Screwtape on Prefrosh

My dear Wigglesworm,

It has come to my attention that your charge has been admitted to Harvard, and that you are inordinately proud of this development. I write to issue you a warning. You have a difficult task ahead of you, which may end in unmitigated disaster for the Lower Kingdom, particularly if you persist in your present attitude. Have you – a diabolical creature with the best education the Lower Realms could provide – actually been taken in by the human blather that surrounds and constitutes the aura hovering around this University? Have you been encouraged by the various titters your charge’s fellow church-goers have made about “Godless Harvard”? Do you anticipate a hearty meal on the patient’s despair before even putting in an ounce of work? I have said this time and time again, and I will restate it now: every and all temporal circumstances can be used by either the Enemy or Our Father Below; all perceptions of the “inherent” good or evil about places, events, even emotional states, are false illusions we wish to cultivate in humans and guard against in ourselves.

Firstly, there is nothing “Godless” about any place – this is a source of immense frustration to Our Father. Remember that the Enemy has so interpenetrated the very fabric of the Universe as to leave us not even a last preserve that is free of Him. It is a matter of opprobrium that even Hell itself has been cruelly and ruthlessly invaded in that most regrettable incident that concluded the Incarnation. This is not, of course, to say that Harvard has not been progressively and cleverly emptied of God by our efforts since its regrettable inception as a college for the education of the laity by that noisome little band of humans called the Pilgrim Fathers; However, human actions done in the name of the Enemy tend to cast notoriously long shadows, often preserved through the cunning use of sacraments and symbols, such as the University’s shield and constitution. As such, our job is to distract students such as your patient from the deeper layers of meaning that lay in the University’s past, instead directing her euphoria to the frivolous things she may accomplish through the name of “Harvard” in her imagined future.

Now the present situation affords you three delectable directions in which to work on the patient. The first is, of course, overweening arrogance. Human beings, you must remember, are often blind, to all intents and purposes, to the ultimate nature of causality. Conceit is easily manufactured by allowing a human who has just accomplished something to trace its causality back to their own hard work, or sacrifice, or talents, without taking the next logical step in asking from whence these talents and time and privileges come in the first place. Pride is the ultimate mark of Our Father, and one should fan it into flame at every opportunity. In particular, the patient’s admittance to Harvard will no doubt generate a certain amount of social awkwardness due to the overwhelming reaction of friends and family – often a mixture of admiration and envy. The patient will be forced to enact a little dance of false modesty, for which she will later congratulate herself, and furthermore seed in her an “insider/outsider” mentality, in which she can only confide her genuine happiness and gratitude to people of similar privilege or “caliber”. This is the beginning of snobbery, which I also encourage you to cultivate. Under no circumstances should you allow her to say things like “by the grace of God”, or “I am so grateful” about her admission – ideally, she should falsely wave away all congratulations with something as patently untrue and unmeant as “Oh, it was nothing”, or “I think they may have made a mistake”.

Now, some of your elation at the potential to turn your charge into an atheist or materialist is justified – not by the Harvard name itself, which you so naively rely on, but by the sheer fact that the patient will be entering the realm of Academia, which humans have elevated to a minor Personification. Our brightest scholars have done an admirable job in turning the realm of Academia from one of the hotbeds of worship and truthseeking into the wide ocean of despair, hollowness and cowardice it is today. Much of this can be credited to the great Thurbucular, who almost singlehandedly lent intellectual credibility to atheism with his admirable work on Nietzsche. Ever since, we have systematically excised the most vital questions to human life from Academia altogether, leading academics to dismiss them as “unscientific”, “unreasonable”, and best of all, “unanswerable”. Thus we have Political Science which does not talk about Love, Economics that presupposes a dumb selfish machine to be the standard human, Literature more concerned with its own form than its substance, and best of all, Religion that is so obsessed with reaching consensus it practically ignores the Enemy altogether. Unseat the desire for truth in your patient and replace it with a desire for academic respect, and your job is half done.

Lastly, and most importantly, the patient’s new-found sense of self-importance should be used to eliminate all pleasure from her life. This can be simply done by applying the illusion of ownership to her time and effort. As soon as she gets the notion that the privilege she has received was a result of her own efforts, she will be haunted by the possibilities that every second of her time and every iota of her effort must be leveraged towards some goal or other – it does not matter what the goal is, so long as it is not the Enemy’s Purpose – because the potential yield is so high. This will prevent her from making any real friends, to enjoy reading for its own sake, or spend time talking to people who love her, turning even pleasurable conversations into a means to an end. In a matter of months, she will be using other humans as means – the most delightful of the Diabolical Principles, always convinced that her ends are pure and noble! If you can keep this up for four years, you may well be on your way to producing a little tyrant of a politician, a nihilist of a writer, a burn-out of a social worker, or, even better, a hungry, disillusioned human incapable of enjoying ordinary life, doomed to dissatisfaction without action, and a particularly delightful blend of selfishness and despair.

Do not, under any circumstances, allow your charge anywhere near the Christians on campus. They tend to be of a particularly resilient strain, unusually humble and curious, and would inevitably corrupt your charge with their example. Let your charge anchor her image of the “Christian” to the disapproving titters of her church friends, driving a wedge between the “intellectual” and “spiritual” sides of her in her imagination. There is nothing more dangerous than an intelligent Christian who “loves” the Enemy with his mind! Cf. the very unfortunate telepathic leak that occurred of my correspondence with the late Wormwood by one such mind. I still rankle at the memory. I wish you all the best, and hope to hear of your progress!

Your concerned supervisor,



Judith Huang ’10 is the former Poetry & Fiction Editor of the Harvard Ichthus. She obtained this letter by means she cannot divulge.  

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