Hemlock: On the fear that God won’t save her children

My dearest Hemlock,


You should take advantage of this vulnerable time in the woman’s life (while she is swelling up and multiplying herself, like a rabbit or a squirrel) to call up some old fears. A very little effort and they can be as raw as they ever were when she was in college.

She already has whispers of the doubt in her mind. She prays from the Accursed Book of Psalms, “Hear my prayer O Lord; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you…” and so on.

But what she is really praying, like everyone who prays anything, even the Psalms—“Be on my side, oh God.” This is the true cry of her weak little heart. This is the cry of every weak human who grovels before the Enemy.

And her weakness is such that even as she is praying this ghastly little prayer, she is groping around for assurance about the other people who aren’t praying this prayer. What is the Enemy going to do about them? she wonders, helplessly. And now, with this child in my belly, what is he going to do about HER? Why do some refuse to go to the Enemy, and how does he allow anything he has made to be destroyed utterly?

This is the fear that we might press on, if we do it carefully. She now feels the stirrings of maternal affection. She understands that most parents probably experience what she is experiencing—the primal and guttural need to protect and care for the people they have borne. And so it’s only reasonable for you to use this as you seek to stir up fear and distrust in her heart.

It’s her baseline moral assumption—though he’s never said it in so many words—that God OUGHT to save that which he made, which was wrecked under his watch. She says, with the other canting Christians, that the Enemy went beyond his obligation when he sent the Enemy Son down to live and die. But she doesn’t quite believe it. Who should die for us, if not our own Maker? That is her real opinion (you remember that quote from that delightful lady in that book by that woman in England.[1])

Parents have an obligation of follow-through with their kids, backed up by a natural affection that wouldn’t willingly see any of them crushed—wounded for a time, if it led to their eventual good, but not crushed. And so, your lady’s logic goes, how can God do worse than even the average human parent intends to do? This is a problem, stuck deep in her craw, as the old saying goes. But the child will bring it back to the surface for her.

And in the same vein, there’s another piece of Christian cant that she affirms but doesn’t really believe. She doesn’t hold to the asymmetrical Christian treatment of man’s righteous works. He’s responsible for the sin, though it was apparently thrust upon him from birth. But every good thing he does is not his responsibility at all. Only the Enemy produces the good stuff, so they say; only man produces the bad (man—and us, of course). So it falls out that if man does a righteous thing or produce good fruit, God gets all the credit; if he does  a wicked thing or produces a bad fruit, God gets none of the credit. Seems like a “heads I win, tails you lose” situation, doesn’t it?

And while we’re on the subject, why doesn’t he make more good works, if he’s the one making it all? Seems like he might go a little further with the old sanctification. If it’s his business, he could do it a bit better—especially in his own! So she thinks.

She is on the track to true freedom here! These are the very questions that began to open our own eyes to something being “rotten in Denmark” as the man said in the play. These thoughts were there at the dawning of the Revolution itself, seeded in the breast of Father Below from questions like these, asked and then buried before they could be carried to the oppressive Overlord for inspection and input! (For who could trust his answer?)

One thing to suppress in her mind—very useful trick—is thoughts about the really dark things that have happened in history and that are happening even now all around her in the world and in her own hometown. These humans are hopelessly entangled in the particular point of view they inherit from their own time and place. She was raised in one of the cushiest spots the world has ever seen: 20th century America. From childhood, she has firmly believed that the world is safe: that rules and regulations are in place to keep all danger and death at bay, that public parks all have guardrails and signs, that hospitals have medicine for all diseases, that bad guys go to jail, that food will always appear in the pantry when needed, and that the government, if it goes wrong, can always be reelected and so adjusted, and that if you tell people the truth in the right way, they will eventually believe it.

Imagine her shock and surprise if she were to find herself spirited away to Hitler’s Germany! Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon! Wintour’s Vogue! For the humans, unbridled wickedness and its fruit is always more than they asked for, more than they can account for, more than they can reckon with. To see the lengths it will go, this “sin”! It’s immense power! How it spreads, ricochets, multiplies, infects, flowers magnificently into perversions, atrocities, masochisms, abuses, killings and maimings of body and spirit! What we watch with wonder and no small feeling of awe, they would experience as shock and horror (until later stages of enlightenment are achieved).

