Screwtape Speaks Again: 13 Great Ways to Live the Bad Life in 2017

The engaged life is strange, deeply counter-cultural, and much less boisterous than the performative one. It is in truth the good life. But here’s the thing: Screwtape doesn’t want you to live it.

The ancient Greeks had a beautiful word for the good life: eudaimonia. Such an existence centered, for different thinkers of that context, around the pursuit of wisdom, virtue, and the pockets of quiet happiness found in this world. The Greeks loved a good philosophical discussion as much as they loved the banquet table. The early church refigured the good life, making it appropriately God-centered, self-denying, and Christ-exalting.

But today, such a vision of the good life seems increasingly unpopular. People seem to want to pursue an unpleasant existence in our time. Because this is true, I’m taking the (considerable!) liberty of updating C. S. Lewis’s justly famous—and very shrewd—Screwtape satire. Below you will find a modern Screwtape’s satirical suggestions for living the bad life in a distinctly 21st-century way.

1. Engage in endless political snarkery. Though doing so fails every test of Christian maturity, and you’d never practice this in person, on your social media accounts provide a never-ending stream of sharp-edged comments that A) do nothing to actually settle ideas and B) make your friends and “followers” want to punch a wall.

2. Virtue-signal until you go blue in the face. Continually show us how you’re on the right side of history. You don’t have to tell us why, and you don’t need to allow wisdom to do its work in you. If your favorite cultural or intellectual celebrity says it, it must be right! So: signal to all of us, with maximum public effect, that you’ve got the right stance.

3. Weigh in on really complex issues that you know almost nothing about. Experts schmexperts. All that studying and thinking and intellection is overrated. It’s book knowledge—and Americans devalue nothing more than book knowledge. (You can hear the scorn in the voice even as you read those two words). If you’ve read a few tweets, if your favorite voices say it must be right, then you should feel the strength of 10,000 angels beneath your wings as you pontificate about super-technical matters you could have studied but chose not to due to a Netflix binge or three.

4. Demean basic human interaction while broadcasting your life. Normal reality is boring, right? It’s so twentieth-century. Nobody just talks anymore with a friend. Be sure to slip in and out of conversations by needlessly checking your phone, answering every unimportant text message milliseconds after it pings in at jarring volume, and generally acting like a fevered addict if separated from your phone for less than a minute. The policy is this: always treat remote friends better than you treat those directly in front of you. Always. Rudeness isn’t rude anymore!

5. Take pictures of your kids instead of interacting with them. Parents don’t need to play with their kids. They don’t need to hold sustained chats with them. You can now fulfill all your parental duties by doing something fun—at least on paper—with your kids, but then bypassing the actual experience by snapping a steady stream of photos, worrying about crafting a funny caption for said photos (or video), and generally bringing thousands of people into the one set-aside private moment you have with your kids in all of a week. This is a great strategy, because it ensures that childly exasperation builds up over time, and is thus hard to detect.

6. Politicize everything. Let nothing be free of the direst possible implications: a baseball game, a BBC interview gone haywire, the national anthem. Society is fracturing, so be sure to hack apart the few shared moments we have left. It’s not enough that we live in the endless political news-cycle (much of which is nothing approaching news). Do your part to make sure that the bitterness and division and posturing and motive-reading bleeds into every aspect of life. No one can be happy—period. Also, relatedly, stamp out humor wherever it’s found. Spread misery by squelching mirth. Instead of being a Christian who is able to laugh at life’s absurdities, be a Christian who crushes the faintest glimmer of laughter.

7. Dynamite the past. It’s crucial that we fall prey to the heresy of optimistic historicism—namely that everything is great today and everything was awful in the past. Take any flaw you can find in past thinkers and magnify it in the extreme. Castigate historic figures, tear them to shreds, pull up the foundations of society with your bare hands. Leave nothing standing. The past is unremittingly awful. We are the ones we have been waiting for.

8. In commendable pursuit of “community,” let your family life slide. Never before have we heard more about community; never before have we practiced it less. Nobody suffers more from this shift than our children. Instead of protecting and preserving precious family time, schedule your family’s life so that you barely see your kids, other people raise your kids, and thus your offspring end up living in a half-frenzied, tired, and frustrated state. To really tie the bow here, get scorchingly mad in public when said children inevitably misbehave, making that neighborhood Target trip as awkward as possible for fellow shoppers.

9. Treat church like a “religious daycare” rather than a launching pad for kingdom work. I owe this phrase to Jared Wilson, and I think it fits. Instead of making good on union with Christ, continual Spirit-wrought empowerment to live a godly life, and the reality that we are perpetually loved by God, keep your spiritual water wings on. Act as if you can barely make it an hour without collapsing into a puddle. Come to church to unload your burdens on others rather than partnering with all God’s people to be strengthened in Christ and then take some territory from Satan during the week. (Bonus points if you expect your pastor to be Christ.)

10. Spend more time expressing your feelings on social media than cultivating holiness. Talk about weakness rather than fighting it by the power of Christ’s resurrection. Endlessly discuss your brokenness rather than praising God in prayer that he’s made you more than a conqueror. Continually seek sympathy from people who have tons to do instead of living life for the glory of God. Thus wear folks down so that when you truly need help—as all of us do at times, sometimes in sustained periods—they are exhausted and barely able to provide it.

11. Make every conversation about you. Dominate group talk. Relentlessly strategize—rather than listening—to make every chat about you. When someone bares their heart to you, when they finally have a chance to open up to a friend, interrupt them. Don’t let them finish a solitary sentence. Then, when you’ve successfully flustered them, totally ignore the serious concern they just shared and redirect the conversation to you. (A blue ribbon is yours if you tell them at the end how much you enjoy chatting, and how you’re eager next time to talk about their life.)

12. Make everything in life a party. Be like Michael Scott—insist on taking the dignity out of truly serious moments. Whip people up into a false emotional state, and browbeat those who want to act like adults. Make all of life the equivalent of an eight-year-old’s birthday party. (Also, require parents to attend birthday parties and other childhood events, effectively making parents kids all over again.)

13. Live a performative life over an engaged life. Here it is: the temptation of the age. A performative life is about you. It’s about looking good before others. It’s not about “making it your ambition to live a quiet life” (1 Thess. 4:11). It’s about wanting to be known, wanting to be praised, wanting to be recognized for your own laudable authenticity. It’s about broadcasting your opinions, barely-formed, rather than listening.

The engaged life, by contrast, is the life that is not about you. It’s about the Lord. In it, joy is found in being known by God, not esteemed by others. It’s about living wisely. It’s about death to self. It’s about enjoying the moments God gives you, not broadcasting them to others. It’s about service, and not about being endlessly tended to by others. It’s about entering into the joy of giving yourself so that others can flourish. It’s about being authentic, but not in a culturally-mandated way. It’s about thinking for yourself, and taking time to form opinions, and submitting yourself to discipline and structures and institutions and wise teachers. It’s about digging in with your family if you have one, and spending quality time with them. It’s about standing for the honor of God when no one else will. It’s about rejoicing with those who rejoice, and mourning with those who mourn.

The engaged life is strange, deeply counter-cultural, and much less boisterous than the performative one. It is in truth the good life. But here’s the thing: Screwtape doesn’t want you to live it.

But God does, and God rewards those who do by his power.