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laughing at luciferIn the dark days of the Second World War, C.S. Lewis published one of his most enduring and endearing books. The Screwtape Letters is a collection of epistles from a senior devil to his junior colleague, outlining how he should handle his “patient.” Lewis wrote the book as a series of articles for The Guardian newspaper and confessed that the letters were not “fun to write.”

Lewis does not apologize for the fact that The Screwtape Letters is an entertaining and amusing read. Indeed in the opening pages he quotes Martin Luther and St. Thomas More on the need to take Lucifer lightly. Luther says, “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” For his part, St. Thomas More writes, “The devil…that proud spirit…cannot endure to be mocked.”

Over the years Lewis’ Luciferian Letters have become ever more popular. In 2003 the Fellowship for the Performing Arts did a stage adaptation of The Screwtape Letters which ran for eleven weeks in New York City and is now on a national tour. Walden Media, who produced the Narnia films has promised a film version, and various famous actors have recorded audio versions of the book—the most recent being Andy Serkis who plays Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies.

Lewis’ classic has also spawned a sub genre of books. Peter Kreeft wrote The Snakebite Letters. Randy Alcorn has written two books, Lord Foulgrin’s Letters and The Ishbane Conspiracy. Screwtape has featured in a Bono music video, the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes and there has even been a Mormon book written in the same style. A few years ago a forgettable attempt named Operation Screwtape was published, and not long after my own attempt at the genre—The Gargoyle Code saw light. The Gargoyle Code is structured to be read during Lent and is updated and set in a Catholic context.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then the sage of Oxford is being flattered world without end amen. What I learned by writing The Gargoyle Code was that Luther and St. Thomas More were right. One of the best ways to battle against the devil is to mock him. What impressed me more is that mockery is the best pitchfork to pitch against him, as opposed to the dreadful seriousness with which I sometimes engaged in arguing with the enemies of the Christian faith.

From time to time on my blog I would allow myself to be involved in debates with atheists, homosexual activists, feminists, or ideologues of some other sort. What I discovered is that they had no sense of humor and no sense of humility. Their mood was one of unremitting, serious self-righteousness. This mood would usually be expressed in a style of assumed kindness, “deep concern,” and a kind of faux wisdom that was at once patronizing and nauseating in its artificial charitableness.

I realized that this was the serpent of Eden speaking today. Satan always speaks with the same calm reasonableness, the sweet seeming sensibleness of utilitarianism combined with compromise for a good cause and yielding for what seems to be a worthy reason. It was impossible to counter the debaters in any way. Make an inescapably rational point, and they changed the subject. Skewer them with an argument, and they squirmed away. Try to catch them with something called evidence, and they slithered away with yet another statement of their point with an incredible obstinacy.

In the end the only weapon was a joke. If you poked fun at them, their smooth facade crumbled. If you made light of their solemnity and self-righteousness, they began to steam. If you jousted with a jest, they finally showed the rage that had been lurking underneath the whole time. Mirth did not bring them down to earth. Their gravity would not endure an ounce of levity.

This revolutionary approach stands things on their head and books in the tradition of Lewis’ Screwtape Letters do just that. To laugh at Lucifer does not mean that we disregard him or underestimate his power. What it does mean is that we engage in the battle with a sense of humor, and a sense of proportion.

My encounters in the culture wars encouraged me to make another effort in the Lewisean battle with Lucifer. In Slubgrip Instructs the demon Slubgrip has been demoted to teach Popular Culture 101 in Bowelbages University. This gives the reader the opportunity to laugh at the wiles of the devils while learning how Satan and his minions work behind the scenes to dominate human culture and infect it with greed, lust, ambition, and selfish materialism.

For conservative Christians, Lent is not only the season to do good works, but it is also a holy season to engage in battle with the forces of darkness. Laughing at Lucifer in Lent is one of the ways to do so. Jeering and flouting him means that we are happy warriors. We are launching out on the spiritual battle with a spring in our step and a smile on our face.

The gospel says when we fast we should wash our face and put on a smile, and the spiritual writers speak always of keeping a “joyful Lent.” We are not going about as gloomy defeatists. As we engage in the spiritual battle during Lent we do so with the joyful knowledge that, as St. Paul writes, “we are more than conquerors.” We should therefore ride into battle with the spirit of Cyrano de Bergerac—sword in hand, a joke at the ready and a plume in our hat.

The Christian fights with joy because the devil is already defeated. On Easter Day he was defeated in a kind of Divine practical joke. It was a plot reversal that would make any filmmaker proud. Jesus is down and the devil seems to have killed God’s Son, then in a totally unexpected twist Jesus rises again and Satan is defeated by his own wicked plan. This is the ammunition to fire at Satan. Like a teasing teenager we can point at Lucifer and say, “Loser! You were hoisted on your own petard!”

Finally, laughing at Lucifer in Lent reminds us to laugh at ourselves too. When we see his mock dignity, his pomposity, his wounded pride, his vaunted self-importance, his know-it-all attitude, and his sublime arrogance, we ought to see our own souls reflected there, for if we can laugh at his foolish pride, then we ought to be able to laugh at our own as well.

