Review: The Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape Letters

by C.S. Lewis

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis address the walk of humans into Christianity from the viewpoint of a demon named Screwtape via his correspondence with his “dear” nephew Wormwood who has been assigned to befuddle a young man who, despite his antagonist, becomes a Christian. This book brings to light many of the ideas and perceptions humans experience in most any point in life. The unique approach of viewing from the demon’s point of view creates a reverse thought pattern for the reader. Since the book is written from the viewpoint of a demon, that which is good in the eyes of a Christian is called detestable by Screwtape. C. S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters to give an outside view of Christians and Satan’s attacks on their relationship with Christ.

In this essay I will summarize and discuss the various areas in which the this young man faces attack by demons.

By the second chapter of the Letters Wormwood’s “patient” has become a Christian. In an attempt to distract the new Christian from worship and studying the Scriptures during church service, Screwtape suggested an emphasis on the superficial. By emphasizing the outward faults of these people around the young man; the demon concentrated on turning his “patient’s” thoughts from God to the people and things around him. Lewis has touched an important note which can be found in the church services today. Many, not all, but many churches have taken up attempts at being showcases, not necessarily of Christ’s love, but of the blessings God can give. Unfortunately, this has led to images of prosperity within the church and an emphasis on this prosperity rather than an emphasis on God Himself and knowing Him. As Lewis pointed out, the preconceived ideas which a new Believer has can be feed or starved by the very objects within a church building. To the young Believer, all this can become a distraction from God and a deep knowledge of Him. Yes, a distraction which keeps him from coming into this time of worship with God in mind, but with thoughts pounding his head about everything except God.

Screwtape advised his young “tempter” — Wormwood, to emphasize disappointment in the Believer. As new Believers join the church they have some sort of preconceived idea, he said. These ideas may be about how people should act or dress, or maybe the new Believer will see someone who they know to be a hypocrite. All this creates a sense of disappointment. By making these disappointments more evident to the Believer the demon succeeds in distracting him from the purpose of the church once again.

Throughout the book the demons fought a loosing battle against the Christian as he learned from his mistakes and grew in his walk with Christ. Wormwood failed time after time and Screwtape showed the anger and internal hatred as Lewis imagined demons would display. Still, Screwtape continued to tutor his nephew in the demonic goal of annoyance and distraction of the Christian. The devils tried to turn the Christian’s mind from his purpose to know God onto himself and his fleshly desires. Screwtape gives special instruction on how sexual desire can be used to draw the Christian down in several ways. If not in the actual fulfillment then in guilt, the young man can be dragged downward by Satan’s henchmen.

(Continuing this discussion Lewis lets Screwtape write about love and sex among humans.) Screwtape bewails the fact that God created love and sex to draw two humans together in cooperation. Unlike animals and bugs which will often kill the male of the species after their duty is done, God has made affection a part of sexual reproduction, Screwtape says. The progeny of the union of love and sex depend on the parents and an institution is established binding them together through love. Past the God-given good in love, Screwtape describes how to distort the courtship rituals into a time of building up little resentments between the pair which can be tweaked in the future to cause difficulties, strains on the peace, and possible disruption of the entire family.

In the book Lewis, through Screwtape, specifically addressed four areas in which Satan attacks unexpecting Believers. First, they try to keep Christianity as a purely internal religion without external characteristics being exhibited. If the devil can get Christians to keep all their beliefs to themselves and eventually question those internal beliefs then they can certainly control the poor soul. As the internal Christian continues to look inward at the religious status they have attained, they will probably overlook the faults which seem so obvious to others. The devils can then use these faults to wedge between the Christian’s family, friends, and other believers.

Blindspots are like that; they cause difficulties unless one is willing to work with the help of others to correct these unseen problems. Within this same category of blindspots comes the second area of demonic attack on a person: mutual conflicts. People who spend extensive amounts of time together will notice quirks about one another which can become extremely annoying. If a demon is able to deceive his “patient” into believing that person is knowing and purposely doing these annoying little things then a wedge can be successfully driven betwixt them.

Thirdly, prayer time can become a time not of worship and fellowship with Almighty God but a time of bringing the faults of others to the mind. The devils may tell their “patients” they are only remembering these things to pray for them while they are really rubbing salt in the wounds to separate people from each other and foil God’s plan for mutual love and fellowship among people found only through unity in Him. Yes, it is all right to pray for others but the purpose of prayer is not to bring up past offenses. Rather pray that you will be able to forgive the offender and overcome your won faults, thus smudging out the plan of the demon who may attack you.

The fourth area which devils use to attack unexpecting Believers is the different meanings which can be found in tones of the human voice. The words may be well and good but if demons can make one think that the tone of another’s voice is demeaning then they have found an easy means to stick a foot in the door and build disunity.

As the Christian becomes accustomed to religious activities demons like Wormwood can stress the “importance” of settling into a routine of going through the motions and lose the enjoyment and spiritual growth which God intends worship and fellowship to include. This is all part of the demons attempt at stopping enjoyment for humanity. God created the world for humankind. The joys and pleasures we find are God-given gifts for us to enjoy. Before Satan and his demons can use these gifts they must distort and twist the good into something evil.

In his eleventh letter to Wormwood, Screwtape announced the varieties of humor. There is God-given humor for the enjoyment of life and then there is humor which is Satan’s subtle replica: flippancy. Flippancy insuates a joke no matter how serious the topic at hand may be. Flippancy “deadens instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it”. This is an important concept to comprehend because humor is a wonderful thing in the right circumstances but if people become flippant on a regular basis they abuse the joyful laughter and humor God intended.

The main purpose of The Screwtape Letters is to present to Christians the viewpoint of demons who rejoice in conflict and enjoy diversion of their “patients” from the relationship God desires them to have with Himself and others. This book pointed strongly at the daily struggles which I know I face and brings them into perspective of their being daily stepping stones either taking me closer to God or further from Him.

In reading The Letters I found Lewis addressed many topics which readily can be applied in my life both now and in the future. Church hopping, for example, I see how easy it would be to move from church to church in what I feel is seeking the “right one” while I would really be looking for something to tingle my ears. Also the topic of criticism, which I find myself doing now and again, addressed by Lewis. God wants us to look for the good, discard the bad and continue being open to the spiritual nourishment which is available. That is not getting caught up in meditating on that which was discarded but think on what is full of nourishment for the mind and soul.

Although sometimes a struggle to read, I truly have learned from this book and feel that it is well worth the reading for all Christians. By standing back and looking through the eyes of a demon, I see blindspots of my own which I was unaware of before. Also, I have been forced to think a little deeper on subjects which have set in my mind and only by this book been stirred to active thought.