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Lewis’ Screwtape Letters

December 25, 2013

So I finally had the privilege this week to read an old classic that I have wanted to read for so long; “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis.

This book is meant to give the reader a little glimpse into the realm of the demonic and how they go about trying to deceive the human race. While it is delivers this idea in a comical way, it also serves to teach ways in which we can see people being drawn away from, or blinded to, the truth. Here is what C.S. Lewis said in the intro to his book…

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

The book is made up of thirty-one letters from the devil Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood in which he instructs him on how he should go about corrupting the young man that he was assigned to. And instead of doing a formal book review, I thought that it might be good to simply share with you some of my favorite quotes.

I highly recommend this book both for your amusement and for instruction about what does or does not help in your growth as a Christian.

My dear Wormwood,

  • “Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He 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.”
  • “What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condensation in going to church with these “smug,” commonplace neighbours at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can.”
  • “If this fails, you must fall back on a subtler misdirection of his intention. Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep the watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by action of their own wills… When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven.”
  • “If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.”
  • “I see only one thing to do at the moment. Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to that fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride – pride at his own humility – will appear.”
  • “You mentioned casually in your last letter that the patient has continued to attend one church, and one only, since he was converted, and that he is not wholly pleased with it. May I ask what you are about? Why have I had no report on the causes of his fidelity to thee parish church? Do you realize that unless it is due to indifference it is a very bad thing? Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that “suits” him until he becomes a taster and connoisseur of churches.”
  • [Here the MS. Breaks off and is resumed in a different hand] In the heat of composition I find that I have inadvertently allowed myself to assume the form of a large centipede. I am accordingly dictating the rest to my secretary.”
  • “The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart – an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship.”
  • “But since your patient has contracted the terrible habit of obedience, he will probably continue such “crude” prayers whatever you do. But you can worry him with the haunting suspicion that the practice is absurd and can have no objective result.”
  • “And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. But, thanks be to Our Father and the Historical Point of View, great scholars are now as little nourished by the past as the most ignorant mechanic who holds that “history is bunk.””
  • “If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger. Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is finding he is “finding a place in it,” while really it is finding its place in him.

Your affectionate uncle
Screwtape

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