Screwtape and Self-Righteous Hell

By Becky Garrison 5-17-2010

100517-screwtapeI had the recent pleasure of seeing Max McLean's deliciously wicked portrayal of Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters currently playing at the Westside Theater in New York City. By employing some sound and lighting effects, this production gave a contemporary spin on C.S. Lewis' classic tale of a quest to slowly guide a man into hell. One of Screwtape's most effective tools was to entice the man to become so enamored with his righteous faith that he becomes convinced he's somehow more enlightened and intellectually superior to other Christians.

In my forthcoming book, Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ, I explore a time when I fell into this very deadly trap. I recall my Cursillo days back in the 1980s when I thought I had discovered the church. According to their Web site, Cursillo represents "a movement that, through a method of its own, tries to, and through God's grace manages to, enable the essential realities of the Christian to come to life in the uniqueness, originality, and creativity of each person."

After Cursillo came into my life, I felt like my faith was on fire for the first time. I got so excited about how Cursillo helped me find the "one true faith" that I couldn't wait to share this "Good News" with anyone and everyone, regardless of whether they wanted to hear it or not. All too often, in my zealous state, I acted like an overexcited puppy that licks strangers and then tries to mount them before soiling the carpet.

As an overeager evangelist, I preached what I thought was the way, the truth, and the life. I had all the answers, but no time for questions or even reasoned debate. At times, my critical thinking went out the window, like the zealots who followed Brian instead of Jesus in Life of Brian. Regrettably, I dismissed those who walked away when I tried to share the joys of Cursillo as being stick-in-the-mud, misguided messes.

The late Judy Baumer, my first spiritual director, somehow managed not to laugh in my face. In her infinite wisdom, she gently began feeding me a healthy diet of ancient mystics such as St. John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, and the Desert Fathers, coupled with servings of modern spiritual heavyweights like Basil Pennington, Henri Nouwen, and Gerald May. As I delved into these resources, I felt my faith moving beyond the Cursillo crowd. I can still feel the shunned looks when I told these spiritual stalwarts that I needed to leave this clique-like Christianity. Still, I remain grateful that Cursillo got me started in my quest to "follow Jesus."

Since this time I've received plenty of offers to join in with the latest faith fad. I regret those when I gave in briefly to the temptation to be part of the cool Christian crowd and hope those I may have excluded as not being the right kind of Christian have been able to forgive me. This raises the question for all of us: Where have we grabbed on to movements, followed religious rock stars, and committed other faith foibles instead of trying to live out the teachings of Christ?

portrait-becky-garrisonFollow Becky Garrison's travels on Twitter @JesusDied4This.

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