Chinese Church Voices

A Chinese “Screwtape” Dealing in Real Estate

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Real estate plays a vital, yet consuming role in the lives of Chinese today. It is a popular topic of conversation among both Chinese Christians and non-Christians.

In this playful, satirical article from the journal Territory, writer Liu Chao riffs off C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, focusing on society’s obsession with real estate as an enticement for Christians to fall away from God. The “devil” in this story pitches a strategy to his colleagues that plays on common human fears and anxieties over the real estate market.

The Infernal Real Estate Sect Leader’s Way to Success

By Liu Chao

Location: The Great Lecture Theatre of Satan’s Hell Training School.

In order to connect theory to practice, increase the employment rate of devils upon their entry to the world at graduation, and improve the success rate of temptations upon souls, the School Principal has specially invited a devil who powerfully rocketed to prominence thirty years ago as an expert in wreaking havoc. He has tirelessly amassed experience of the construction boom, already reaching the giddy heights of Real Estate Sect Leader. In order to break fresh ground for the disciples, he has made this special report.

The main text of the Real Estate Sect Leader's report follows.

Greetings, disciples! Thank you very much Leader Beelzebub for your invitation. Truly, the success I enjoy today cannot be separated from the great care and trust you have given me. Without our Satanic faction’s concerted efforts at fighting alongside us, I could never have become as capable and great as I am today.

However, time is very tight. As of this year’s second quarter, real estate development everywhere is at a performance crossroads; consequently, we have been busy. But enough theory—I will use the case of Couple L of City C, Region H and their real estate purchase to explain in four steps how to successfully use real estate to entice a Christian family to fall away. As much as you can study, as much as you can take in—well, that’s up to your native ability, young devils. As the proverb says, “You can lead a devil to weaklings, but you can’t make him deceive!’

Step 1: Seize the opportune moment. God’s every blessing is a hidden opportunity.

“Someone is burning garbage downstairs again! We need to move!” This was Mrs. L’s 101st complaint. In the period just after they married, Mr. and Mrs. L’s finances were in a bad way, so they bought an old apartment in a bad neighborhood. The noise from a mahjong joint, thick oily smoke and clouds of flies from a restaurant, the stink from the garbage incinerator behind their building—their old apartment was surrounded by opportunities that would excite any young devil’s imagination. It was such a pity none of these things could disturb them! This couple in that horrible environment just wouldn’t stop singing songs of praise to that awful God. They even practiced hospitality and invited friends from church into their home to study the hateful Bible.

Some impatient young devils simply gave up, thinking there was nothing to be done for this couple, and that they would certainly follow our enemy Christ to his heaven. But I lay in wait, holding out for the opportune time. At the end of last year, the couple had a baby. An adorable little life—and a little sinner—arrived in their midst. “Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.” (Psalm 127:3) The birth of this child would certainly lead to serious changes. My opportunity had arrived!

With the aid of TV, adverts, websites and their friends’ conversations, I unceasingly brought the apartment and the effect it was having to the couple’s attention. In order to provide a healthy upbringing and wholesome environment for the baby, they should get away from the thick smoke, noxious smells, and loud noises. It didn’t take them long to catch on: they must move!

Little devils, please remember: Every blessing God gives his disciples is our opportunity. Never abandon or give up on your target: wait patiently. Why would a human want to purchase a new home? Or find stable work? Or prepare for marriage, have a baby, or expand a successful business? These things are all originally our enemy God’s blessings. Our duty is to make sure the receivers of these blessings are not thankful, never think of how to use these blessings to help others, and instead take them as their just desserts. And then in the name of “loving myself,” plan how best to consume and enjoy them.

Step 2: Confuse the target. Make them lose their life’s direction.

Life changes are an opportunity to incite the humans to fall away. The next stage was to suddenly confuse the target—to get Mr. and Mrs. L to lose direction. You will have already guessed: I make them deviate from the path instructed and promised by God.

