A devilish perspective

It really is a simple strategy. All you have to do is follow this acronym: PHONEYS. Get people out of the real and true and into the false, instructed Dr. Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College.

During his tongue-in-cheek presentation — reminiscent of C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters" — Kreeft wore devil horns and all. The presentation was part of the Defending the Faith conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville this past weekend, which was attended by approximately 1,500 people from around the world.

In "Screwtape," Lewis depicts a senior devil instructing a junior devil through a series of letters. In his talk, Kreeft coached the audience on how to turn Catholics into "phoneys" through seven steps (in no particular order): politicization, happy talk, organizationalism, neo-worship, egalitarianism, yuppiedom and spirituality.

Kreeft's seven ways to create "phoneys" are as follows:

  1. Politicization: This means persuading people to treat religion as politics and politics as religion. It makes politics a form of idolatry, and religion becomes a mere means to an end, as a justification for political action. Persons are sacrificed to abstract causes.
  2. Happy Talk: Basically, "happy talk" keeps things nice, but not real. People focus on what others should be doing instead of demanding their own sainthood. They obsess about the Church's success, but only in terms of their own contributions. They simply keep bland smiles on their faces that don't go deeper. People are also ignorant of the Bible, especially in terms of spiritual warfare. They deny the existence of devils.
  3. Organizationalism: This makes the Church an organization, an earthly business, instead of a spiritual mystery. The essence of charity becomes the "slavery of constant activism." People become Marthas, not Marys, and they fear failure, not sin. There is no time to sit there and listen, and it is very hard to find any literal silence, much less Eucharistic adoration.
  4. Neo-worship: This occurs when people worship the new and fashionable instead of the true. Answers about the new are easy to find in newspapers and online, while truth is kept in "skeptical space." If, by chance, anyone realizes there is a culture war, they ignore the strongest weapons by dismissing them as "pre-Vatican II." This includes the Mass, Eucharist, adoration, confession, Mary, sin, repentance, sacrifice, fasting, infallibility, dogma, saints, the Creed, etc. People read books by heretics about Vatican II instead of the actual documents of Vatican II.
  5. Egalitarianism: Equality becomes the highest wisdom everywhere. The belief that God made men and women superior to each other in their own sexuality is labeled as sexism. Sexual differences are erased, and morality is loosened. Justice is reduced to equality. No one realizes that it is "just as unjust to treat unequals equally as it is to treat equals unequally." Men do not listen seriously to their wives, and they do not see that the woman is the most powerful thing in the world: They bear life. Instead, they see woman as an object of sexual play and inferior to man.
  6. Yuppiedom: People become engrossed in hedonism and pleasure seeking. They become shoppers instead of saints. They become addicted to comforts of the world and are unwilling to sacrifice or suffer. Courage is obsolete: We have the cross without Christ. They fear people like Muslims that are different and view them all as terrorists, unable to see the good. People worship themselves and their own comfort. Spirituality: This is the typical "spiritual but not religious" phenomenon. Everything is spiritualized and psychologized. It's the path to Gnosticism: the worship of spirituality instead of God.
  7. Spirituality is substituted for sainthood; I believe becomes I feel. The world embraces a "bloodless God that saves a sinless man from nastiness to niceness." There are no moral absolutes; in fact, the worst thing is not sin and damnation, but fanaticism (the new "f" word). Saints are troublemakers and always countercultural. People feel ashamed of being different; they want to be the same, not superior. The only sin is making someone upset. The fear of God is replaced with the fear of man.

The beauty of a devilish perspective such of this is the truth in its absurdity. These are the self-destructive views being readily embraced by the culture. But, Kreeft noted, unconscious persuasion "dim[s] the lights" and makes the ugly seem palatable. As Kreeft said, "The bigger the lies, the more the suckers."

Now, Kreeft didn't stop there. He proceeded to give seven points on how not to lose the culture war. His advice is insightful and straightforward. To see what he has to say, I heartily recommend listening to his entire talk. An audio version is available at the Franciscan University Bookstore.

Jennifer Rey is the web editor of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing.