The winner of HarperCollins's contest, "The Screwtape Letters—Now it's Your Turn to Play Devil's Advocate," has been announced, and it's quite enjoyable. Amy Schwartz, a journalist with The Washington Post and an observant Jew, imagined Screwtape corresponding with a junior devil whose assignment is a television anchor. But Schwartz avoids predictability: "You may think I refer to the importance of tempting a subject who, if properly turned, can help mislead, confuse and ultimately recruit to our side the many millions of additional souls in his viewing audience," Screwtape writes. "Not so! … What makes this particular task truly noteworthy is the combination of a private person of limited gifts with a powerful and outsized public persona. Purely from a gastronomic perspective, the potential rewards are awesome. Such twistings and turnings of insecurity and self-justification, such excellent and succulent depths of self-deception!"
Since this is a semi-official "sequel" to one of Lewis's best-known works, it may be a harbinger of how HarperCollins will handle the controversial sequels to the Chronicles of Narnia. Like several of the names floated for that project, Schwartz does not share Lewis's Christianity. But that doesn't mean she doesn't respect it—and can't promote Christian truth in her work. "It may seem odd for an observant Jew to nourish a lifelong passion for the works of a Christian theologian," Schwartz says in the intro to her piece. "But I find much of Lewis's humane wisdom to be universal, and this is especially true of the psychological and spiritual insight that fills The Screwtape Letters."
Her entry, in fact, includes a section where the anchor decides he should become "born again." Only he does so not to embrace Christ, but to gain "access to the inner circles of power, their shared language, their Bible study classes and men's fellowships and prayer breakfasts." Screwtape is delighted: "In allowing your patient to salt his broadcasts with moral-sounding but empty verbal gestures, a sort of surface moral vocabulary, all for the purpose of signaling his membership in a select peer group, you are using the Enemy's dearest tools in the service of mere snobbism. This is delightful, and it promises more gains in future."
No, she's not C. S. Lewis. But her piece is well worth a read.
Lewis has been garnering much attention since 9/11. Many people, including AOL Time Warner's co-COO, are quoting from his "Learning in War-Time" speech. And others are pointing out the surprising line in Voyage of the Dawn Treader: "What awaited them … cannot be told in his words because after September 11 he forgot about keeping his diary for a long time."
According to the Los Angeles Times, Lewis isn't the only Inkling helping folks through the war against terrorism. J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is seeing a resurgence, of course, because of the film (releasing December 19). But, says the Times, "Its epic themes of good versus evil and the importance of individual choice resonate powerfully as the world again faces war." The lengthy article is full of praises for the book, but the final word goes to Mike Foster, North American representative of the Tolkien Society: "'The Lord of the Rings' is the story of a long and difficult battle against great evil, taken on by the humblest. If that doesn't have any meaning now, I don't know when it would."
Religion after 9/11:
- Many foresee supernatural end to Earth | 75 percent of evangelicals believe in Christ's physical return (The Washington Times)
- Families of fallen postal workers seek solace in faith | Anthrax quickly kills Md. men (USA Today)
- Egyptian Christians fear being caught in crossfire | Memorial for a Copt slain in San Gabriel highlights the unease of the minority community at home and in America. (Los Angeles Times)
- Bloody protests hit Nigeria town, 13 dead | Three mosques burned in Makurdi (Reuters)
Politics & law:
- Bush use of term "the evil one" raises eyebrows | Clergy object to using word for Satan to describe Osama bin Laden (Reuters)
- Praying in public: part of coping, or defiant act? | After the initial escalation of prayer vigils and hymn sings, majority have quietly returned to their policies of limiting religious expression in public settings. But some say it's the perfect time to change the rules (The Christian Science Monitor)
- 'Choose Life' plates okayed in Alabama | Similar licenses in Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana are being challenged in court (Associated Press)
- Fear not, Mister Rogers has a new neighborhood | If ever there was a time for Fred Rogers's placid, plainspoken, child-centered wisdom, this is it. Fortunately, where there's a Web, there's a way. (Scripps Howard News Service)
- A breath of fresh air | God's Breath includes key excerpts from the sacred texts of Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Sufism and Taoism (Stephanie Salter, San Francisco Chronicle)
- Station transmitting gospel to Muslims | World Christian Broadcasting Corp. will alter its messages to make Christianity more attractive to Muslims on the other side of the world (The Tennessean)
- Confession ruled best kept private | Pastor told confessor's husband about affair, now she's suing (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
- Loose lips sink pastors and flock | Pastors must be aware they can't afford to play fast and loose with congregants' confidences. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
- Momentum builds to unify Orthodox church | Orthodox Christian Laity plans to raise $1 million to win support for the merger (Chicago Sun-Times)
- As it celebrates past, Armenian Church worries over future | Intermarriage and assimilation are big concerns (The Boston Globe)
- Congregation aims to set new record | It's official: Just months after setting a record for the world's longest church service, a congregation in the mountains of Norway will go for another big prize next Easter. This time by singing the entire psalm book (Aftenposten, Oslo)
- 'Lost' tune may have been Wesley's favorite, scholar says | Nobody sings "Wednesbury" any more (United Methodist News Service)
- China cautious on papal diplomacy | Pope apologizes to China for any "errors" made by missionaries in the past, calls for restored diplomatic ties (BBC)
- 'Rome-ing' Egan shaking faithful | Many New Yorkers resent the cardinal's long absences since the Sept. 11 disaster (Rod Dreher, New York Post)
Being a good neighbor vs. being a good Christian:
- Church's outreach effort concerns some neighbors | Worries arise that congregation might start substance-abuse rehabilitation center (Houston Chronicle)
- Family fights to post message | Homeowners group considers "This is a house of prayer" signs ads (Houston Chronicle)
Money and business:
- SEC suing churches to recover funds | Swindlers donated victims' money as bait for investment scam (The Dallas Morning News)
- The rise and falling out of Value America | Even as it describes a fall from grace that mirrored the demise of other tech businesses, the Value America tale offers some insights into the role people's faith — both religious and otherwise — played in fueling the boom. (The Washington Post)
- Marketer in alleged ponzi scheme is ordered to pay | Thomas G. Cloud and Cloud Associates Consulting ordered to repay more than $1.1 million for fraud on Christian-themed Internet site (Los Angeles Times)
Other stories of interest:
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