Mr. L thinks of himself as a man of logic. Now, logic really is one of our best tools, one we are experts in. So from the beginning of last year, I and some junior devils progressively encouraged Mr. L to do a great deal of research about the housing market. We gave him ten years’ worth of real estate data. We told him the price of property couldn’t fall. We taught him about finance and inflation. We told him property is inflation-proof and the best way of protecting an investment. We got him to pay attention to Country C’s unstoppable urbanization—the immigration from the countryside to cities—and hinted that even if he made a mistake the first time, he couldn’t possibly lose out—property prices in cities would continue to rise and there would always be willing buyers.

We helped him comprehend the government’s housing market regulation measures and made him feel like housing bubbles don’t easily burst. We guided him towards the government’s laws on property prices and purchase limits and got him to realize that now is the very best time to buy property—what a shame to waste it! We even taught him how to integrate knowledge of transport, business, schools, traffic, hospitals, and so on, to choose the property with the absolute highest potential.

Pay attention, little devils! This is a vital point—please would everyone remember it. Knowledge is a good thing—it can be very profitable for us—but wisdom is a terrible thing. So our enemy God says: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”

So now, Mr. L has become a real estate expert; he has grasped hold of a great pile of knowledge, and lost himself in all this knowledge. During the last few days he has been explaining City C’s property market to his co-workers, to the extent that they are all full of it and praising him. This is the objective we were working so hard for: to use these aspects—investment, finance, investment protection—to arouse the greed in human nature and make it seem justified, and turn Mr. L’s reasoning into that of any other property investor’s. Quietly make the humans think that this is the only right way to do it—the choice of logic.

Mr. L has forgotten that when he bought his first home, he had absolutely no knowledge of the property market. The only reason he bought that apartment was to serve God. And the reason he and Mrs. L wanted to move was because they needed more space and a better environment.

Now, Mr. L’s entire thinking is controlled by increasing his wealth, by protecting his capital, by the tenets of property investment, by choosing a favorable school district, all with good transport and employment options. He is thoroughly neglecting God’s warning: “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”

Step 3: Produce anxiety. Use lies to create a tense atmosphere.

Logic has formed a plan and evaluated gains and losses; moreover, emotions are providing a driving force to get going. The third step: We control Mr. and Mrs. L’s emotions, and dominate their joys and sorrows, happiness and anger.

A few years ago, when they were buying their first home, Mr. and Mrs. L were conned by the landlord of that second-hand apartment—of course the landlord was one of our people. In order to get a good price for the property, he did a botched, superficial refurbishment, inventively calling it “a complete remodeling.”

After Mr. and Mrs. L moved in, they discovered that the shiny exterior was just a facade: the toilet leaked, the floor was coming up, the wallpaper was falling off the walls . . . We thought to use this to trap them in “hatred” and “fits of rage” because “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” We had not anticipated that Mrs. L would tell Mr. L, “We bought this home to serve God. It is close to church and all our opportunities to serve, and is really suitable as a base for hospitality.” The two of them lived peacefully in that wreck of a home, and all our plans came to nothing.

This time, buying their new home, Mr. and Mrs. L didn’t trust landlords of second-hand apartments. Now over the years, through our colleagues’ countless hours of toil and industrious ploughing and weeding, we already have over ten million people in real estate who have become our disciples. So many real estate advisors’ mouths are stuffed with false words—truly, our high lord is rightly called “the father of lies.” Of course, we never let them admit to themselves that they are lying. The lying involved in the real estate business is simply called “marketing.” Not understanding marketing marks someone out as a fool—and they can have nothing to do with us.

When Mr. and Mrs. L started to look for their new home, they didn’t understand “marketing,” and had no idea the real estate advisors’ advice contained so many hidden meanings. For example:

