In response to C. S. Lewis" The Screwtape Letters Jason Heim Mr. Kramer AP English 12 January 2007 A Dimension of Reality, Or Imagination? All great writers have the ability to take something mysterious and abstract and turn it into something understandable to readers. This ability is not common to all writers and is manifested in distinctive, unique styles of writing. Often, these authors do not write with the intention of bringing readers to some spectacular epiphany, but to get across a point or purpose they feel very strongly about.
This is the situation in the case of C. S. Lewis, author of many acclaimed works of Christian literature. In all his works, Lewis writes with distinct purpose and has a message in every one of his books. Lewis does not care about whether people like his works, only that they understand his purpose; he says he did not enjoy writing the Screwtape Letters, and was actually annoyed with the book’s popularity Walsh 33. Lewis’ purpose in the Screwtape Letters is to help explain what he believes to be the real and practical world of spiritual warfare. Lewis does this from an interesting perspectiveâ€“that of Hell.Order now
Lewis wants readers to awaken to the realization that there is a war going on over their souls by reading the letters of Screwtape, a hellish demon, to his nephew, Wormwood, who is a human tempter. To understand even the basic premise of The Screwtape Letters, the reader must know exactly what spiritual warfare is. Spiritual warfare is a biblical concept: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” and “And there was war in heaven.
Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven” New International Version, Ephesians 6:12; Revelation 12:7-9. This war is waged on followers of the Christian God and exists not in the material world, but in the spiritual. The major weapon of Satan’s spiritual war is that of temptation. Satan has reason to be encouraged in the battle because the Bible says that no one escapes temptation: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.
And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. ” The Scriptures can claim that God has the ability to deliver his followers from temptation because he even allowed his son, Jesus, to be tempted as a man on earth: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil” New International Version, 1 Corinthians 10:13; Matthew 4:1. All temptations come from Satan, or, as the Bible refers to him, the Devil.
Satan does not tempt followers of God just for his pleasure and amusement; he has a very malicious and direct purpose. His objective is to cause Christians to consciously rebel against God by giving in to temptation and sin. This is the process that leads Satan to his ultimate goal: to cause those who believe in God to stray from him and not to inherit eternal life. In The Screwtape Letters, the story centers around an elderly demon named Screwtape. Screwtape is well advanced in his ability to tempt humans, and has now moved on to consulting and giving advice to younger tempters. One such tempter is Screwtape’s nephew, Wormwood.
The book is a series of letters from Screwtape to Wormwood giving him advice as to how his “patient,” as he refers to the human, should be attacked. These letters also consist of Screwtape’s analysis of Wormwood’s actions and his recommendations on how to adjust to the movements of God, or as he is referred to, “the Enemy. ” C. S. Lewis said he wrote Screwtape in fiction and imagination, but to serve a purpose and a cause that was very real to him Lewis IX. Lewis’ purpose in writing The Screwtape Letters represents a concept that is foreign to many people, but for him it is something that needs to be addressed and considered.
Authors of various criticisms on Lewis take aim at the purpose of Screwtape, according to Lewis scholars: “to show how the life of man looks from the viewpoint of Hell,” “to throw light on Heaven from this unusual perspective” Hooper 270, to “Throw light on men’s lives” Kilby 30, and “to shake society from disbelief in the supernatural” Gibson 102. Instead of writing from the perspective of Heaven or the human mind, Lewis chooses the viewpoint of Hell-bound demons because he thinks reading from it will most benefit readers in their understanding of the spiritual warfront.
This makes good sense in the context of war where it is more beneficial to know the tactics of one’s enemies rather than to receive praise from one’s comrades. Lewis does not want readers to get hung up on the actions and situation of the Patient. Rather, he wants readers to realize that there are spiritual consequences for every mistake, no matter how small or insignificant the mistake seems to be: “The events in the life of the ‘Patient’ are not meant to be of great interest: the main interest is meant to be the immortal consequences of seemingly small and insignificant choices in the every-day life of Everyman” Hooper 270.
