"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Screwtape Critiques Panem

Dear Wormwood,

I have to admit that it was with some surprise that I read your last letter regarding The Hunger Games. I'm not sure why a demon would become so enamored with a best-selling American novel, unless said demon thought it might lead more souls to our side. You, however, seemed more entranced by the fictional government of Panem, and the cruelty used in the Capitol's domination over the remaining 12 districts, especially in the Hunger Games competition.

I feel it necessary, therefore, to give my own critique of Panem, so that you may see the errors of your way in believing Panem to be somehow superior in benefit to our mission. Even aside from the fact of Panem being merely a fictional government, there are some very real deficiencies hidden behind some of those practices which you believe would make our work easier.

First, you seem to regard the concept of "The Hunger Games" as one that would hold great promise in swaying souls in our direction. And indeed, you may be surprised that I do NOT think a lottery system forcing 24 teenagers to enter a fabricated arena and fight to the death turns society in our favor. You may be even more surprised that I do not think the mandatory television viewing of these games would be of assistance either. However, this is the case; were such a system to be established in any of those many nations where we now labor, I should not think it to be to our benefit.

Despite the enchanting cruelty and brilliant, graphic violence such games would bring, the manner of such a "Hunger Games," as facilitated by Panem has much to dissuade any thinking member of the Lowerarchy. Consider, for example, the coercion involved in these games. We must not prize the sin of coercion; for as it very often only brings one soul, or anyway, a minority of souls closer to our intended end, it very often diminishes culpability from a great many souls, hindering our ability to persuade their free will. Moreover, as we see in the book - and really I am surprised that this point would not have dissuaded you from idolizing Panem - the coercion of one power over a multitude of people often results in the unintended effect of binding and strengthening the people undergoing coercion. The representation of this in Collins' book (District 12's three-finger salute of protest, again done by District 11 in Catching Fire; Gale and Katniss' hunting in off-limit meadows; Peeta's wish to show them that they "don't own him," etc.) ought to serve as a warning for all of us not to prize the sin of coercion in those we tempt, if it will bring out good from those being coerced.

I do not mean to challenge the idea of normalizing murder; this, I think, is of great service to our work above. But the manner of normalizing murder is of great importance. While of course we must all relish in imagining Panem's Hunger Games, simply because of the public display of sin extended to so many people, we cannot let our indulgence in such thoughts take us away from better ways of normalizing the great sin of murder. Again, the role of coercion is crucial. Murder -and torture for that matter, and indeed all great sin - is most valuable to us when those who are committing it are do it of their own choice. It would be best if these souls did it with sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. Of course, as murder becomes more normalized, sufficient reflection, due to insufficient knowledge, may often be lacking. This is something with which we can work, particularly if we can persuade whole societies that certain types of murder (e.g. the unborn, enemies in war (including civilians), the elderly, the handicapped, etc.) are not really murder at all, and that the weakest members of society do not warrant protection. I would prefer full knowledge and reflection in such cases, but the gravity of such a violation of our Enemy's law makes it worthwhile from our side. Implicated in such murders are many more souls than might at first appear to us, for it is not simply the perpetrator who moves closer to us, but all those who sanction and support this great sin, whether by commission or omission.

Moreover, I cannot but think that the public display of murder exhibited in the Hunger Games actually undermines Panem's ability to normalize murder. Yes, every citizen must watch them. Yes, it encourages 24 teenagers to murder. Yes, the "victor" is scarred for life. But consider the revulsion brought on by those citizens forced to watch the games; this is more likely to lead them closer to the Enemy and his law than to us. And again, consider the diminished responsibility of those thrown in the arena. And consider that only one certainly confused soul is guaranteed to result from the games. It would not surprise me if many people of Panem would be simultaneously disgusted with Panem's rulers' use of murder and enamored with the life within that Panem cannot touch.

So, I say, far better, far better, if we can keep murder hidden from the public view. Let it be celebrated under such striking concepts of "freedom," "choice," "security," "protection." Let the focus be on the supposed good for society, whether that of oil or material wealth or the benefit of having only "wanted" children. Do not expose the grueling aspects, the bloody aspects, the silent screams, the affected consciences. These will only serve to undermine our work, as the Hunger Games' cruelty undermined Panem's ability to dominate.

This leads me to my next point; the complete dominance exhibited by Panem in its ruling of the 12 districts. You said you were thrilled by the thought of the extreme gap between the rich and the poor; there out in District 12, little Katniss nearly starves to death and only has her first hot shower when she's on her way, seemingly, to her death, while meanwhile, in the Capitol, food appears at the push of a button and fashion and cosmetic surgery are lavish yet everyday uses of resources. How complicated is this issue! For it is always to our benefit to make some members of society unsympathetic and unfeeling to other members in society. But we have not gained as many souls from the infliction of poverty as we could hope. Again, it seems to me that the key point is that such a gap should not be so orchestrated by the government, nor consciously by the majority of people. The best situation is one in which the rich take advantage of the poor without really knowing it (this we do see, to some extent, in Panem's Capitol), but wherein thinking, educated people believe they can reason to policies that will continue to expand this gap.