  1. “We will start trading in the next month.”
    (Last year, they were saying the same thing. Heaven only knows which month will be the next month.)
  2. “The property is convenient to the subway and ensures guaranteed enrollment at the local school.”
    (The subway is twenty minutes’ walk away. No local school has been built. If you want one, you will need to protest on the street, get into a fist fight with the housing developer, or petition the local education bureau to sue the developer for not fulfilling their commitments. How can anyone so easily get an enrollment spot?)
  3. "It’s convenient for local transport!”
    (The elevated road is right outside—the noise is deafening!)
  4. “The building maintenance team provides excellent service!”
    (And the fees are extortionate.)
  5. “An excellent neighborhood, very high quality!”
    (Don’t come near unless you have money!)
  6. “You can make a down payment to secure the property and get it back at any time if you change your mind.”
    (You can ask for it back tomorrow; we will hand it back after a year, no problem.)
  7. “There’s enormous growth potential, the government has planned it . . ."
    (You can’t take this pie in the sky idea seriously?!)
  8. “It has a beautiful environment—the apartment is on the seafront!”
    (So prepare to bust your budget!)
  9. "Our real estate is very popular, you probably won’t be quick enough to get hold of some.”
    (This reverse psychology approach makes you really nervous.)
  10. “The complementary square meters you get with this property comprise a large area.”
    (Our compulsory fee for purchasing communally-owned space in this building is also large.)

A few months later, after many setbacks, Mr. and Mrs. L understood real estate “marketing,” and were clear in their minds regarding the meaning behind the real estate advisors’ words. They also deeply understood the meaning of, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” However, don’t worry about Mr. and Mrs. L! We had already led them to believe that this real estate purchase was the most essential and logical choice. By the suitable application of stumbling blocks and snares and, even easier, building emotional volatility on the foundation of logic, step by step Mr. and Mrs. L were being drawn towards us.

Our enemy’s (God’s) method with unsaved people is “just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done” [Romans 1:28]. The flip side of love is not hate, it is neglect and abandonment. If we couldn’t make Mr. and Mrs. L hell-bent on loving their home—a pile of bricks and mortar, practically speaking quite hard to make someone fall in love with – now, we could make them hate it.

Mr. L rails against the black-hearted real estate developers, bemoans the fact house prices rise day upon day. He doesn’t realize that cursing and disappointment are also a kind of “caring.” As his scolding heart gets more and more irascible, more and more preoccupied, so that anger and resentment close his eyes, Mr. and Mrs. L pray to God less and less and their plan to buy a home turns into an obsession, a root planted in their hearts which is not easily removed.

Step 4: Create faith; turn the home into an idol.

In June of this year, Mr. and Mrs. L finally subscribed to purchase a new apartment, achieving the objective of their obsession. This was all as we expected. Little devils, at this kind of juncture you must never relax. We are not housing developers or real estate advisors! Our aim is not to sell homes but to drag Mr. and Mrs. L off to hell. So finally, the most important step is to make the home into a “god” of their hearts—you know I am talking about idols, about false gods.

How can one make a home into a god? Naturally it is by relying on lies! Because our enemy God is all-powerful, perfect, eternal, holy, good, loving and so on, we must ascribe the home a few attributes it doesn’t possess, and make it seem the embodiment of perfection and goodness.

Firstly, the home needs to become the embodiment of safety and blessedness. Unemployment, fires, illnesses, car accidents, economic troubles, floods, typhoons . . . Because sin has gone into the world, there are disasters in every place. Our aim is to make the humans rely on their homes to remedy their feelings of insecurity and to withstand “the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” [Ephesians 6:12]. Only when they truly discover their crushing defeat will they think of returning to the shadow of the LORD’s wings (the only really safe place, somewhere we can’t assault). We plaster homes like scales over the humans’ eyes—especially recently with the urgent rumors of trade wars making those who can’t or won’t immigrate concerned about the depreciation of that little bit of money in their bank accounts, making them insecure about their lack of assets, leading them to believe the security offered by possessions is the foundation of everything and that property investment is the same as the land purchases of peasants in ancient times, the root of safety and life.

To conflate a happy life with home ownership requires perpetuating a few small frauds. Of course an apartment in and of itself is not essential for a happy life. We need to study the use of advertising, and use advertising to paint this kind of picture: a beautiful home with four generations under one roof. A family peacefully enjoying their evening meal together. The unceasing repetition of this hidden message: “An apartment is 100% necessary for a happy life!”

Furthermore, the home can become the embodiment of respect and success. We continually tell Mr. and Mrs. L that home ownership makes one respectable. Without a home one is not respectable. Living in a grand apartment complex raises one’s status up a level; living in a poky little apartment or renting will make others look down on you.