Lewis aims to magnify the ramifications of every moral decision of the common man. This echoes the belief that Lewis holds strongly, that “every living being is destined for everlasting life and that every moment of life is a preparation for that condition” Kilby 180. Lewis believes that every moment of human life is a preparation for an eternal life, either in Heaven or in Hell. He writes The Screwtape Letters on the foundation of this belief and others previously discussed.
The first of countless temptation strategies is communicated in the book’s opening letter. Screwtape instructs Wormwood to create in the Patient a false sense of modesty Kilby 12. There are two ways in which to accomplish this goal. The first is to make all the Patient’s prayers superficial in their mood: “what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part.
This type of prayer, Screwtape says, resembles the silent prayer of well-advanced Christians, which makes it easy to trick beginners into thinking their prayers are sincere: “and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practiced by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time” Lewis 15-16. Screwtape’s other advice in creating false modesty is to turn the Patient’s attention from the work of God to bettering himself by trying to measure successful prayers on the feeling he gets, as opposed to the nature and content of his prayers.
Screwtape knows that if the Patient gets caught up in creating the right feeling for himself about his prayers, then he will begin to lose the quality of prayer: “Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling” Lewis 15-17. Controlling the human mind during prayer is very important to Screwtape and the cause of temptation. Prayer is a delicate thing to Screwtape, and it requires careful handling. Later in the same letter, he gives further instructions to Wormwood regarding the topic.
He tells Wormwood to distract the Patient’s prayer life by shifting the focus of his prayers. He tells Wormwood that the meaningless prayer is important and always to be encouraged. He warns Wormwood, however, against coming on too strong, for the Enemy is always near and ready to immediately act on the prayer of the Patient. Wormwood is told to create this image inside the Patient’s consciousness of a God who encourages the use of objects to accentuate prayer, and, therefore, pray to the objects themselves Lewis 18.
In all of this, Screwtape wants Wormwood to control the Patient’s prayers: “When the patient prays for charity, let him start trying to manufacture charitable feelings in himself” Kilby 38. Essentially, Wormwood is to take all prayers for good things and twist them so that the Patient really is praying for himself and not others. Letter 2 introduces some historical context in the beginning of World War II. Screwtape eagerly instructs Wormwood that he must feed off of the negative reactions the Patient has to the war.
Above all, Screwtape adamantly commands Wormwood to not let the Patient die, because then his soul is lost forever to the Enemy; keeping him alive is their only hope of capturing his soul. Screwtape tells Wormwood to begin planting the seed of a possible military draft in the Patient’s thoughts. This is a simple tactic to make him worry about himself and take his mind off of God. The Patient consequently hates the war, and has malice for it; Wormwood is to take this malice and hatred and steer it toward the Patient’s immediate neighbors so as to create dissension between him and them Lewis 24-25, 28.
The Patient only recently has become a Christian, and Screwtape fully expects him to start what he calls “undulations” in his spiritual life. In simple terms, Screwtape recognizes that followers of the Enemy have highs and lows, troughs and peaks, in their spirit. Screwtape urges Wormwood to use the Patient’s return from his initial spiritual high to his advantage. He gives three strategies on how to do this. The first is for Wormwood to exploit the Patient’s sexuality through various temptations; the Enemy, however, wards off these attacks and Wormwood is unsuccessful in that area.
The next strategy is to attack during the Patient’s first spiritual low when his resistance to temptation is proportionally low. Screwtape believes that resistance is directly related to spiritual well-being; when a human is spiritually high, resistance is equally high, and vice versa. Lastly and possibly most dangerously, Wormwood is to convince the Patient that his current spiritual low is permanent, there is no hope for recovery, and that God has abandoned him Lewis 43, 45.
Toward the beginning of the war, the Patient begins to interact with a group of secular people, with whom he quickly becomes friends. The tactic of Wormwood is to blind the Patient to the immorality of his new friends and to make him ignorant. Wormwood is only to allow this when the Patient is alone and not in the company of his new friends: “If he is a big enough fool you can get him to realize the character of the friends only while they are absent. ” If Wormwood can accomplish this, then when the friends are in his company, “their presence can be made to sweep away all criticism” Lewis 51.
