Have you ever read The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis? I’ve read the whole thing a couple times. The audio version, which is brilliantly narrated by John Cleese, is also available on Youtube. I’ve listened to that as well.
In this book, Lewis created a character called Screwtape who is the uncle of a junior tempter named Wormwood. They are both demons, in the traditionally Christian sense. The setting is entirely Christian, but from a demonic point of view. Screwtape has some position of authority within the demon hierarchy, “an under-secretary of a department.” The nephew has been assigned to tempt a young man so that he ends up in hell. Screwtape writes letters to his nephew containing instructions and advice towards that end, and he does this as both an uncle and as an under-secretary.
Each chapter is called a Letter, so chapter 1 is Letter 1. I have often reread this Letter because I have found it helpful and comforting. After the 2012 general election I printed it and taped it to the door of my office so that I could pause and reflect on it from time to time. It comforted me to be reminded that our God is a God of logic and reasoning. I learned from Lewis that we should never abandon making solid arguments; arguments are God’s territory, not the devil’s.
Here are some other ideas from that Letter that I have found helpful or comforting (remember that the viewpoint is Screwtape writing to Wormwood).
I live in a grand historical context with events from the past that influence me today:
“It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier…”
“Thanks to processes which we set at work in them centuries ago, they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes.”
Because our God is a God of logic and reasoning, I can and should alter my way of life as a result of a chain of reasoning:
“[A few centuries earlier] humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning.”
I should weigh ideas and assertions in terms of whether or not they are true, not by some other standard. According to Screwtape, Wormwood’s charge,
“doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false,’ but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical,’ ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary,’ ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless.’ Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.”
I’ve been nourished by the substance of that Letter and have chewed on it for a long time.
What about you? Have you read The Screwtape Letters? What did you think about it?