Saying this directly would naturally be too obvious—we communicate it indirectly, and use reverse arguments. The opposite of buying a home is renting one—every insatiably greedy landlord becomes our accomplice. After a human has been renting for a few years, we use maximum effort to plan at least one instance of injured dignity. We can also stamp this kind of slogan above all kinds of printed adverts: “Buy a home within the second ring road and wrap your mother-in-law around your little finger!” or “Behind every successful man there is a property quietly increasing in value!” Social media—both public accounts and friends’ newsfeeds—can also be useful in this kind of thing and witness to the great changes home ownership brings!

Finally, the home must become the embodiment of hope and strength. During the period of time he was viewing apartments, we taught Mr. L to consult the city planning map. After he’d bought an apartment, the things he was paying attention to had naturally changed: schools, subway stations, roads, parks, malls—were there enough of them to honor the planning commitment locally? Mr. and Mrs. L were happy because the city plan was being fulfilled, or worried because it was being held up by difficulties—all of their emotions became tied up with their property and their life’s hope became tied up likewise. This was especially the case after the apartment became conflated with getting a place in a good local school. The apartment was now all about their baby’s education and future, and the child became the focus of the family’s hope. Possessing a good home had become equivalent to possessing a bright future.

Those people who believe in our enemy God have also used property in the past—getting humans to come into a great Gothic cathedral and stand in an immense void, which naturally made them feel their own puny insignificance. But now the time has come for us to use this same device!

Nowadays, cities have become great urban jungles of steel and concrete—looking at row upon row of tall buildings, humans also feel their own insignificance. Encountering something much bigger than their own personal greatness, humans develop a sense of awe. But wrapped up in this particular sense, the object of awe is not that old man God any more—every disciple of real estate is worshipping that “truth,” that “power” that is behind it: the greatness of human beings, of human strength and wisdom.

Finally, I must warn everyone—tempting humans to fall to hell needs complete, long-term dedication, without ever slacking in your work. We used property to entice Mr. and Mrs. L away from God, but that old codger will work even more tirelessly. We need to keep a constant watch out for new schemes of his, to make “all things work together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28]. Now Mr. and Mrs. L are like babies who have been rocked to sleep—they could be woken by the slightest noise or motion, open their eyes, and run back to the embrace of God. So we need to keep pushing additional apartments or commercial properties their way, make them live in a constant dream—and get them to squander time endlessly re-decorating their apartment.

Time is short; I’ll finish up here today.

Just now someone has posted a news item saying the housing bubble is sure to burst. Let us be clear—these are rumors, pure and simple. No-one needs to be disturbed by this small group of news-posting individuals and their hidden agenda. Don’t let your faith in real estate be shaken, and certainly don’t swerve from your devotion. Especially when there are those who would seize this opportunity to post news items saying because our performance is down I am getting a demotion, that is total… @#*!

Only a fool would think the housing bubble might burst! We must understand the national circumstances the stage is set for one brave enough to take it. Do you know the situation today? “The elderly, schools and hospitals have great hopes of becoming the workhorses driving domestic property demand.” Everywhere, those who don’t have the security of a home behind them are are starting to move—even if they are just going to put a manger inside, they still need to buy a home!

I have plenty to do! This afternoon I need to go and incite some recently-graduated humans to quickly settle their residency and buy an apartment, and this evening I have to work overtime deceiving someone who doesn’t urgently need a home into thinking it is essential.

At midnight I have an appointment inciting a punch-up between two prospective buyers who have been queuing to get hold of a property purchase ticket.

Tomorrow I must remind a couple who are thinking of getting divorced to ensure they can buy a second home that they need to get a move on, that if they hesitate any more they will lose their place. Always, the real estate humans, as we see it, show everyone just how capable we are.

Although it is laborious, tiring work, the performance results are there for all to see. I welcome everyone here to join the real estate sect upon graduation – you will eat well and be well-housed, and share in the collective glory of our achievements!”

Original Article: 房子教主的成功之道, by Territory.
Translated, edited and reposted with permission.

Image Credit: House for Sale by Julien GONG Min via Flickr.
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