And another one that's been hanging out in the back of the Word files for the last couple of years. Not entirely certain where it sprung from, just that it was inspired by CS Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. Needless to say, I don't own it, and I only ask Mr. Lewis' forgiveness for the borrowing. I hope that my humble story lies in line with his vision for the original tale, and that it inspires people in some small measure as the original does.
"Mycolis, what do you think you're doing with your patient? You've allowed her, not only to become that most abominable of things, a Christian, but also to develop her spiritual gifts. Have you lost all hold on her?"
"No, of course not, my Lord Aspergillus. My grip on her is still quite strong. Though, unfortunately, somewhat more tenuous than I should like it to be... Mightn't you see your way clear to instructing me in the finer parts of tempting? I know you have led many a patient to the pits of Our Father Below. Would such a great fiend such as yourself deign to spare a few tidbits of information with a lowly junior tempter such as myself?"
"Cease your flattery, Mycolis, until you get better at it. You sound wheedling; it's tiresome."
"I am sorry, my lord."
"Better. Oh, fine, very well, get up. I shall help you, though Our Father Below knows you don't deserve it. No, lips off my boots - I just had them blackened."
"And a beautiful job they did of it, too, sir. Is that eau de adultress I sense in the polish?"
"Indeed. One of the rarer batches, in fact, aged beautifully. So. You want to improve as a tempter?"
"I could scarcely do worse, Lord Aspergillus."
"That is a sentiment upon which we can both agree. Your patient is a, and here I shudder for your sake, a prayer warrior, and has the potential to become a full Champion in the ranks of the Enemy. When she prays, things happen, things that thwart the plans of Our Father Below and upsets all the ranks of demons in the lowerarchy. The girl must be stopped before she can come into her own as a servant of... of Him."
"Mmm. But what can we do? My hold on her is tenuous at best. There are times when I nearly lose my grip on her altogether, when she is in communion with...Him."
"What else? We stop her from praying."
"How? Do we cut out her tongue?"
"Stop that; eagerness doesn't become you. No, mutilation wouldn't stop her from praying; in fact, it might make the situation worse. Many tempters make the mistake of attacking the body when they ought to attack the soul. Physical injury and illness are wonderful tools for driving a wedge between certain patients and their Creator, but it is not the panacea that many unimaginative demons claim it to be. Many a soul has been lost Above because an illness or injury served, not to turn them from the Enemy, but toward Him. You must be very certain of your patient before you try such a tactic, and even then, they may surprise you. Your patient, I judge, would be one of the latter, using her muteness to cry out to the Enemy day and night, undistracted by mere physical speech."
"So again the question; how do we stop her from praying? She is far too invested in it, and she can see how her prayers affect the world. I doubt anything could break through the barriers that she has protecting her."
"Not an overt onslaught, no. But a word...a whisper...the slight hint of a doubt, masquerading as a compliment..."
"Oh. Boring stuff. Ow!"
"Don't you dare treat the greatest weapon of the lowerarchy with such disdain! It was that weapon which first caused the race of Men to fall, and it is that weapon which most often keeps them in their place. The best temptation is not showy; the best temptation, in fact, is one in which the tempter says a few words and then falls silent, letting the patient puzzle things out on their own and working themselves deeper and deeper into the mire of doubts and second-guessing. The only way out of that quagmire is for them to call upon the Enemy."
"Doesn't... He... help them, then?"
"Oh, He tries, alright. But if they don't call for help, they never look up and see His outstretched hand. A few words from us is all it takes to keep the patient looking down, trying in vain to escape on their own. Such a trap can last the patient for life. It is extremely satisfying to watch Man keep himself a prisoner."
"And you think that would work for my patient? I must say, I much prefer the frontal assault to all this...subterfuge."
"Mycolis, Mycolis, Mycolis... You simple, simple child. Even Man, the brighter sorts, anyway, has discovered that it is folly to throw yourself upon the strongest part of a fortress. It is too easy to repel an attack from there, and you simply wear yourself out trying. No. You find the weakest point."
