Copyright (c) 1993 First Things 31 (March 1993): 7-8.
As compiled by Jean Bethke Elshtain, she having discovered a mysterious virus in her computer one day as she worked on yet another piece on whither virtue . . .
Dear Nephew, my little popinjay,
My mood is nearly jaunty. Please don't misunderstand. My dyspepsia and misanthropy are intact. But things have been going so well for us lately that I have decided I can take occasional hemlock breaks. I have quaffed a few this evening. This no doubt accounts for my jubilation-a word I don't much like, frankly, as it belongs to the Enemy's armamentarium far more than our own. I fear I shall disgust you, but you are no doubt familiar with the Enemy's notion of the kerygma or "good news," this good news being "That they might have life and might have it more abundantly." Their good news was terrible news for Our Father Below. Frankly, we were overwhelmed for many human centuries combating this idea. Fortunately we were able, through a good deal of terribly hard work of which you are the heir (and please do not forget it), to enlist some of the Enemy's own camp in our effort. I recall many of Cursed Memory who presented a wonderfully sour and pinched notion of what faith-a frisson seizes me whenever I must write that wretched word-required. So long as we could push the notion that the good news was really bad news of the most sour and nasty sort we at least had a fighting chance.
We have succeeded most gloriously. There is no precise turning point, but over time our legions managed to press the notion that freedom and faith were antinomies-yes, stark opposites!-and it seems our victory in this regard is secure, at least in that great republic in which you and I now make our temporary abode. Why, I have had two vacations in the past decade! You, of course, cannot afford to take one just yet because there are tough cases in that not-yet-accursed geographic region to which I have assigned you. Can you not do something with the Smith Family of Fremont, Nebraska? You did succeed, my precious pervertlet, in convincing them of the need for what is called Cable TV. But the parents seem to have set strict hours for viewing and will not permit the five-year-old to watch MTV despite the fact that her best friend is well and truly "into it," as one of their slang expressions has it. Ah, but I didn't write to chide you. Not tonight. For I have had my own "good news." Our new computer system is working wonderfully. It is much easier to track our progress, and progress it is: this calls for more hemlock!
Let me just summarize a few of our triumphs, for I know you are a bit "down" about the wretched Smiths and other such hard cases. I have already noted the glorious equation by The Enemy of freedom with license and faith with servitude of the most life-denying sort. But there is much else to be thankful for as we look back on those weeks of consumerist excess called The Holiday Season. Another triumph for us, by the way, for we have nearly effaced-at least in the media, more and more our faithful allies on many fronts-any serious and solid mention of The Enemy Savior, that "true Baby, with flesh, blood, hands, and legs," as our foe, Martin Luther, described Him. Away in the Manger and all that. If only we could get those hideous Christmas hymns banned! A bevy of our dedicated legal servants are working on this front and I am confident of a victory in the first decade of the next millennium. Our strategy is to have all such reminders of that stubborn infant removed from public sight and sound. Yes, I know, the churches remain a visible redoubt, a reminder to those not yet solidly in the camp of Our Father Below. But who knows? So many wondrous things have fallen into our lap with but modest effort on our part. Perhaps we will one day see churches themselves stripped of outward insignia of the faith. Perhaps we can get them ensconced behind high walls, the architectural equivalent of what I believe is called a "brown paper bag." This "brown paper bag" was at one time a lingering sign of residual shame, as our sort of viewing and reading matter was required to be covered up. Yes, I feel the bile rise at the triumphant thought: we have uncovered what was once shameful. Now we must push to cover what was once (and in some recalcitrant minds is yet) sacred. These reversals are what we seek.
It is nearly time for my soft-core porn film on a TV channel devoted exclusively to the purpose-and round-the-clock at that! Feature it: the lonely housewife, the agitated adolescent, the bored businessman, the gullible child, all can now be drawn with a mere push on the button of their remotes into a world of fleshly excess so at odds with the Enemy's Eros. In this never-ending struggle for and over the body we have been required from the beginning to insinuate the view that faith and the body's needs and desires were at war with one another. This has been a very tricky fight and you may be too young to understand it fully. We have worked ceaselessly to instill the notion that life and joy were reducible to momentary and passing pleasure of the most "instant" sort. We had to get people hooked, addicted to the fleshly, hence at war with their own bodies. But I exhaust myself to think of this effort. I will instruct you further in future letters. Let us just savor the moment.
Your affectionate uncle,
The contents of the Newtape File were first disclosed at a symposium, "Seedbeds of Virtue," sponsored by the New York-based Institute for American Values last November in Cambridge, Mass.