Wormwood’s objective is to keep the Patient from confronting his friends even after he becomes aware that their lives are in direct contradiction with his Christian life. The final utilization of the new friends is to make them influence the Patient into being one person around them and a completely different one while around other Christians. Screwtape encourages the creation of another personality: “If this succeeds, he can be induced to live, as I have known many humans live, for quite long periods, two parallel lives; he will not only appear to be, but actually be, a different man in each of the circles he frequents” Lewis 50-51.
Amid all the sin and temptation encouraged by Wormwood, Screwtape reiterates how important it is that the Patient not realize how much he is falling away from God; things have been going well in regards to damning his soul, and to allow him to realize his evil ways would be an awful setback to the cause of the demons. In Letter 12, Screwtape gives Wormwood a favorable and pleasing evaluation of his work. He notes how the Patient is “now, however slowly, heading right away from the sun on a line which will carry him into the cold and dark of utmost space. ” This is to say that he is gradually and ignorantly falling away from God.
The immediate goal of Wormwood is to keep him from become aware of his real condition, for fear that he might turn from it: “My only fear is lest in attempting to hurry the patient you awaken him to a sense of his real position” Lewis 57. One way of keeping the Patient from coming to this realization is to convince him that everything is normal and that nothing is wrong or out of the ordinary: “As long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian he can still be made to think of himself as one who has adopted a few new friends and amusements but whose spiritual state is much the same as it was six weeks ago” Lewis 57-58.
Instead of encouraging the abandonment of church and Christian activities, Screwtape is pleased that the Patient is still a churchgoer and practitioner of Christianity because he can easily be made to think that his spiritual condition is good when in reality it is diminishing rapidly. Sooner than later, the Patient can be made to dislike and dread his religious duties: “In this state your patient will not omit, but he will increasingly dislike, his religious dutiesâ€¦He will want his prayers to be unreal, for he will dread nothing so much as effective contact with the Enemy” Lewis 57-59.
The warning that Screwtape gives is this â€“do not come on too strong, because once the Patient realizes the error of his ways, the cause of eternal damnation suffers a major setback. Sure enough, Wormwood likely comes on too strong; the Patient soon awakens to his condition and repents. Screwtape makes it sound like this is Wormwood’s fault by the fact that he allowed the Patient to do two truly enjoyable thingsâ€“enjoy a good book and take a quite, contemplative, recuperative walk.
Screwtape, however, does not despair or give up; he tells Wormwood that the Patient’s coming to repentance is one thing, and acting on it is another. The Patient has come to and realized repentance, but Wormwood’s goal is to keep him from acting on it: “The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it” Lewis 63-64. Screwtape’s emphasis on this point cannot be overlooked.
Humans can be made to realize a good thing directly in their reach, but as long as complacency rules and no action is taken, that good thing is worthless. After the letter highlighting the Patient’s repentance, things start to snowball for the demons. In Letter 14, the Patient discovers a new-found humility that frightens Screwtape. Strangely, Screwtape wants Wormwood to make the Patient very aware of his humility because he will then become prideful: “The patient was to be made to confess that he is humble, the surest way of destroying his humility” Kilby 39.
Screwtape knows from experience that when recognizing self-humility, humans instantly become prideful: “Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, ‘By jove! I’m being humble’, and almost immediately pride â€“pride at his own humility â€“will appear. ” Ultimately, the Patient is to be blinded from the true end of humility and God’s purpose for it Lewis 69. Next, Screwtape turns to the earthly habit of consumerism. He wants Wormwood to turn the Patient into a consumer at heart, especially in church.
Screwtape instructs Wormwood to encourage the idea that the Patient should shop churches until he finds one that suits his desires. This causes him to spend his time critiquing the church instead of learning from it: “the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil” Lewis 81-82. Either this, or cause him to quit attending church altogether. Screwtape will be satisfied with either case; the one thing that is unacceptable to Screwtape is to allow the man to realize that he is a pupil and to assume a receptive attitude at church Lewis 82-83.
