Monday, October 23, 2006

The World, the Flesh, and Screwtape

On Saturday evening, July 20, 1940, C.S. Lewis sent a letter to his brother, Warnie, who at that time was stationed in the military at Cardiff, Wales. Lewis recounts having recently heard Adolph Hitler give a radio address. “I don’t know if I’m weaker than other people,” Lewis recounts for his brother, “but it is a positive revelation to me how while the speech lasts it is impossible not to waver just a little. I should be useless as a schoolmaster or a policeman. Statements which I know to be untrue all but convince me, at any rate for the moment, if only the man says them unflinchingly.”

The next day, while sitting in church, Lewis couldn’t get this experience out of his mind. He was struck by the idea of writing a series of letters from a retired devil to a junior devil focusing on the arts of deceit and temptation. The focus would be temptation as seen from the perspective of hell, of devils. He probably finished writing the Screwtape Letters by Christmas, 1940. This book was originally written as a series of letters for The Guardian, A Church of England weekly. One minister, completely misunderstanding Lewis’ purpose, cancelled his subscription, saying, “Much of the advice given in these letters seems not only erroneous but positively diabolical.” The book consists of thirty-one letters from uncle Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood. His instructions focus on the art of temptation with the ultimate goal, eternal damnation.

This "letter" from Screwtape to Wormwood came to mind as I was listening to Ligon begin the new series yesterday morning by emphasizing the dangers of individualism, relativism, and consumerism.

“Prosperity knits a man to the world. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home on Earth, which is just what we want. You will notice that the young are usually less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.”

“Even if we contrive to keep them ignorant of explicit religion, the incalculable winds of fantasy and music and poetry—the mere face of a girl, the song of bird, of the sight of a horizon—are always blowing away our whole structure away.”

“The Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else. That is why we must wish for 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.”

“How valuable time is to us may be gauged by the fact that the Enemy allows us so little of it. The majority of the human race dies in infancy; of the survivors, a good many die in youth. It is obvious that to Him human birth is important chiefly as the qualification for human death, and death solely as the gate to that other kind of life.”

From The Screwtape Letters (New York: MacMillan, 1961), 132-134.

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