In response to a social media post of mine about the possibility of being poked in the backside by demons, which — trust me — made sense, Stephen Bullivant wrote: “Well, I think it’s safe to say that if I was a demon, endowed with all the powers and possibilities that implies, poking people in the bum is exactly how I’d spend my days.”
Having met the eminent sociologist, this did not surprise me. Here’s the story of Agent Bullivant’s last day on the job.
Bullivant: Yes, master?
Screwtape: You realize this is a serious business we’re in.
Bullivant: Oh, yes sir, absolutely! Nothing seriousier. You can count on me to be serious, sir!
Screwtape: Bad. I was beginning to think th . . .
Bullivant: Don’t you mean “good”?
Bullivant: Like, hold on, if you say “bad” when you mean “good,” you’re still saying “good.”
Screwtape: This is Hell, Bullivant. We don’t do “good.”
Bullivant: I know, I know. But still. St. Thomas Aquinas said th . . . . [Notices the devil with a migraine look on Screwtape’s face] Oh, well, I’m sure Nietzsche said the opposite.
Screwtape: I was beginning to think th . . .
Bullivant: Though, to be honest, we could lighten things up. Everyone’s always so gloomy here. Can’t be good for morale, sir. If you can’t have fun in Hell, where can you have fun?
Screwtape, after staring at Bullivant for a full four minutes: Explain to me how poking people in their bottoms helps damn their souls.
Bullivant: Wait, is that what I’m supposed to be doing? I didn’t see that in the ad. I thought we’re helping them live their best lives now. Like Agent Osteen says. You’ve certainly been very happy with his work.
Screwtape, putting his head in his hands: But he’s . . . I mean, what do you think . . . . Why did you take this job, Bullivant?
Bullivant: I’m a sociologist. There’s not much else we can do. And I loved that line in the ad about “Change people’s lives for eternity,” especially the part about “reunite them with their friends.” I was going to start a soup kitchen and job training center, but this sounded much more rewarding.
Screwtape [looking up]: Rewarding?
Bullivant: Is “rewarding” like “good”? I meant “horrible.” I also loved that part about their being able to have long talks with their congressman and MP. Love love love the egalitarianism. We’re all in this together! Even the simplest bloke will meet presidents and prime ministers and Fortune 500 CEOs. And popes! Though I’m beginning to think that’s a bit of a disappointment, me being Catholic and all. [Brightens]
Plus I get to poke people in the bum!
[Screwtape puts his head back in his hands]
Bullivant: Oh, and getting to be invisible and fly around is super-cool. Can’t do that teaching at the university, they’d fire you.
Screwtape: Some of our best agents work at universities, Bullivant.
Bullivant: Richard Dawkins?
Screwtape [sighs]: He works for the other side. Clever bastard. His arguments make people on the other side feel smug and then he doubles down by angering the feminists and the Muslims. Amazing people don’t catch on. You still bet on three card monte when you walk through the park, don’t you, Bullivant?
Bullivant: I like to think the best of people, sir. I mean “worst.” And I always win the first game! I just can’t figure out why I lose all the rest. It’s baffling, sir. [He notices Screwtape still has his head in his hands] So, sir, like, maybe I’m not the best agent in the field. But I can make Hell a little brighter! [Starts singing “Brighten the corner where you are”]
Screwtape [looking up]: I’m calling personnel. Heads are going to roll.
Bullivant: That’ll brighten up your day for sure, sir! No one likes HR, even in Hell. But back to the point, if you don’t mind, while I have your attention, I’m just saying, it’s always winter here, and never Christmas. Should we do secret Santa this year? Do you have a favorite carol you’d like to sing?
[Bullivant pokes Screwtape’s backside.]
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