Screwtape advises Wormwood to implement the curiosity about answers to certain questions within the Patient’s mind. Screwtape believes that if the Patient wonders about and focuses on the specific answer to an insignificant question, that he will waste his time and exasperate himself. Screwtape addresses this subject in Chapter 19 when talking about being in love and other things: “Leave them to discuss whether ‘Love,’ or patriotism, or celibacy, or candles on altars, or teetotalism, or education, are ‘good’ or ‘bad. ‘
Can’t you see there’s no answer? No matter the situation or circumstances, Screwtape asserts the idea that the decisions the mind makes bear no weight; Screwtape is much more concerned with taking advantage of a particular state of mind in a human: “Nothing matters at all except the tendency of a given state of mind, in given circumstances, to move a particular patient at a particular moment nearer to the Enemy or nearer to us” Lewis 101-102. Screwtape is solely concerned with the fact that, at any given moment, the human state of mind can either be swayed toward God or evil, and wants Wormwood to capture it for purposes of his work.
Screwtape’s twentieth letter to Wormwood is laced with displeasure that “the Enemy has, for the time being, put a forcible end to your direct attacks on the patient’s chastity” Lewis 105. He notes that at this point the Patient has realized that sexual temptations are not enduring. More importantly, by letting him realize that he can conquer these temptations, Wormwood has lost the integral tactic of temptation that the only way to relieve the pressure of attacks on chastity is to give in to them.
Screwtape rebukes Wormwood for losing this: “consequently you cannot use again what is, after all, our best weaponâ€“the belief of ignorant humans, that there is no hope of getting rid of us except by yielding” Lewis 105. By keeping the Patient ignorant from this powerful tactic, Wormwood is able to do as he wishes in terms of tempting without much resistance. When the Patient awakens to the realization that God has the power to interrupt or completely stop the attacks, he becomes more confident that he can persevere through them in the future.
His faith is strengthened in this reality. One of the most deceptive and dangerous attacks encouraged by Screwtape centers around the concept of time. In Chapter 21, Screwtape encourages Wormwood to employ this attack: “Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor, or the friend’s talkative wife, that throw him out of gear” Lewis 111.
The power of this attack is vested in the Patient’s entitlement and assumed ownership of his time. Wormwood is encouraged to facilitate this mentality in his Patient by keeping him ignorant: “They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own’â€¦but what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made as, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright” Lewis 112.
Screwtape knows that if Wormwood’s cover is blown here that their fight for the man’s soul will be dealt a severe setback. He emphasizes to Wormwood that he must not allow the Patient to realize that his time is a wonderful gift of God and that the notion in his mind that he has ownership or authorship of his time is completely absurd. There is no counter-attack once this realization is reached, “The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defence” Lewis 112-113.
Screwtape is well aware of the fact that “time is God’s invention, and He owns it as surely as He owns the heavenly bodies” Walsh 29. He just wants Wormwood to make sure that the Patient never becomes aware of it. On the broader topic of entitlement and ownership, Screwtape tells Wormwood that the sense of each is always to be encouraged. Man’s idea that he owns his time, as well as other things, Screwtape says, is an object of humor in both Heaven and Hell. The heavenly and hellish bodies find it laughable that a human being claims ownership to anything.
Therefore, Wormwood is directed to cultivating this sense of ownership within his Patient’s mind. Letter 23 finds Screwtape in a slight panic over the new relationships the Patient is building. The Patient now has a girlfriend of immaculate character and Christian virtue. Further, the Patient’s girlfriend has brought him into contact with her parents and other advanced Christians daily. Screwtape notes that because of this Christian immersion, the Patient’s spirituality will not be removable for a long time; it can, however, be corrupted by various means.
Screwtape tells Wormwood that the most successful place to attack the Patient’s new friends is likely at the border of theology and politics, as many of the group are politically active. Screwtape warns to not let the collective Christianity of the group’s members “flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster,” but encourages Wormwood to let “men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement” Lewis 126.