I am often reminded of a dear old nun who told me that her confessor had fallen asleep while she was making her confession. She smiled ruefully and said, “Oh dear, it seems that not even my sins are very interesting!” Then she laughed and at that moment her real humility was displayed, and as her humility shone out the radiance was another painful jab for “that proud Spirit” who cannot endure to be mocked.”

Go here to learn more about Dwight Longenecker’s The Gargoyle Code and its sequel Slubgrip Instructs. Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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5 replies to this post
  1. Thank you for the thoughtful article.

    I find it interesting when friends claim that God has no sense of humor. Typically these are devout people but seemingly unaware of the God they profess (in the form of a man) attended weddings, turned water into wine, associated and partied with tax collectors and prostitutes, and was even called a drunk by the religious leaders of the day. If he could do those things it is hard to imagine him not laughing or having a sense of humor for God is love. Lucifer on the other hand is the opposite and we know what negativity does to ones sense of humor Jist listen to the news and it becomes obvious.

    As to your point about the devil finding it unbearable to be mocked, I am immediately reminded of the fact that our Commander in Chief and the First Lady of the United States seem to be the most upset when mocked. Likewise the ISIS and Taliban types in the Middle East resort to murder when their Prophet is mocked (and their Prophet wasn’t God himself!). All of these overly serious types are unable to walk away or allow anyone to proclaim a difference of opinion much less allow someone to mock them.

    Within our society, we now have groups that believe everything they like is a right others should pay for and everything they dislike ought to be outlawed. From guns to preaching the Gospel, to advertising a bacon cheese-burger they are “outraged” by everything and believe the State should protect them from the humiliation of encountering a person with a different opinion. In many of the poor communities of the United States kids kill each other because they were “dissed” and feel their honor was insulted by a thoughtless, crude or casual remark.

    The blame for much of this rests with parents. They taught Johnny and Susie that they always have the right to self esteem whether it is deserved or not. And when schools taught the kids that EVERYONE should be tolerated and accommodated (presumedly the Nazi and child molester as well)…the parents failed to push back or fire the school board. Instead they allowed this muddy thinking to soil the minds of their children. For as we know, the drug dealer that just sold a pound of meth thinks he is the greatest and has the highest self esteem (possibly the meth user has “higher” self esteem…but that depends on the dosage).

    As Lent comes upon us, we do need to look for joy as you indicate. Christianity is a faith of hope and one only needs to read the last few pages of scripture to discover that in the end God wins and overcomes all that oppose him. But the greatest joy should come from the realization that we are invited to be part of the most special of families, the body of Christ and that entitles us to eternal life. For without the death and resurrection of Christ there would be no eternal hope. And what is more worth getting excited about than eternal life…a $1.50 per hour pay raise?…knowing the latest gossip about Kim Kardashian?…or possibly being the first in your neighborhood with the latest cell phone?

    We should also remember that we are called to preach the Good News, not the bad news or negative news, nor Fox News, CNN News or any other “objective” news that leads people away from their actual purpose in life. Of course that purpose is to come to God with humility and in a meaningful and personal manner. To follow His commandments (not suggestions) and strive to be as Godlike as Christ who is and was a “mere human” like us. For that genuine purpose lasts an eternity and the rest is merely fifteen minutes of fame.

    God bless you and the other readers of this post.

  2. Thank you! I have been listening to G. K. Chesterton on audio books. He is also delightfully joyful. And I just started reading “Evangelii gaudium”! (Speaking of joy and laughter!)

  3. It’s like Chesterton’s the Ballad of the White Horse: “The men of the Gaels of Ireland are the men that God made mad, for all their wars are merry, and all their songs are sad.

  4. We know by experience that God has a sense of humor.
    1) How could we as created beings enjoy some characteristic not found in our creator?
    2) How could I spend so much time looking for “lost” car keys that finally were found less than a foot away from where I usually leave them? (I merely failed to look ABOVE the usual location!)
    3) How could our “little old lady” cat (22 years old) try to nap on the open door of a dishwasher? (And other silly behaviors)
    More seriously, the idea that the Resurrection of Jesus inter alia was a “joke on Satan” may be evidence that the Resurrection occurred on April 1!

    Thank you, Lord, for blessing us with occasional silliness, and finding us for each other.
    TeaPot562

  5. It should be noted that, before one “mocks the devil”, one had better be in C.S.Lewis’s class. I think it’s irresponsible to encourage your readers to engage in what could potentially be a dangerous game. There is a disturbing lack of humility and respect in your words. Go ahead and call me humorless and dour. This is serious business. Unless you really know what you’re doing don’t mess with them and most certainly do not mock them. Sounds more like you’re trying to impress others, which is of the flesh and most certainly not from the Spirit. Hate to be the wet blanket here, but humor is too close to arrogance to be toyed with. Unless you’re C.S. Lewis.

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