Monday, May 28, 2012

Letter #2

My dear Blankweed,
                                                You ask whether nostalgia is always a good thing. I don’t know what they’re teaching you in training these days: of course it is.  When humans look back, caught as they are in time, they always do so to compare the past with the present.  We encourage them to do so through the lens of nostalgia, which throws a rosy glow over the past.  By encouraging them to remember only what was good about the past, we ensure that they are, in effect, comparing ice cream or candy floss with – well, an imperfect apple. One is artificial, unhealthy and man-made; the other is fresh but flawed.  Next to the sweetness of candy, an apple will always have a bitter edge. And thus we sow this seeds of discontent. Your patient is a little young to develop a full blown case of nostalgia, but you can encourage a taste for it now.
So, let us return to the very promising topic of your patient’s  uncomfortable experience in the Enemy’s camp.  She returned to the church based on her memory of childhood stories, and so she assumed, at some level, that the church would have remained unchanged in the last 20 years. Why she would expect this when every other aspect of life has changed is unclear and illogical – but typical of human behaviour. Of course it isn’t the same! The prayer book may have retained its essential structure, but the music is different, the delivery is different, and the behaviour of the people around her is different to the way it was 20 years ago.  Encourage her to feel some indignation about this.  Make her feel , for example, that some of the technology that is being used instead of pew sheets and hymn books is “not reverent” . I know that doesn’t make any sense at all – technology and pieces of paper are neither reverent nor irreverent, they’re just forms of delivery.  But let her bristle with indignation – place in her mind an entirely fictitious vision of the past, where people stood together in unity in the pews, sharing hymn books and smiling together, and contrast that with the “impersonal” nature of words on a screen.  If you can organise some glitch in the technology – or better still, an incompetent or inattentive operator - so much the better.
Work on her feelings of displacement. The words of some of the prayers she remembers from childhood, such as the Lord’s prayer, have been modified.  She’ll feel uncomfortable when she slips into the old style – encourage her to feel that her slip-ups are the fault of the church.  The whole language of the church has changed since she was a child, the scriptures will be read in a modern (very unpoetic) translation: since she has a “love of language” encourage those feelings that somehow the message, whatever that may be, is lost in translation, that it’s lost its poetry – and never let her wonder why she feels the Enemy , or a modern congregation, needs to speak in poetry. Never let her think “well, why would I expect the language of the 17th Century or the 19th Century as a suitable way of expressing worship in the 21st?”
Not only the language, but the details of church have changed. Take clothes for example. She will have been used to the service being led by clergy dressed in full regalia – feed on her doubts: is the person leading a lay person or a church leader in mufti? And what about seating? Human beings can get very emotional about pews, you know. If the church she’s attending has chairs, you can fan a very effective rage into flames.
Of course none of these details matter in any way. People can worship the Enemy seated on pews, chairs, cushions, or sitting on the top of high buildings, if they have a mind to.  But given her longing for the church of the past, these trivial details matter to her. Just don’t let her entertain, even for a moment, the thought that such concerns are irrelevant. He’ll try to suggest it of course, but all you need to do is rock her plastic chair and she can be pushed down the path of discontent.
And while she’s feeling unsettled, she’s also, happily for us, aware that all the members of her family are unsettled by her new venture.  Her husband, a quiet solicitor by profession, fancies himself as a well-read sceptic and philosopher by nature. Of course, he’s never read any of the great philosophers himself, but by delving occasionally into modern, popular discussions of philosophy, he likes to carry himself off as an expert.  His noisy amusement at your patient’s church attendance is very helpful, and you need to liaise with Cutfroth to maximise domestic discord on this matter. The children – for whose sake these visits are ostensibly taking place – are also bored and resistant.  One of her sisters – the sophisticated city sister, the one she envies and resents – is openly scornful, while the hippy sister she pities and patronises is enthusiastic. All of these reactions she will deeply resent and you need to encourage that resentment. Make her feel it’s just too much to handle.
But best of all is the reaction of her mother.  Now this needs careful handling. As you are no doubt aware, her mother is deeply immersed in the Enemy’s faction, and has for many years been imploring the Enemy daily to bring her daughters to faith. All of which is dangerous and deplorable. With some subtle management on your part, your patient’s suspicion of anything that pleases her mother can stop her at the door of the church. Her mother is trying hard to contain her delight: but she’s human, and her excitement that the Enemy is finally showing signs of listening to her pitiful petitions will be – indeed is – difficult for her to contain. Your patient is still young enough to have a deep resistance to conforming to her mother’s wishes. I know she’s a grown woman, but it takes a good 30 years or more for an adult woman to throw off the adolescent impulse to differentiate herself as much as possible from her mother. Remind her that she doesn’t want to be told what to do by her mother. Of course, her mother isn’t telling her to do anything, but that doesn’t matter. Even her mother’s most carefully controlled, neutral questions about her experiences at the church can upset her, if you encourage her.  Keep telling her she’s her own woman and she doesn’t need her mother pushing her into anything. 
(Just as an aside here, I love that phrase that some humans are so fond of “I’m my own woman/man”. No-one is their own person: they either belong to us or to the Enemy. They’re either ours to torment in this life and devour in the next – or, or they’re…His.  To do with as He pleases. Of course, He tries to explain away his own colonisation of their puny lives as a form of “setting them free to be more truly themselves”; we know this is propaganda but even High Command has not fathomed out what this really means)
The trick is to bombard her with negative feelings – about the church and about her family. Human beings are, for the most part, at the mercy of feelings. The fact she lives a busy life will make these feelings even harder to bear. Feed her some helpful lines: do you need this on top of everything else you have to deal this? Isn’t it all too much trouble? Remind her that this was supposed to be a happy experience for her and her children, and then draw her attention to the way her children are squirming in their seats and asking how much longer they have to sit still. Let her feel the effort of keeping them quiet – without her becoming conscious of how hard they’re trying to please her and hard it is for them to sit quietly, since they’ve never had to do so before. Build those negative feelings in every way you can. Humans are blithely unaware of the transitory nature of feelings, and we need to keep them ignorant on this matter. They are also hugely impatient of the unfamiliar, without any real awareness of how quickly the unfamiliar can become familiar.
It’s just all too hard – that’s the line you need to take.
Your affectionate friend

No comments:

Post a Comment