"And attack there?"
"No, you idiot. You poke at it. A slim blade, a subtle barb, so that the patient doesn't even notice she is being attacked. Once she notices you, it's all over; she'll call in reinforcements and that's the end of that - she'll be on her guard against you more than ever and the only thing for it is to retreat and find another point of entry, or wait until she leaves that weakness unguarded again."
"Where would you suggest I start my poking?"
"Hmph. You spend all your time watching her, and you haven't yet sussed out her weaknesses? What sort of tempter are you? Never mind, don't say anything, the answer is writ clearly on your ugly face."
"I was going to say, Dear Lord Aspergillus, that she has many weaknesses; where would you suggest?"
"Don't take that tone with me, boy, you're not low enough down to duck the consequences."
"I'm sorry, my Lord."
"Better. Well. She is meek, is she not? The Enemy may love the meek, but for the most part, they are plagued with low self-esteem. Attack her at that point. It is easy enough to do, especially if you can convince other tempters to assist you."
"And when and how might this attack take place?"
"The next time she prays aloud in a large group."
"...You can't be serious. You know we can't listen in on those, it's far too painful!"
"From the periphery, Mycolis, you idiot. Focus on your patient and not the prayer and for Our Father Below's sake, don't get caught in the spiritual nimbus. I believe Parastoe has charge of one of the girls in your patient's bible study, and a wonderful addition she has made for our cause, too, with as acid a tongue as she has, combined with Parastoe's unceasing efforts to make her self-focused and quite bitter about all the perceived slights she suffers at the hands of others. If you can enlist him in this little project of yours, you will have had it made. Parastoe, now there is a tempter to watch; he makes more headway with our most hopeless cases than even the lowest members of the lowerarchy can dream of, and if you should happen to mention my endorsement of him when you see him, I should be most appreciative."
"Now, when the time comes, just hang out on the edges, and when it's done, whisper to your patient about how dumb that prayer was. Now, don't overdo it - that will cue her to the fact that this is an attack and not her own self-doubts, which, if you have been doing your job right, will sound indistinguishable from your own recriminations. Then, and this is the key part, request that Parastoe chivvy his patient into making some sort of derogatory noise or glance in your patient's direction- no more, not yet. See if you can contact the tempters of the rest of the group and convince them to do their utmost to get their patients to ignore the prayer or to dismiss it entirely. That will burst that bubble of pride you've been cultivating and she will take her first steps into the quagmire of doubt."
"I'm sorry, sir, but 'bubble of pride'?"
"...You mean to tell me that you haven't been nurturing your patient's pride in her own spirituality?"
"Should I have been... No, never mind sir, I should have been. Um. Why should I have been?"
"Oh for crying out loud. First you discount the whisper and now you forget about pride? Did you miss Tempting 101? Pride is one of the greatest tools in our arsenal! You find something that the Enemy has blessed your patient with and then you convince her that it is her own great skill that makes her good at it! It is deadly important, as pride is one of those spontaneous bubbles that occur without much prompting from us and can pop up at any time with very little effort on our part. It is especially important when the gift is a spiritual one, because we can derail it by simply pointing out how splendidly the patient is pursuing his spiritual gift and isn't he wonderful? And then hint that it is, perhaps, prideful to think so. His conscience will immediately be smitten and he will seek to eliminate the pride, at which point you can point out that not everyone would notice that it is pride and that he should feel proud of himself for having tried to defeat his own sin. Sooner or later, you will have him so wound up in his own pride/humility struggle that he will forget to pray for anyone other than himself."
"Oh. That... that certainly sounds easier than trying to get six tempters to work together to discount her prayer."
"That's phase two, and not to be discounted. Your patient is a prayer warrior, and not easily dissuaded from her path. Work up the pride bubble, and, this is key, Don't let her think of it as pride. Don't even let her notice that you are developing it."
"But you just said - "
"As a general rule, that's how it works. For your girl, this is better."
