Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

The Screwtape Letters
C. S. Lewis
Published 1942

Here is another book I finished a long time ago, and if I do not write something about it, I shall forget everything.  Yesterday I took a twenty-five-question quiz on what I remember, and I received an F (40% correct).  So let's get going.

This little book is Christian satire, written in an epistolary style from Screwtape, Administrative Demon, to his nephew Wormwood, devil-in-training.  Wormwood has been given charge over a new Christian, and all of Screwtape's letters are aimed to teach Wormwood the typical temptations and weaknesses of faith and human nature.  Screwtape seeks to help Wormwood recognize these prime opportunities to trip up and cause the new believer to fall, in hopes of pulling him away from his faith forever and before it is too late.

Here are only a few suggestions from Screwtape to Wormwood about Mankind and human nature:

  • Truth no longer matters to man.
  • Keep men busy thinking about what will happen to him, not what he [must] do.
  • A moderated (watered down) religion is as good for [demons] as no religion at all.
  • Send [the new Christian] church shopping until he finds one that 'suits' him.
  • [Demons] can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern.
  • Cause [man] to believe that humans cannot practice abstinence or monogamy, and therefore may be easily sexually tempted.
  • Make them think love is the ONLY respectable grounds for marriage.  (See Mere Christianity.)
  • The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and . . . My good is my good and your good is yours.
  • [Demons] are directing the desires of men to something which does not exist -- making the role of the eye in sexuality more important and at the same time making its demands more impossible.
  • The sense of ownership -- own time, own money, own body, etc. -- is always to be encouraged (because it is the completely untrue).
  • If you cannot remove spirituality from the new Christian's life, corrupt it: distract his mind, and do not allow his Christianity to influence his politics.  What devil wants a just society?
  • Cause the new Christian to become horrified of the Same Old Thing in religion.  Fill their heads with new philosophies and psychologies.

I cannot tell you what happens to the new Christian in the end.

"Screwtape Proposes a Toast"

This is a final section where Screwtape lectured the graduating tempters on the quality of souls they are receiving in Hell, and why.

Screwtape explained that so long as man desires to conform to his social environment, to be like everyone else, and forgets history, he is easily fooled.  He recapped world history: the Revolutionary period ushered in an end to slavery, and tended toward religious tolerance, liberty and equality.

But "hidden in the heart of this striving for Liberty there was also a deep hatred of personal freedom." Enter Rousseau . . .
That invaluable man Rousseau first revealed it.  In his perfect democracy (UTOPIA), you remember, only the state religion is permitted, slavery is restored, and the individual is told that he has really willed whatever the Government tells him to do.  From that starting point, via Hegel, we wearily contrived both the Nazi and the Communist state. 
This is [Satan]'s counter-attack, and the little graduate tempters are instructed to use DEMOCRACY to lead mankind into their hands. How? By twisting language and changing the meaning of words. Never mind what it really means; indoctrinate men to think it means EQUALITY.
No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food.
[No man] has business to be different.  It's undemocratic.
People are easily tempted to reject free Grace because it would make them separate from the World.
To accept might make them Different, might offend again, the Way of Life, take them out of Togetherness, impair their Integration with the Group.  They might become individuals.
The World no longer needs Dictatorships to do Hell's job because man is (under the guise of Democracy) volunteering himself to "discredit and eliminate every kind of human excellence - moral, cultural, social, or intellectual."

Then Lewis digs at the education system.  Basically worthless people (idlers and ignoramuses) must not be made to look inferior to those who work hard.  Again, that is undemocratic. To do this, exams are altered for high marks, and it is made easier for most citizens to enter the universities, whether they care to be there or not. In fact, make the work simple and useless and call it something worthwhile.  "Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have 'parity of esteem.'


(Yes, I am shouting.)

The goal is to eliminate incentives to learn and penalties for not learning. And the best way to do this is through state education, in which the government taxes its Middle Class citizens to death in the name of Equality.  After all, (as quoted by an English politician), 'A democracy does not want great men.'
For 'democracy' leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, morally flaccid from lack of discipline in youth, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and soft from lifelong pampering.  And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be.
As Lewis reminds his readers: "the overthrow of free peoples and the multiplication of slave-states are for [devils] a means; but the real end is the destruction of individuals.  For only individuals can be saved or damned."

