We tempters have a job that is both easy and difficult. Thanks to our fearless leader’s victory in the garden some time ago, human beings are ridiculously, even comically, susceptible to sinning. And yet, sin itself is so ugly, so grotesque, so repellent — if it is only seen clearly (no offense to any of our colleagues) — that humans cannot help but hate it. This means that when we tempt someone to do evil, we are under the humiliating necessity to portray it as something good.
This requires creating a certain mindset. A human sees someone else, a friend perhaps, doing something blatantly wrong. The friend might slander a common acquaintance, brag about illicit sex, or revel in some kind of hatred. Our subject might be expected to protest, to show disapproval, if only for the friend’s good. What we have to do is implant the sense that this would be bad manners. The offense is none of his business anyway, and it would be rude and a violation of friendship to raise an uncomfortable issue. Courtesy, of course, is a virtue. This line of temptation has the exquisite benefit of not only letting evil get by lightly, but of taking a virtue and making it serve a vice.
We can do the same with other virtues, and before long, our subject will not just be ignoring evil, he will be coddling it, even defending it. Eventually, he may indulge in this evil himself, if only in his imagination. And all the while, he will consider himself a good person.
This, of course, is our finest creation: someone who is self-righteous without being righteous.
And yet, all fine things are fragile. All it takes is for the subject to see how ugly, grotesque, and repellent sin is — not just that of others but his own — for guilt and shame to cast down his facade. At that point, our enemy’s Son is eager to take all of that hard-earned evil into Himself, offering in exchange His own righteousness. I refer, of course, to that tragic event that we thought was a victory but was actually a defeat, back when our fearless leader suffered that unfortunate crushing of his head.