My dear Wumpick,
So, has your patient made any New Year’s resolutions this time round? And how are they going? Please inform me at your earliest convenience. The new year is a time ripe with possibilities for us—more so than Lent, which is the closest religious equivalent to the secular world’s annual attempts at self-reform.
With Lent there is always the aura of otherworldliness, the too-constant admonitions against false motives and pride, the too-frequent spurs for the faltering, the dilatory, the failure. During Lent a man is not allowed to forget who he really is, and where he is ultimately going. New Year’s resolutions, lacking any religious veneer, are as much easier to break; and they are so much more likely to be made for the wrong reasons in the first place! The girl who fasts during Lent may incidentally achieve “the body she has always wanted,” but the girl who diets all-year round is the girl who has been encouraged to want a certain (possibly unnatural) body. The man who resolves to spend time with his wife during Lent is thinking, or is at any rate admonished to think, primarily about his duty to her; but the man who begins paying her attentions on January 1st is far more likely to be thinking of what such behavior is going to get him. Even these secular resolutions aimed vaguely at making the resolvers “better people” are endorsed by the newspapers, the blogs, and the shops as making the resolvers simultaneously more happy. And we are not speaking here of even the good pagan sort of happiness anymore; for the only “happiness” we have taught modern man to recognize is pleasure. The first key therefore in guiding your patient’s choice of resolutions is to see that she reads a great deal of literature about her choice. I don’t by “read” mean “read, digest, and consider critically.” If the patient were a stupider sort of person that might help to confuse her; as it is, we can’t be too careful to keep her from analyzing the suggestions that the world has to offer. See if you can’t guide her to where she’ll see or hear some of its jingles by accident. Get the language into her brain, and her head will someday follow. The second key is to see to it if possible that she makes several resolutions, as particular and time-consuming as possible. This rule applies equally in Lent, where the theory is the same: the more inconvenient and confusing and complicated a thing is for a human, the more likely they are to trip up about it. Most of our patients are not (more’s the pity) real cowards when it comes to suffering and pain. If they were, nothing could serve our purposes better at this time than a wholesale, full-frontal attack upon religion such as the ancient emperors mounted. But I fear there are too many who, faced with a direct choice between apostasy and death, would choose wrongly; make the choice as stark as all that, and we would see many of our most promising patients suffer and die with distressing aplomb. But attack them through bureaucracy, mild prejudice, a tax here and a regulation there … ah! yes. Come at them slowly and we will see even quite decent people edging towards the line, the white line that marks off the honest from the dishonest, and the Enemy’s soldier from one of our own. Of course, we make them think too that the line is actually edging towards them, by making everyone round them move a little; it is not that they have changed their position, they think, but that circumstances themselves have changed … What matters to us is that moment of doubt, when the Enemy’s member asks him or herself, “What if, after all, they and all their science and tolerance are right?” But this moment only comes when we have blotted out the reality about them with (to borrow a phrase from one of the enemy’s own) a “cloud of unknowing.” But—to her resolutions. As worldly as possible and as many as possible, that is the key. See that in making them her psychology (if you can’t get her soul—yet) is bent toward recreating herself in a better image. The multiplicity of resolutions necessary to achieve this “better image” will of course prevent her from ever achieving it, but even she should manage to pull the feat off we would not need to worry. The Enemy has after all made the little beggars in HIS image and threatens to repeat the performance in each with an increase of similarity (assimilation, as we know). Any conscious attempt on the patient’s part to make herself into something other than what HE has intended is an automatic disloyalty in his eyes—yes, even if the patient’s alternative images are formed on religious lines. Remember who it was that sent the Cure of Ars to become a hermit. Your affectionate uncle, Slangrine