The Screwtape Letters — An Inside Review.
Ah! The play is over and a small part of my life has returned. Will I be able to handle coming home and actually having to make decisions on what to do for the evening? Will I be able to survive the stress of sitting in my favorite chair and actually reading a book? Will my daydreams consist of something other than crawling into bed and drifting off? I sure as hell hope so. Those neural circuits are a bit rusty but I’m looking forward to dusting them off and allowing them some freedom of action. That said, I must admit it’s sad when thoughts of sex or love or fellowship have been shoved to the ground by the simple overwhelming desire to lie down. Have you ever noticed that maturity strongly resembles simply being too damned tired to do anything naughty. Sigh! If I ever again talk about auditioning for two plays in a row while working, please just come over to my house and kick me square in the groin. I’m sure I won’t appreciate it at the time, but I’m equally certain that in the long run, I’ll realize it was for the best.
Truly, it has been very entertaining and fulfilling month, these volunteer actors have proved themselves a wonderful people whether atheist, agnostic or Christian. My chosen family, the family I have hand picked, has expanded greatly and that is always a good thing. A new world opened up and let me in. Watching these plays for years has left me with a deep appreciation for the quality of the talent pool in this town. I have watched as ordinary people have given a couple hundred hours of their time to put on a performance that often left me either emotionally shaken or sore from laughing so hard. And now I have worked with them, the very same people. It’s fascinating doing a scene onstage with a young woman who just the year before put on an emotional performance that left me unable to sleep that night. Too cool! Really!
I also love how the shows are made up of about half veterans and half acting virgins and how everyone just blended right together. There were few egos or personality disturbances and no cliques. It was an ideal situation. And as a small bit of personal swagger, I must say that I didn’t totally suck. Though I’m quite certain that Pacino remains safe in his career as yet, I didn’t embarrass myself. Whew!
Ah, now we must discuss the actual play and its content. Based on the Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, it more or less consisted of three demons conspiring to get a young man into the pit. Yes, it was religious through and through, but it was also funny, very very funny. The three people who were cast as the demons were a brilliant choice. The interactions and bumbling between Screwtape — an elder statesman of the demon world, Wormwood — his young nephew, and Slumtrimpet — Slut for short — the ever present temptress, were hilarious. Whether I was in the play or not, I’m quite certain I would have loved these performances. But…
But… Then there’s the religion. Sigh. Amber Bernhardt, the brilliant young director of Dakota Stage and the actress who played the part of Slut has been working hard at expanding the theater in Bismarck. Among her ideas to encourage people was to open both Friday performances to a discussion period afterward. This involved having three experts in drama, literature and religion take the stage after the play and initiate discussion in their specialities. I, of course, felt compelled to stay for both events, but in the interests of full disclosure, I must confess that I did not partake in the discussion more that rolling my eyes at every absurdity. Why not you ask? Well, I love Dakota Stage and feel it brings something to Bismarck that would be sorely missed, and I live in one of the most conservative cities in the United States. What people think of me is irrelevant, but I couldn’t risk harming Dakota Stage with my thoughts on the religious elements of this tale. So aside from a couple of muffled snorts and banging my head repeatably on the seat in front of me, I kept quiet.
But not here. Never here! Ok. The play focuses on personal demons who whisper in people’s ears trying to convince them go against God’s plan in order to drag them into hell to be devoured… as food. Yeah. Well, that’s the play’s version. The fundamentalist version is a bit more sinister involving personally adapted torture for each individual for all eternity. Hmmm. Does anyone else find this idea just a little bit absurd? There are invisible and, of course, undetectable and unprovable demons dashing about influencing your day to day decisions trying to lead you away from God? Then these same demons are going to delight in torturing you for the rest of your existence which we are assured will be forever? Um. If this isn’t a WTF moment, I don’t know what is. Can you say WTF? I knew you could.
In this hallucinogenic view, God creates a world that he knows will turn into a vast war involving creatures he created and whose job it is to get you into hell. These creatures then find some kind of reward in torturing everyone for all time. Why would they do this? What could be their motivation? Do they get some kind of sustenance, some nutritional value out of pain? If anyone truly believes that then please explain to me the mechanism involved. I’d love to hear it. If we are food and this is how demons are nourished, this hardly seems like a sustainable food system, and if the demons have another motivation, I’d love to hear it. Please! And please tell me how this is according to some kind of divine plan? Did he really mean for all this to happen or did his plan go awry? Perfection, anyone?
At these discussions many were arguing about the minutia of the theology involved such as whether it is possible to redeem a demon (Trust me! This was brought up more than once). The entire time I kept wanting to yell out that it’s not these tiny little points that are wrong but the entire damned idea. Instead of arguing about the number of angels on the head of a pin, back up and look at the absurdity of angels altogether. Not only are they losing sight of the forest for the trees, they have lost sight of the trees for the twigs. For a lack of Christ’s sake, does evil and good really consist of supernatural intelligences battling for supremacy? Shit no! Back the hell up and actually look at what is being discussed.
One of the Priests, an otherwise seemingly intelligent man, explained the fiend’s objective thus, “The devil’s job is not to get you to sin. Their job is to get you to think about anything but God. It doesn’t matter what you are thinking about; as long as it’s not God you’re doomed.” Yeah, right… Because everything great about this world has been accomplished by those who always thought about God… Like the crusades or the witch burnings or the pogroms against the Jews or the conquest of aboriginal peoples around the world. History firmly proves that holding the image of God in your mind makes you incapable of screwing up.
And all that useless stuff humanity comes up with when not thinking about God? Trivial! Goddamned trivial! Mere distractions. In today’s world, who in the shit actually uses the Germ Theory of Disease? Atomic Theory? A heliocentric view of the world? Quantum Theory? Electromagnetism? The double helix? Gravity? Nuclear fission? No one! Useless! What good has any of this stuff ever done us? All we need is to keep God topmost in our minds and shake our prayer sticks, ring our spirit bells, sacrifice animals on a bloody altar and eat our sacred crackers, and if we just do these things, then God will take care of us. Just like he always has.
That’s why bad things never happen to good people.
Oh… Wait… Oh shit!