Orthodoxy Today
The "Demon Of Correctness"—Religiously Incorrect Secularism

The Evil One is cunning and often comes in disguise. C.S. Lewis (1961) in his famous work The Screwtape Letters, has the senior supervising devil telling the devil-novice: "Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous -- that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about." Call the novice the Demon of Correctness.

Repeating this "strong, or stark, or courageous" message eventually moves it from suggestion to fact. In psychological terms this means the listener gives up his cognitive skills. Instead of "reality testing" the content of whatever message is conveyed, the listener allow the deliverer of the message to usurp his cognitive potential.

Some psychologists have described this process as a dysfunctional cognition option (typical of an arrested adolescent level of cognition) called "foreclosure" (Erikson 1963, Marcia, 1966). Persons arrested in this developmental stage never goes through a personality [cognitive] reorganization. They take identity patterns (cognition) from significant others. “My ‘significant other’ believes this so I do I.”

Political correctness is just such “jargon” and foreclosure. On the other hand, individuals who achieve “identity achievement” (an advanced cognitive level) have “thought over” all the facts. This is exactly what the Demon of Correctness does not want us to do.

People who foreclose and never attain (cognitive) reorganization take identity patterns (cognition) from significant others. "My 'significant other' believes this thus so do I," they conclude. On the other hand, individuals who achieve "identity achievement" (an advanced cognitive level) have thought over all the facts.This is exactly what the Demon of Correctness does not want us to do.

In our day, "political correctness" is the jargon that leads to foreclosure. We see it in such things as the interminable struggle over the meaning of the First Amendment, particularly the efforts to interpret the First Amendment in ways that eradicate all religious references in the public square. Secularists compel an arrested cognitive development by characterizing their interpretation as "strong, stark, courageous" [Screwtape's suggestion to the novice-devil] -- a kind of "religious correctness" ostensibly grounded in the Constitution itself. Suggestion becomes fact.

The First Amendment reads in part: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." Many lawmakers, judges, educational leaders, media elites, and even business executives emphasize only this first clause in daily social life and read it to mean that no reference can be made to religion in any public context.

The secularist reading filters into the culture so that many people wonder if we are free to say the Pledge of Allegiance, particularly "one nation, under God." Are we free to say "have a holy and blessed Christmas" or even "Merry Christmas" or is this offensive, politically incorrect, or even illegal? Should we say instead "Happy Holidays"?

This reading affects how we greet friends and acquaintances of other religious faiths as well. Are we free to say "Happy Hannukah", a "Holy and Blessed Ramadan" or a "Good Kwanza?' Such greetings are still legal but highly disfavored socially and in the workplace at times leading to discrimination and job loss. These restrictions also reach into other areas of public life such as removal of the Decalogue from courtrooms.

Recalling Lewis' warning, this secularist truncation is a "strong stark and courageous" interpretation of the First Amendment. The implicit appeal to the authority of the First Amendment forecloses any attempt for deeper cognitive development by implying that deeper thought violates the Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.

But the secularist interpretation is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind. Consider this plea from the delegation from Rhode Island at the framing of the Constitution:

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, and not by force or violence, and therefore all men have an equal, natural, and unalienable right to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, and that no particular religious sect or society ought to be favoured, or established by law in preference to others.

The attempt by secularist to remove religion from the public spaces is not limited to the United States. All references to the Christian past that makes up Europe have been dropped from the documents establishing the European Union. France wants to ban any outward display of religious commitment altogether such as a cross worn on a necklace. Screwtape and the other 'Demons of Correctness' must be dancing in glee.

The original intent of the first section of the First Amendment was written to prevent the establishment of a "state" religion. It allows all citizens who are religiously committed to be free to exercise the tenets of their committment (Froom, 1946).

The Declaration of Independence which predates the Constitution by nearly 12 years reflects the mind of the Founding Fathers of the United States as well. It reads:

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them ...(and)...that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.

The secularist wants us to ignore the details in American history. It ignores language like "Creator" or "Nature's God" used by the founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence. Generalities and jargon hide the truth. The evil one has attained even greater states of merriment.

In order to attain a higher level of cognitive processing, the second section of the First Amendment needs to be emphasized along with the first: "Congress shall make no law ...prohibiting the free exercise thereof". This negates "strong, stark and courageous" appeals of the secularist. Thinking replaces jargon (the language of the Evil One) and tills the soil for implanting the enduring Judeo/Christian values the Founding Fathers comprehended and sought to establish. Suggestion is tested against reality.

Religion would be respected and celebrated. Religious symbols could be freely viewed. No religion would be established. Instead, people would instead be free to exercise their religion without legal or judicial hostility.


Erikson, E.H. (1963) Childhood and society. NY: Norton.
Froom, L. (1946)The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers,Review and Herald, Washington, DC: 3, 46-55.
Lewis, C.S. (1951) The screwtape letters. NY: Macmillan
Marcia, J.E. (1966) Developmentand validation of ego identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 3, 550-558.

Fr. George Morelli

V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.

Be sure to visit Fr. Morelli's new site Orthodox Healing  for the latest essays and information.

Published: November 13, 2005

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