Side bar: I am reading Revelation these days, and according to my study, the seven churches that are listed in chapters 1-3 embody the different churches of the last 2000 years.  The final church, the Lukewarm Church of Laodicea, represents the modern, liberal church of today.  It is the Big Box Church that is rich in members and buildings, success and wealth, but they are poor in God's presence and His blessings. This church focuses entirely on the democratic process, not God. Incidentally, Laodicea means "rights of the people."  When this church arrives on earth, it will be the end of the Church Age.

In his toast, Screwtape does not leave out "Christians" because it is the lukewarm bodies, the watered down so-called Christians, the HYPOCRITES that take up space within the Church that Satan counts on. They will turn people away from the Truth; and the more who do not have Christ, the more there will be for Satan.


  1. What a great review. I have read this one several times. It is very good.

    1. Thank you. This seems to be a favorite of a lot of people. I'm surprised it took me so long to get to it.

  2. "The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and . . . My good is my good and your good is yours."

    This is one thing that's been bothering me the last couple of years. It seems, especially in some social circles, there is a mood not just to change but to eliminate meaning - meaning of words, meaning of truth. Everything's relative, to some people. And that bugs me a lot, because if everything's relative, everything can be a deception.

    I haven't read The Screwtape Letters, but your review makes me want to pick it up soon. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Great observation. Changing the meanings of words - like Democracy and truth. I just heard the producer of a certain Shakespeare in the Park theater say that "No one owns the truth," which is to say, there is no truth and truth is whatever you want it to be. This is dangerous and wrong. There is truth and that is what we should always seek. Truth is what makes right from wrong.

      BTW, Screwtape Letters is an easy and quick read, but I really enjoyed the final section, "Screwtape proposes a toast."

  3. The Screwtape Letters is my favourite C.S Lewis. Great review!

  4. Excellent commentary, Ruth. I haven't read Screwtape in a couple of years but I did not even think to compare the demonic meaning of "equality" with what is going on in our world. I am reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and while she is totally off on a lot of her ideals, she is right on when she talks of "looters". Those that in the name of "equality" they force people who work to share the fruits of their labor with those who do not work.

    I have been thinking a lot about the condition of the church today as well. On the one hand you have half the country saying and doing anything, no matter how horrible, just because they don't like whose president. It's as if nothing is too low.

    Then there are the people I go to church with and I want to scream: Do any of you ever read a newspaper?!"Not to say that I don't like my church but I think it is living in the South. While they may seem more conservative, I worry that they really are lukewarm.

    1. Thank you.

      I appreciate Ayn Rand, but it has been a while since I read The Fountainhead, and I've not read Atlas Shrugged. It is on my TBR. I need to dig back into her philosophy b/c it made sense to me in college; I wonder how I would see it today.

      The word equality irritates me. We are not equal and we can never be; however, our Founders got it right when they agreed all men should be equal under the law - even if it doesn't play out that way in the world (b/c if you are a certain so-n-so with so much money, you can basically get away with murder). But we are equal in God's eyes - the very best and fair kind of justice. Nonetheless, our characteristics and qualities of life will never be equal, and that is just nature. God is ok with that.

      The world is rebellious - that is how I see those who are throwing tantrums. No different than two-year olds. I remember how I felt after Obama won re-election, and how some of my friends reacted, too. We were so bummed, but life went on. And yet four years later, we see the peaceful transfer of power to a new president (whose time is also temporary 4-8 years and it will all be over). All I will say is this: our Founders created a way for government NOT to work very easily. The checks and balances on men in power is astounding. Power is always changing every 2, 4, and 6 years. It makes it almost impossible for anything to get done. My point is, be patient; in no time, it will be over.

      And about the lukewarm church -- this is a huge problem. God said He would rather they be cold or hot, but not lukewarm. Yikes.

  5. I JUST re-read this, because it's one of my all-time favorite things.

    1. I know -- I saw it on your personal canon list. I'm beginning to really love C. S. Lewis. So much more of his to read.

  6. Wonderful review, Ruth! I just finished The Weight of Glory & everytime I read C.S. Lewis I'm reminded how incredibly insightful he was. Even though some of his writing goes way over my head, I always feel I've had some cobwebs blown out of my brain after I've read his words.

    1. Oh, yes. I loved Mere Christianity b/c he simplified some complicated issues. You remind me of another title I need to put on my TBR list.

  7. I love the Screwtape Letters. Lewis really pulls the reader into the demons' point of view. The first time I read it, it was suffocating; but now, knowing the end, I appreciate the satire and social commentary more.

    1. I was a little confused at first b/c I had to keep remembering the point of view. But it was certainly clever.