"Because when you have her convinced that she is really something, a person whose prayers ought to be admired by others, and not noticing that she is thinking that, and then she gets snubbed by the rest of her prayer group, it will pinch that pride. Encourage her to be insulted by their indifference, but lightly, lightly. You don't want her to notice you, not at this time, and hopefully not ever. Keep her tangled in how she thinks others perceive her, and whisper to her that if others don't think she's all that good, maybe she really isn't, after all. Present to her mind all the times she's slipped and stumbled, all the selfish prayers she's prayed, all the times her prayers weren't answered. Above all and most critically important, keep her attention focused on her. If she ever tries to reach for the Enemy, knock her back down. Use shame and guilt - I trust you are familiar with them, at least? Two more big-hitters in our arsenal - to keep her from actually, truly, reaching for help, for if she ever does, you will lose months of work, if not a permanent setback. I heard of another tempter once who had his patient in the bag, an agnostic for all intents and purposes, who slipped up once and allowed the man to take a walk, for the pure pleasure of taking a walk. The patient reconnected with the Enemy on that walk, and for all the tempter's frenzied trying, the man became one of the generals in the Enemy's camp. Twenty-three years of service to us, and one afternoon's walk undid it all. And, not only that, the man led many more of our patients away from Our Father Below to the airy reaches of the Enemy. Hmph. Now, where was I?"
"I believe it was shame and guilt, sir."
"Ah yes. Shame her for bringing an imperfect prayer before the Enemy, and then, when she does not pray for fear of the imperfections, condemn her for it. Build up those feelings of guilt until she cannot bear to even think of the Enemy without remembering how badly she has failed Him, so that for her own pride-preservation - but never let her think of it that way! - she turns from Him completely."
"Lord Aspergillus, I do believe I like the way your mind works."
"That's why I'm the senior tempter. Your patient would have been far more trouble than she's worth, had she been allowed to make a habit of those prayers of hers. And to grow up doing it? No, far better that we stop her now, as a fledgling."
"I thank you, my Lord. Do you have any other words of wisdom before I start the work before me?"
"As it happens, I do. Should the opportunity present itself, encourage her to doubt her own standing with the Enemy. More prayer warriors are completely derailed by self-doubts than you could shake a stick at, and doubting her relationship with Him is a prime way of keeping her isolated from Him."
"...I'm not certain I follow, my Lord."
"She is a child of the Enemy; you know that, and I know that, and as such, is beyond our grasp in Eternity - for now, we can only prevent her from placing other patients in His hands and so fill our pits in the meantime. But if you can convince your patient that her, ugh, her salvation is tenuous, maybe not real, maybe in danger... The little worm of doubt, Mycolis, that's all it takes."
"I'm sorry, sir, but won't that encourage her to pray more? To seek communion with Him?"
"You'll have to play it by ear, of course, but if you do it right, you should immobilize her for good. Think about the way humans think. If they have uncertainties about, oh, say, a family member or a coworker, do they go immediately to that person to get the matter cleared up? No. They almost always talk about it with a third party, or ignore the person or issue altogether, hoping that it will go away on its own. If you can foster such shoulder-tensing uncertainty within your patient regarding the Enemy and her standing with Him as his child, his warrior, then all you need to do is maintain the shame/guilt cycle and she will be immobilized forever, unable to speak with him for fear that she is not, truly, one of his, or else in shame that she doubts that which she should not doubt. It is great fun, playing with patients' heads."
"I believe I begin to understand. I thank you, my Great Lord Aspergillus."
"Away with you, Mycolis. And mind you - while you are tempting, whatever you do, do NOT let her grow closer to Him. Otherwise your putrid spirit will go to fill our pits instead of hers. It has happened before, you know. Ah, poor Wormwood... his own uncle was given the great pleasure of destroying him."
"Sir? That look on your face is making me uncomfortable."
"Then get out of my sight, and you won't have to see it. Luck to you, Mycolis, though whether good or bad is up to you."