Dare I give you a history lesson in the history of taxation in that country where you have recently begun your new assignment? Let the poor (or the middle class, if such a thing still exists) believe they are benefiting themselves when they refuse to be demanding to the rich. Let this be a case of celebrating individual freedom over our Enemy's concern for the common good. Let the wealthy man contribute only 3 million out of his 10 million dollars annual earnings, and make this seem like a good deal to the poor! Should there be outright class warfare and conflict between the rich and poor, we cannot be assured as so many souls as we can earn by deceiving both sides and bringing them to consensus. What is the difference, you may ask, if the resulting income gap is the same? The difference is in perception of an adversary versus the common democracy as the ultimate savior. If we can get souls' faith, hope, and love to reside in human institutions, we are one step closer in bringing them to us. No people will become enamored with a government that abuses them (this ought certainly to be hidden from public view at all costs), but we may hope that souls will believe in their governments over and above the Enemy's Kingdom and look to them to provide "freedom," "safety," "security." Let them get tears in their eyes at their national anthem, let them believe that their unregulated economy will save them all, let them hope that their individual rights will always be protected over and against the common good. Let them celebrate their right to question authority. All of these acts make it less likely that they will turn to the Enemy for consolation, believing that there might be a better law or a better kingdom.

Wormwood, I do not know how you could err in thinking starvation to be a great means of population control and hence a benefit to us. Though it would end our work, I can see why a demon might dwell in happy thoughts of all humanity destroying itself, whether by outright nuclear warfare or by refusing the Enemy's initial command to "Be fruitful and multiply." Though starvation no doubt deprived many Panem citizens' of their lives, we cannot be confident that these were souls won to our side. It is possible, I suppose, but really I think there are better ways to promote a population decline - ways that win more souls to us. In short, there are better ways to tempt souls to sin while simultaneously decreasing the human population.

Promote the perceived benefits of material wealth: not just the simple things like running water, electricity, food and shelter, but also the more excessive things like elaborate vacations and luxurious accommodations. Convince people that they cannot live without these things; convince them that they cannot have these things and have large families. Let children become to their parents simply another possession, to be groomed and taken care of as a fine car. Promote the myth of "quality" over quantity when it comes to family time. We must hope that all fathers will choose to stay late at work, believing it to be of greater benefit to their family than their presence in the family. I say 9:00 is an ideal time for a father to return to the  house; his children will all be asleep and his wife will be too tired to deal kindly with him. As for women, let them feel that work outside the home is the only thing that will fulfill them, the only way to remove their status as "economic dependents." But we must not desire that the maternal instinct will be destroyed. We want them to feel the stress of trying to balance family and work, and never succeeding as well as they might.

In fact, I have grown tired of the Enemy's whole family structure. Everything we can do to promote that decline in every form can do nothing but assist us in our work. Let us divide father from mother, children from parents in every way possible... but let us lead these people to believing that this is what is "best" for their individual self-fulfillment and material well-being. What demon could delight in starvation as a tactic for destroying humanity when we can  easily get them to destroy themselves willingly?

Panem has nothing over those many, many "civilized" countries where the population is now failing to replace itself. 2.1 children per woman does not seem like much to keep a society going, but whole regions are now struggling even for this. As I implied above, a population decline can do nothing but benefit our mission, especially if there is sin incurred in this decline. We want people to seek fulfillment, not in other people (and certainly not in those dependent creatures called children!), but in objects, objects made possible by their careers. We want people to objectify others, not humanize them. Technology is of great assistance for us here, as it distracts people from those with whom they are physically present and helps to rewire brains to focus on bits of information rather than extended arguments and narratives involving people. We also want to  encourage the medicalization of people, as a step toward objectification (e.g. not people but medical problems, and here the female form is the best subject to be addressed as a medical problem). I think if we can capitalize on technology, media, and medicalization we will never have to turn to starvation as a means of limiting the population.

No doubt if we simply wait, governments will reap the results of promoting contraception and abortion. Dare I review the fall of the Roman Empire? Or suggest the numerous economic and social problems brought on by current-day China's one-child policy? Or ask what will become of those of European descent in a few millennia?

No, Wormwood, Panem would be of no assistance to our work, despite all the outward appearance of evil. Rather than spending your time dwelling on the apparent benefits of such a regime, I suggest you put down the novel and turn your attention to your current assignment. For there is much to promise us here. Were it not for the few faithful servants of the Enemy, I should think he was slumbering.

Your mentor,
Screwtape

N.B. The above does not represent Theologian Mom's opinion on these matters, but an envisioning of how a demon would view these matters.

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