Success in political advancement by using Christianity will not only boost the pride of the Patient’s friends, but will certainly anger God, “for the Enemy will not be used as a convenience” Lewis 123, 126-127. Screwtape wants Wormwood to get these people to essentially use God as a means to worldly accolades. As another means of spiritual corruption, Screwtape proposes the Patient’s girlfriend. The girl herself cannot be infiltrated; she is wholly devoted to God and His will for her. The only flaw in her is that she is slightly too pious, though with the most innocent ignorance to the fact.
This can be used, Screwtape notes, to negatively influence the Patient. Ironically, Screwtape encourages Wormwood to spur on the Patient to adopt her Christianityâ€“in excess and exaggeration. This will ultimately cause him to become spiritually prideful and phony, “Can you get him to imitate this defect in his mistress and to exaggerate it until what was venial in her becomes in him the strongest and beautiful of the vices â€“Spiritual Pride? ” Lewis 130. Screwtape recognizes that the new group that the Patient associates with is great for breeding pride in him.
He implores Wormwood to capitalize on the favorable conditions to produce pride as well as a sense of social and intellectual superiority over the rest of society Lewis 130-131. The beginning of this mindset will damage his Christianity, as it directly opposes the will of God, and include him in the stereotypical Christian outlook of secular society. In Chapter 27, Screwtape realizes that Wormwood is losing his grip on the Patient and tells him that he is currently doing very little good. The Patient has fallen in love and has increasingly been gathered to the side of the Enemy.
Screwtape wants to infiltrate and corrupt his prayer life, so he suggests that Wormwood implement what he calls the “heads I win, tails you lose” Lewis 148 argument. Screwtape explains to Wormwood how it works: If the thing he prays for doesn’t happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don’t work; if it does happen, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and ‘therefore it would have happened anyway,’ and thus a granted prayer becomes just as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective.
Lewis 148 Screwtape knows the lifeblood of the Enemy’s followers is prayer; to damage the Patient’s prayer life is to bring him that much farther away from the Enemy and closer to damnation. The “heads-tails” strategy of petitionary prayer is vital to accomplish this goal. World War II begins to escalate and unfold around the Patient. Screwtape reiterates to Wormwood just how important it is that the Patient be kept alive. He gives pros and cons of both the Patient living and dying.
In regards to dying, Screwtape says to Wormwood, “I know it seems strange that your chief aim at the moment should be the very same thing for which the patient’s lover and his mother are praying â€“namely his bodily safety. But so it is; you should be guarding him like the apple of your eye. If he dies now you lose him” Lewis 154. The demons’ fate is bleak if the Patient dies, but possibilities abound for them if he survives the war.
To this end, Screwtape says five things: “If he survives the war, there is always hope,” “you have time itself as your ally. The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather,” “The routine of adversity, the quiet despair of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated themâ€¦all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition,” “If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger.
Prosperity knits a man to the World,” and finally, “That is why we must often wish long life to our patients; seventy years is not a day too much for the difficult task of unraveling their souls from Heaven and building up a firm attachment to the earth” Lewis 154-156. Ironically, the more years and success the man accrues, the better opportunity Wormwood has to capture his soul. Wormwood has failed at many of the strategies given to him and has begun to let the Patient slip.
At this point, Screwtape encourages Wormwood to try and use the war to stir up cowardice in the Patient. Screwtape says that anything that is in opposition to courage is good. One thing that frightens Screwtape is that the Patient actually does feel like a coward; this frightens Screwtape because the man felt like a coward while actually performing and obeying his occupational duty: “the young man becomes involved in civil defense. During his first experience in an air raid, he is badly frightened and thinks of himself as a spineless coward.
But actually he had done his duty in spite of his fear” Gibson 105. Wormwood has failed yet again by not making the Patient weaker from his trials. Screwtape begins to see that he and Wormwood are just spinning their wheels with this man, and knows from past experience that the Patient could be lost soon. Soon after the first air raid, Wormwood loses the Patient to death in a second air raid and Screwtape is none too happy about it: “You have let a soul slip through your fingers.
