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Essays by KT

A Critical Review of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

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September 25, 2009

TY250 – Christian Morality

C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” is a book of letters written by Screwtape, an experienced demon, to his nephew, Wormwood, a novice demon.  Through the letters, one is able to see the life of the Patient.  Throughout the book, Screwtape is instructing Wormwood in the ways of the devil.  The desire of the two demons is to lead the Patient away from God and into eternal damnation in any way they can.

I was pulled in by Lewis’ approach to this book.  Instead of being from the viewpoint of a Christian, this book about the Christian life is from the viewpoint of a demon.  This perspective creates a literal ‘devil’s advocate’.  It shows the spiritual battle that goes on in the world every day.  Lewis reveals in a comprehensible way, the tactics of the devil.  These tactics are not often realized; they are little things that increasingly distance us more and more from God.  As Screwtape said in his twelfth letter, “Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts” (56).

If Lewis had written this book in a similar way except from the perspective of God and an angel trying to save a soul, it would not have nearly the same effect.  God does not lie to us or try to manipulate us; He gives it to us as it is.  He invites us to His table, He helps us along the way, and He rejoices in every saved soul.  He continually calls us to follow Him and gently nudges us in the right direction, but He respects the freedom He has willingly offered to us.  Satan on the other hand, manipulates us in anyway he can.  He can make evil things appear good, enjoyable, and beneficial.  These manipulative tactics are what Lewis highlights in this book.  Sin can be so appealing which is why this approach to the story of a Christian’s life is so effective.

Throughout this book, Screwtape is instructing Wormwood in ways to lead the Patient into eternal damnation.  Wormwood learns and uses many tactics to tempt the Patient.  He uses anything and everything he can to lead the Patient away from God and toward Satan.  He uses things as close to the Patient as his habits and emotions.  He abuses things that are as common as change.  He perverts things that are as universal as freedom.  The Patient is every one of us.  The things with which he struggles are common temptations.

During the Patient’s conversion, Screwtape’s tactic is to “Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones” (16).  Screwtape knows that a true conversion and faithful life is not just one of the inner life, but also one of an outward living.  Sometimes what is very obvious can be the most beneficial in one’s life.

In the sixth letter, Wormwood is advised to fill the Patient’s mind with doubt and uncertainty about his faith and about his future.  Such feelings create deeper feelings of fear and anxiety.

“All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be” (46).  This is why one’s choice of friends especially is very important.  We become very similar to the people which whom we spend the most time.  The Patient is in some dangerous friendships in different points of the book.  Screwtape advises Wormwood to use these relationships and situations for the downfall of the Patient.

When the Patient goes to war, Screwtape mentions that war is good but that it could become bad by causing people to turn to God.  During war and difficult times, people tend to turn to God or at least acknowledge in some way that God exists, more than when things are going wonderful or alright for them.  When faces with trials beyond what we as humans can handle, we are forced to look beyond ourselves and our own understanding and abilities.  Screwtape says in the fifth letter that in war, “One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless.  In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever” (27).

In his fifteenth letter, Screwtape recommends to Wormwood that he cause the Patient to look toward the future instead of at the past or the present.  He says, “Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust and ambition look ahead” (69).  Screwtape discusses the intention of a sinful action.  When sin is committed, it is committed for the reason of the good seen in it.  One commits sin because he sees something beneficial in the action, either for himself or for others.

Screwtape attacks the heart of Christianity, love.  He perverts God’s love.  He makes it appear as though it is a feeling and something selfish.  In reality, he knows and is disgusted by what love really is, a selfless action.  Screwtape says, “The Enemy described a married couple as ‘one flesh’” (82).  The devil knows the truth and manipulates it, and tempts us with lies.

Throughout his letters, Screwtape is continuously reminding Wormwood to not let the Patient find out about their tactics.  He wants that the Patient think the attacks and trials will last forever.  He wants the Patient’s intellect to be diminished.  He wants the Patient to be selfish and prideful.

Another one of the Devil’s tactics is to pervert human’s strong desire for heaven.  Screwtape says it this way, “So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to Earth is to make them believe that Earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics or ‘science’ or psychology or what not” (133).

In the end of the book, the Patient dies.  He moves on to the next life and becomes one with God.  Every part of his life is made known to him.  All doubt is removed.  All sins are purged from him.  Everything seems very familiar to him.  He realizes the part God and each angel played in his life at any given time.

Because of the changes in the life of the Patient throughout his journey, the relationship between Screwtape and Wormwood changes from the beginning to the end of the book.  With each letter, their relationship is changing.  In the beginning of the book, Screwtape treats Wormwood like family.  He is friendly to him; he is patient with him.  Gradually, Screwtape becomes less patient with Wormwood; he becomes less friendly to him.  Screwtape fights harder and harder for the soul of the Patient through teaching Wormwood the ways of the Devil.

Seeing how Screwtape treats his own nephew, Wormwood, one can see his lack of good intention and lack of caring about anyone but himself.  If Screwtape plans to devour one of his own kind, one of his own family, how much more so does he want to destroy the Patient.

            Reading C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” caused me to think about the different tricks the Devil uses to manipulate us into following him instead of God.  Tricks that make sense, but are not often thought of.  The Devil is sneaky and manipulative.

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