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On Spiritual Warfare


Taking his cue from the new literary genre invented by C. S. Lewis in Screwtape Letters, Peter Kreeft has gathered together fifteen spicy letters from Satan's agents below that allow the reader to spy into Hell's inter-office communication.


My dear nephew Braintwister:

As your great-uncle I was, of course, signally pleased when the Education Directorate asked me to train you as the new case officer for Patient No. 66,589/ADFgm. As a veteran, I do so enjoy working with fresh talent from the academy.

It's an unusual honor to be assigned to a new patient in the middle of his life. So perhaps you've been "noticed" by the Lower Downs. Doubtless you've also been briefed on the terrain: the regrettable failure of Wormhole, the comrade you're replacing, and the patient's recent conversion to the Enemy's Church. However, as I shall demonstrate below, all is not lost—by any means.

Take a lesson from Wormhole, though. Hell, unlike the Opposition, focuses quite realistically on results. Remember the ruling slogan of your plebe-year philosophy seminar: "Nothing succeeds but success." I also encourage you to review the fine print of your executive-incentive plan.

I'll miss Wormhole, naturally, but his work had been shoddy since the Cure d'Ars fiasco. And it's only fitting that the final act of his long, if undistinguished, career should be to nourish and refresh his fellow officers. I must say it's a gourmet's delight when a former comrade is sauteed to perfection for the rest of us to savor. The quality of human souls is so decidedly bland lately.

Well, to the business at hand: Your patient has become a Catholic. A modest setback. You novices don't realize how even an inconvenience like this can be turned to our advantage. This may shock you, since the Church is our only remaining earthly enemy of any substance, and his conversion to that Church is sincere—for the moment. But you forget that your patient is American; delightfully, typically American.

What does that mean? A Catholic college professor recently polled his students and found that the vast majority of them, by their own reckoning, thought of themselves as "Americans who happened to be Catholic" rather than as "Catholics who happened to be Americans". This confusion about their true fatherland can be our wedge.

Therefore, do not attack his faith head-on but rather subvert it, carefully leaving enough residue so that he'll still think of himself as a believer-an "advanced" or "sophisticated" or "nuanced" or "modern" believer, or even a "dissenter". But not an unbeliever. Thus he'll grow increasingly smug, self-satisfied and immune to any more of the Enemy's blandishments.

Like most Americans, your patient is a sentimentalist. He lives by emotion more than by thought. He's presently feeling like a new bride on her honeymoon with the Enemy. But once the honeymoon is over, the Enemy's policy is almost always to withdraw those special graces He showers on new converts. He wants to toughen them up. That's our opening: Where there are tests, there can be failures, and where a soul has to be toughened up, it can also be softened up.

There's little chance your patient will slide back into conscious unbelief anytime soon. But prospects are very good indeed that you can erode his faith to such an extent that he'll end up even more securely under our influence than a total atheist. How can this can be? Consider the facts:

What happened to him when he believed nothing and knew it? Why, he snapped like a hungry fish right onto the Enemy's hook! Unbelievers who know they are unbelievers are in constant danger of questioning their own emptiness and considering the alternative in the clear light of day. But unbelievers who think they believe—these are our securest prey. Right now, No. 66,589/ ADFgm is a believer who knows he's a believer. The goal is to make him an unbeliever who still assumes that he believes.

Therefore, do not attack his faith head-on but rather subvert it, carefully leaving enough residue so that he'll still think of himself as a believer-an "advanced" or "sophisticated" or "nuanced" or "modern" believer, or even a "dissenter". But not an unbeliever. Thus he'll grow increasingly smug, self-satisfied and immune to any more of the Enemy's blandishments.

You see, a little religion often does more good than no religion at all. It's the principle mortals use in treating their diseases. They inject a healthy body with a light dose of the disease germs so that their system builds up a resistance. A little religion is like a mild case of cowpox: It prevents the far deadlier smallpox, the real danger. (Seasoning these creatures with just a touch of faith also brings out some wonderfully interesting flavors once we get them Down Below.)

The Enemy's Son understood the strategy. He told them, "Those who are sick need a doctor, not those who are well. I came to call not the righteous, but sinners, to repentance." Before his conversion, No. 66,589/ADFgm knew he was a sinner. This knowledge put him in jeopardy of seeking out the Doctor for help. Sure enough, he succumbed to that danger, behind Wormhole's back. But if you can convince him even now that "sin" is an outdated concept of pre-modern psychology, we can recoup all our lost ground, and more.

But how can you keep him from noticing the obvious? Of course he's a sinner. They all are; don't they read the news? Sin is the only dogma of the Enemy's Camp that can be proved just by reading the papers.

Here's where the psychwar mavens in the Public Information Directorate have prepared the way for you. They've insinuated their arguments into the very fiber of the surrounding society and even into his Church. In fact, a surprising number of the creatures' theologians and religious education "experts" believe the only "sin" is to believe in sin! That's the lynchpin. Knock out sin and the Enemy's whole structure caves in. If there's no sin, there's no need for salvation, and thus the dogmas of the Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, Ascension and Second Coming can safely be filed under "mythology".

That's the lynchpin. Knock out sin and the Enemy's whole structure caves in. If there's no sin, there's no need for salvation, and thus the dogmas of the Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, Ascension and Second Coming can safely be filed under "mythology".

Furthermore, if he doesn't believe in sin, he won't believe in us. Even if he does believe in sin, he probably won't believe in us; few of them do these days. And even fewer realize the enormous advantage that gives us.

In the past, our strategy was to get them to think about us too much, so that their fear would be stronger than their faith. We had some spectacular successes here, especially in Spain and Salem, and we certainly dined well from the troughs of passionate hate and fear. Ah, what I would give for just a morsel of another Torquemada!

But times change, and enterprises like ours must adapt or die. We now get them to think about us too little, and preferably not at all. This may seem unsound, because when they thought about us more, they were also more inclined to the grand vices, like cruelty. Unfortunately, they found the grand virtues, like courage, equally appealing because they were hardier souls. Since they knew about us, they understood that they were fighting a great spiritual war.

When mortals know they're at war, a kind of Emergency Consciousness arises in them. This can be turned to our advantage, by creating anxiety, but it's a very unstable compound because it can also foster self-sacrifice for a higher cause. When they know they're at war, they live with passion and alertness. They don't greedily demand comfort. There are no yuppies on a battlefield.

But when they believe they're not at war, they become soft. They demand their "rights". They think of the earth not as their training ground but as their home. They confuse wants with needs.

How did we get this immense strategic advantage? Propaganda, Braintwister—it's our metier. Of course they had no evidence to prove we didn't exist. They just drifted with "the spirit of the times" and "the climate of opinion" out of the medieval fire and into the modern fog.

We didn't achieve this all at once. The campaign developed in two steps. First, we got them to disbelieve only in sin, not in sanctity; only in Hell, not in that Other Place. But without the depth of the valley, there can be no height to the mountain, and they soon found themselves on a flat and featureless plain. That's why their mental pictures of God, eternity, angels and saints are all so insipid today: There's no contrast. In the Middle Ages, those images were vivid and powerful, moving pictures. They no longer move men's minds.

If there's a war, there must be an enemy. Who do they think their enemy is? There are only four possibilities:

  1. They often used to believe their enemies were concrete human beings. This lie was extremely useful to us when people were passionate enough to know how to hate and stupid enough to ignore the teaching of that inveterate troublemaker Paul, that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers."

  2. Second, the enemies could be abstract: vice, ignorance, injustice—that sort of thing. That's safely vague. Only scholars can be passionate about abstractions.

  3. The third and true possibility, of course, is that they have real, actual spiritual enemies: us.

  4. But if they no longer believe that, nor either of the other options, then the only possibility left is that there are no enemies, and no war, and thus no passion.

And that's where we have them now. Ninety-nine out of a hundred of them never once in their lives get up from bed in the morning with the thought that the forthcoming day will involve a battle in the greatest war of all, and that their Commander is sending them on a mission only they can accomplish. Instead, they think of their planet not as a battlefield but as a bathtub.

Be sure to keep the water tepid. At the right moment, we pull the plug. What delight to contemplate their surprise and terror as they discover they can go down the drain!

Your affectionate uncle,




kreeft Peter Kreeft. “On Spiritual Warfare.” excerpted from Chapter one of The Snakebite Letters (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1998).

Now that it is becoming more and more obvious that we are at war—not only cultural but spiritual war—it is also more necessary to understand our diabolical enemy and his strategy.

Combining satire, humor and devilish insights, these fifteen letters from Snakebite to his trainee, Braintwister, provide a complete Satanic strategy for corrupting American society, public and private morality, and the Church. Focusing especially on the critical areas of sex, media, liturgy, theology and religious education, these letters reveal the inroads that Screwtape's satanic American counterparts have made into subverting our modern culture. The Koran says: "Before shooting the arrow of truth, dip it in honey." This genre of devilish correspondence allows serious this-worldly social criticism to take the form of witty other-worldly letters.

Reprinted by permission of Peter Kreeft and Ignatius Press.

The Author

kreeft1kreeftPeter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College.  He is the author of many books (over forty and counting) including: Ask Peter Kreeft: The 100 Most Interesting Questions He's Ever Been AskedAncient PhilosophersMedieval PhilosophersModern PhilosophersContemporary Philosophers, Forty Reasons I Am a Catholic, Doors in the Walls of the World: Signs of Transcendence in the Human Story, Forty Reasons I Am a CatholicYou Can Understand the Bible, Fundamentals of the Faith, The Journey: A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims, Prayer: The Great Conversation: Straight Answers to Tough Questions About Prayer,  Love Is Stronger Than Death, Philosophy 101 by Socrates: An Introduction to Philosophy Via Plato's Apology, A Pocket Guide to the Meaning of Life, Prayer for Beginnersand Before I Go: Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters. Peter Kreeft in on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2007 Peter Kreeft
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