The howl of sharpened famine for that loss re-echoes at this moment through all the levels of the Kingdom of Noise down to the very Throne itself” Lewis 171. Screwtape tells Wormwood that the Patient saw him as he was being taken to Heaven and realized at that moment that Wormwood had been tempting him his whole life, but that he no longer had any power over him. Screwtape is enraged: “Screwtape describes in an agony of rage how the human soul at the moment past death recognized Wormwood for what he was and then stepped into the new life as it he had been born to it” Gibson 105, Lewis 171.
At the end of the story, it becomes clear that Wormwood represents sin and death to the Patient; once the Patient dies and goes to Heaven, he realizes that sin and death no longer have power over his life. The demons from below know the truth about God all the time. They know that they are fighting a battle that is a lost cause because God has already won the spiritual war. Still, there are many instances where Screwtape says things about the Enemy that makes readers think Screwtape is just trying to comfort himself.
Screwtape calls God a “hedonist at heart”, which is to say that God is simply out to seek pleasure all the time. This statement carries much irony, because it is a derogatory comment that is true at its core: “This derogatory word, which usually means one who spends his life seeking and enjoying pleasure, is used ironically to express a great truth about the divine nature. The love which is at the center of the Trinity, of course, produces pleasure” Gibson 108. Screwtape’s insult backfires, and the term “hedonist” is given a new definition in the context of the book.
The tactics of Screwtape, manifested in many complex physical attacks, can be divided into four categories or progressive stages. The first of these is to draw a soul away from Christianity. The means of accomplishing this goal are: making the Christian dislike small, insignificant oddities within the congregation, recommending “party churches”â€“which have meaningless differences with one another, and promoting the concept of the “historical Jesus” to draw attention away from the immortal Jesus Gibson 108. Screwtape’s second stage of assault is direct psychological attacks on the individual.
The best example of this is the utilization of humility to breed spiritual pride, where the individual becomes prideful over humility. Another example is the weakening of the human faith and trust in petitionary prayer by employing the “heads I win, tails you lose” argument Gibson 109. These two actions are very important to Screwtape because they are dangerous and effective; these are Screwtape’s “bread and butter” so to speak, as he comes back to them again and again when in need. Humility and prayer are two things the Christian life is founded upon, and among Screwtape’s deadliest weapons is the ability to contort them.
The third category of attack is one that plays off of spiritual pride. It is the attempt to make the Christian try to shape surrounding people’s attitudes to further his or her own purposes. This is to say that Screwtape encourages his subjects to make humans think they have the right to form societal customs and standards. Two examples of this are when Wormwood tries to convince the Patient that being in love is necessary for and throughout marriage, which is something that society as a whole does not generally agree with.
Another example is when the Patient begins to become annoyed when he has no free time because he feels that he possesses his own time Gibson 109. Screwtape encourages thoughts like this because they will lead souls away from the Enemy and will negatively affect society for his cause. The fourth and final category is the warning of dangers to Hell within God’s work. Put more simply, he reveals to Wormwood the procedures of God in order that Wormwood can be warned to work against them. Examples of this are Screwtape’s analysis of God’s measure of true humility and free will of humans to walk with God.
Screwtape takes every caution to make Wormwood aware of these things so he can he implement temptation strategies that can either exploit the Enemy’s strategies, or minimize the damage inflicted to their cause by these strategies. Screwtape explains that the inner workings and core of Hell are in jeopardy as long as God bases His love for human souls on true humility and free will. The character of Screwtape serves as a powerful refining tool for Christian apologetics in The Screwtape Letters.
His character forces readers to think about the world from a secular point of view because the book is written from Hell’s perspective. Additionally, Screwtape as a character causes readers to wonder how much deep contemplative thinking they have done on the subject of temptation and spiritual warfare. Put simply, Screwtape raises questions and provokes self-examination. More importantly, Screwtape is the avenue that Lewis uses to make readers aware that the human life is not set up for itself and within itself, but that life on earth exists within a dangerous spiritual framework.
Most importantly, however, is the realization of readers that every decision they make is not purely human and has spiritual ramifications within that framework. All this said, The Screwtape Letters is considered C. S. Lewis’ utmost achievement in apologetics, a topic not lightly addressed by the man Hooper 270, Walsh 30. The Screwtape Letters has no shortage of symbolic representations. Among the most prominent is the “asphyxiating cloud which sometimes surrounds a human and makes a close approach impossible” Walsh 32.
This cloud symbolizes God’s grace and protection from demonic presence. Wormwood experiences this a few times and is completely dumbfounded by its cause and mechanism. Another symbol is the theme of eating/consumption versus free fellowship with humans. Screwtape and the bodies of Hell are obsessed with the consumption of lesser beings, but are perpetually unsatisfied upon devouring them. This creates a rigid hierarchy within Hell that builds walls among its inhabitants.
This is opposed to God’s desire to commune and interact with His children who choose to love Him by the allowance of free will Walsh 32. Christian readers of The Screwtape Letters know immediately that the cause of Screwtape and Wormwood is doubtful in the end. Through all of Screwtape’s recognitions and acknowledgements of God, readers can reasonably infer that Screwtape already knows his cause is damned: “in his last letter to Wormwood it is easy to get the impression Screwtape knew all along that hell’s reality was false when compared with heaven’s” Kilby 39.
Screwtape cannot deviate from his course, however, although he entertains the thought: “Indeed, Screwtape parenthetically confesses that he is ‘tempted’ to give up hell for heaven. Could any writer make clearer how infinite he believes the love of God to be? ” Kilby 39-40. There is no greater example of Screwtape’s ultimate knowledge of the fact that his operation is pointless. Another point brilliantly illustrated by Lewis is the fact that Satan never had the advantage of being human as God did.
This severely hinders the cause of Hell because the tempters cannot identify with those on whom they are operating. God, however, came into the world as a man so he could sufficiently experience all the things unique to the human race; He was able to get inside the head of man to understand his feelings, actions, and motivations. By becoming human, God also found meaning for what Screwtape calls his “disinterested love” for humans when there might not have been meaning previously.
These things are what cause Screwtape to be unable to comprehend the motives and actions of God toward the human race; becoming human would have afforded him the opportunity to do that which he cannot do Kilby 41. In his writing of The Screwtape Letters, Lewis is advocating an active Christianity to combat the thinking of Christian things without the action that should accompany those thoughts. There are many instances in the book where Screwtape tells Wormwood to allow the Patient to think of Godly things, but not to allow him to take any action beyond what takes place in his mind.
Lewis desires for his readers to further themselves in their faith and mature: “All of life is to be an active engagement in spiritual growth; indeed birth and death are meaningless apart from such a calling” Kilby 42-43. Lewis’ implication in his writing is that spiritual growth is necessary to adequately fight the increasing temptations and strategies used by Satan. His is a call and warning against spiritual complacency. Based on this idea of spiritual complacency, Lewis is saying that Hell wins souls very gradually over time.
The winning of a soul is not instant or immediate, but easing and measured, so as not to disturb the natural, sinful flow of a human life. A passage from Letter 12 where Screwtape advises Wormwood illustrates this notion perfectly: “It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothingâ€¦Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one â€“the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts” Hooper 272. Hell’s aim is to ease human souls into damnation so as not to awaken the human to its true condition.
It is easy to get lost in the fantasy and imagination The Screwtape Letters and miss the author’s point. C. S. Lewis writes in this mode of fiction intentionally, however, so that his readers might have an easier way to grasp the difficult, abstract idea of spiritual warfare. Lewis wants his readers to clearly understand what forces are acting upon the Patient and then make the connection to their own lives; he desperately desires that readers realize that the same forces acting on the Patient are those that act upon their own lives in the real world employing the same means and strategies.
Lewis’ goal is to bring to light the unseen world, moving all around us, influencing us, and ultimately waging war over the eternal destiny of our souls; he wants people to see that Heaven and Hell are at war everyday over every soul. Lewis’ uncomplicated writing effectively highlights his overall purpose and makes readers think about the subject as if to say to themselves, “Yeah, I never thought about this in that way before. ” C. S. Lewis has done his part in awakening readers to what is going on around them in the spiritual realm, but the rest of the war is up to them.