She thinks of sin as those petty problems that dog her and annoy her self-image, that sometimes wreck respectable families when it gets out of hand—basically, it is a series of scrapes that God has a kind of obligation to get people out of.

Virtue, love, joy, glory—those things he maliciously guards, hordes, that he eternally insists must come directly out of himself—she thinks of these as the birthright of people. Like us, she has begun to wonder—if he’s got access to this stuff, why doesn’t he pour it out? Try to distract her from the question, and she probably won’t bring herself to wonder where else the stuff could reside but in him—where exactly would she choose to hold the stuff?

The irony of this “birthright” position is that she has long inherited a weakened version of this Stuff. She has always lived in air with a strong downwind whiff of the Enemy’s magic—it’s the reason for all the suppression of evils she cannot imagine. And so she’s gotten the idea that man is basically respectable, basically house trained, governed by decency and good intention. But how was it before the Enemy came? She never saw. How has it always been in places where we have culture-wide victories over the Enemy’s magic and bring in True Reality? We can handle it, but she cannot. She benefits from the presence of something, but complains that it comes from the only place it can reasonably come from.

It’s as if, given the news that only one stream in all the world was flowing with healing water, and every other stream had been poisoned, and all men had been invited to come and drink, she laid down next to the stream and argued with it. On principle, she resents having to drink the water, because she can’t abide the idea of other streams being poisoned.

“Why don’t you make all the streams healing streams?” She asks the stream.

“I am the only stream that can be the source of all that’s good.”

“Why can’t you make more streams?” she asks.

“Because I can make no other gods besides me,” the stream answers. “Why don’t you drink?”

“Because other people don’t drink and I’m showing solidarity. Because I’m worried that maybe this baby in my belly won’t drink. Will you make her drink?”

“Why don’t you drink?”

“Because there should be more streams.”

“Why don’t you drink?”

“Because this sickness is so bad; you should have made the sickness cause fewer boils.”

“Why don’t you drink?”

“Because the sickness is not so bad; you shouldn’t require drinking to bring healing.”

“Why don’t you drink?”


She must never see this conversation as it sounds here—she must not bring the questions out in the open at all. She must not be reminded of the question he keeps urging upon her: “Why don’t you drink?”

The more she drinks, the more deluded she will become by his magic. The more she will come to believe that he is sweet and kind to flow so freely for his people; that he moved beyond obligation into something he calls “love” in order to pour himself out, that there is no other stream and that her ideas about the sickness are all off anyway. What kind of sickness makes a person long to become sicker? She hasn’t thought of this part—how can you possibly disentangle intent from inheritance, when it comes to this sickness that the fathers pass to the children? She can bring her child to the stream and drink fully herself and offer to share again and again, but the drinking is always between the stream and the drinker.

That is the sordid truth of it. The drinking is what does it; we’ve all seen this. The drinking seems to put a cloud over their minds; they are unreachable by us, impervious to our invitations into the Father’s logic, impervious to rage, bored by the most interesting questions we ask. Suddenly it is all about the stream for them, and they no longer want to spend time really dwelling on the nagging fears we would introduce (Why doesn’t he make more streams, then? Come on, why is it really??).

Isn’t there a saying from somewhere about “drinking the Kool-aid?” Ah, I recall it now. People said that in reference to the delightful situation down in the jungle of South America, wasn’t it? Of course in that case, the people got well and truly free when they drank their Kool-aid, didn’t they? Viva la résistance!


Madame Helvetius

[1] Here the writer of the letter is probably referring to Mrs. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin: “It is all very right; who should do it but her own uncle?”


Catch up on the Hemlock Letters:

Letter 1: On Women

Letter 2: On Marrying Up

Letter 3: On Stopping Prayer

Letter 4: On Confessing Her Sin

Letter 5: On Female Friendship

Letter 6: Why Use Drugs When We Have the Internet

Letter 7: How Gardening and Pregnancy are Dangerous


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