A number of years ago, not long after I became Catholic, I discovered The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. I was enthralled with it, and did something I rarely do: I reread it within months of my initial reading. The first reading was via audio, which only added to my enjoyment and appreciation for Lewis’ work. Diving through it in print, I found myself dog-earing it and marking it…and then promptly lending it to someone who has yet to return it to me.
Since then, I’ve been intrigued to find other books written in the same style as Screwtape. Among my favorites of these was Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s Gargoyle Code, which I read in 2010, not long after a family tragedy rocked my world. It made me hungry for confession the way Screwtape did, and made me consider the many ways I’m tempted…and even more, it made me look closely at how often I give in.
This year, Longenecker released a stand-alone sequel to Gargoyle, Slubgrip Instructs: Fifty Days with the Devil. It’s a sequel, because there are some familiar names and faces. It’s stand-alone, because if you haven’t read Gargoyle (or Screwtape, for that matter), you’re absolutely fine.
It’s designed to be a Lenten read; in fact, each of the entries is one of the days of Lent. “Lent is the time that we set aside to battle the devil so it seemed a good idea to combine the diabolical plotting and scheming with Lent,” Longenecker told me. “Also, I think many people would like to read a book for Lent but are scared off the books that are too theological or “churchy.” They find them boring or daunting. I wanted a Lent resource to be out there that was accessible and a page turner. That’s why there is a plot line running through both Gargoyle Code and Slubgrip Instructs.”
And that plot line is very entertaining. It feeds that need you may (or may not) for a bit of juicy, a bit of thrill, a bit of fun. It takes the edge off, even while it makes it glaringly obvious just how serious this warfare we face is.
For its part, Slubgrip is a serious book. The demon Slubgrip is a professor at Bowelbags University in hell, teaching Popular Culture 101. This was the device, Longenecker said, which allowed him to “analyze popular culture—everything from movies and sports to arts and education to see how secularism and relativism are undermining the Catholic faith. Many of the topics are substantial in their philosophical and theological implications but Slubgrip and his chums manage to draw us in and keep us interested.”
While it’s not preachy, this book is instructional on many levels. Maybe you’ve never thought of how much you take for granted, of how popular culture has infiltrated your worldview in ways that just aren’t good.
The Enemy tries to get around this clash between their spiritual and physical sides by forgiving them when they slip back into ape-like behaviors. Why he does so is beyond me. He’s soft, that’s why. What they deserve is punishment, but he lets them off the hook. There’s nothing I’d like better than getting them on the hook — the meat hook.
What you must do with your patiences is show them that the ideal behaviors are unrealistic. Remind them of the Enemy’s ten commandments, and help them see that they are simply impossible. “Thou shalt not lie”? What, never? “If a man looks on a woman with lust in his heart he has committed adultery”? Surely not. You see? The standards he sets for the little cretins are far too high. Whisper in their ears that they are attempting the impossible. The goals of perfection that their spiritual side demands are incompatible with the physical world they live in.
Don’t make them think that all things are relative. Get them to feel that all things are relative. One of the best ways to do this is to use hypothetical situations. Come up with a particularly juicy, wicked action, then engage them in a game in which they invent a situation and intention that would make that action good. (Our philosophy department has come up with a whole industry along these lines called “situation ethics.”
Let’s say your patient believes that killing an unborn child is wrong. Get him to see that the child would be born into a dysfunctional family, have a terrible life and be condemned to a life of misery. Get him to see that the mother would ruin her career and be condemned to a life of poverty herself. He must see that he is not killing an unborn child; he is helping the poor woman in a crisis pregnancy. Let him hear someone shouting, “Every child should be a wanted child!”
You see how it goes. Virtually every moral choice can be made relative in this way, and once the moral choices are made relative, it is an easy matter for religious dogma to be similarly neutralized. Before long he will agree with you that there is no such thing as moral truth.
It’s disturbing, really, to take such a close look at popular culture and consider how it has impacted me…and continues to impact me. It’s something we need…and the whole reason Longenecker wrote the book, he said, was because “Many young Catholics of college age question their faith and are being taught the very things Slubgrip is teaching his students to promote.”
So let’s read this book this Lent, and let’s share it with those who question their faith. And maybe, just maybe, spending Lent with the devil will make us the better Christians God would have us be.