in 1993. (This pre- Erasmus Lecture series on her writing began  here and continued  here .)

The fifth and  final installment  contains particularly sharp insights. Writes the demon Uncle Newtape to his nephew:

May I note a trend very much in our favor? I refer to a further debasement of language, this time in the direction of a salutary “abstractedness.” The more people are “deeply concerned” about things far away, outside their purview of concrete responsibility, the better for us. You know that Our Father Below wants us to appear, as often as possible, in the form of an angel of light. Abstract benevolence and sentiment serve us oh so nicely.

And later in the piece :
Our Father Below adores this sort of thing: projecting altruism outward toward the correct public policy, the globally benevolent, the politically correct, the theoretically grand, while suffocating virtue that might operate personally, in everyday life. I am particularly fond of grand theories of Justice that diminish by contrast the acts of everyday life called by The Enemy’s camp “charity” or “decency” or some other such poisonous possibilities. One of The Enemy’s allies (though himself an unbeliever) proclaimed that he should like to be able to “love my mother and also love justice.” Thankfully, this nuisance, Albert Camus, was killed at an early age. He was a bone in my throat. He kept insisting that one had to tend to concrete matters concretely, and that one could not leapfrog over particular ties in favor of abstract and by definition impossible ones, as our ally, Jean-Paul Sartre, argued so successfully for so many years.

Also available online are the first , second , third , and fourth Newtape Files.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles