The Screwtape Letters. C.S. Lewis

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Wow! Brilliant!! C.S. Lewis comes across as a genius in this book, in my opinion. It is probably the most I’ve dog-eared a book since Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This is a series of letters from Screwtape, an “administrative demon,” that is directing his nephew, Wormwood, a novice demon, in the corruption of one man’s soul. It’s a very clever strategy to see things from the Devil’s perspective, as he refers to God throughout the book as Our Enemy. It really casts an ironic light on many human activities in modern day living.

I did have a ton of dog-eared sections for me to go back and read again, so I’ll only include some of them here:

  • in discussing humans…

    As spirits, they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation — the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.

  • in discussing sin…

    Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. The safest road to hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

  • On Pleasure…

    …you allowed the patient to read a book he really enjoyed it, and not in order to make clever remarks about it to his … friends. In the second place, you allowed him to walk down to the old mill and have tea there, a walk through country he really likes, and taken alone. In other words you allowed him two real positive pleasures…

    He goes on to discuss this further in detail, but the main point is that when a human does something that he truly enjoys, not to impress friends or to “palm off vanity, bustle, irony, and expensive tedium,” it allows the human to be closer to his true self. But if things are done with the illusion of pleasure, but are really done for other reasons, you “detach him from the Enemy [God] … by deteching him from himself.”

    One other note on this point… I kept a reading notebook for years before I started posting some of my thoughts online. And once I started posting online, it was never to impress anyone. It was always mainly for me personally to go back and recall what I had read before. However, I do think that some of the quotes I pull out will be intersting to others, and may help them find books to read based on what I’ve written.

    The final quote on this is:

    The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring two-pence about what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest forms of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the food or books he really likes in favour of the ‘best’ people, the ‘right’ food, the ‘important’ books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and opinions.

  • There’s a big discussion of the past, present, and future, as it relates to humans, and I liked the following:

    … the Future is, of all things, the least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time — for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with Eternal Rays. Hence the encouragement we have given to all those schemes of thought such as Creative Evolution, Scientific Humansism, or Communism, which fix men’s affections on the Future, on the very core of temporality. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the Future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.

  • I’ve always been drawn to “East meets West” type philosphy, in things like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and other writings, mostly with respect to the subject object duality seen in cultures of the West that is often lacking in the East, but also with how the present is dealt with in different ways. I’ve seen some similarities between what Jesus teaches and Eastern thought on the present. So the following really struck me:

    If … he is aware that horrors may be in store for him and is praying for the virtues, wherewith to meet them, and meanwhile concerning himself with the Present because there, and there alone, all duty, all grace, all knowledge, and all pleasure dwell, his state is very undesirable and should be attacked at once.

  • The following is so true — many churchgoers criticize things that are not worth criticizing, i.e. not criticizing possible doctrinal issue, but instead critizing largely irrelevant itmes, which in the end just distracts them from the real purpose of churchgoing:

    What He [God] wants of the layman in chruch is an attitde which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise — does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivitiy to any nourishment that is going.

  • Here’s another thing that is very true, and that probably all of us have struggled with! I like to think I have gotten better at it over the years. 🙂

    … nothing throws [a person] into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him.

  • I like the following… It’s true for me (and not just in this example), but I love seasonal change. That’s one of the things that started getting on my nerves about FL!

    He [God] has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme.

  • Another very true thought, this one a difference between men and women, and I’ve certainly been guilty of this in the past. Hopefully I will improve as I mature:

    A woman means by unselfishness … taking trouble from others; a man means not giving trouble to others…. a man will live long in the Enemy’s [God’s] camp before he undertakes as much spontaneous work to please others as a quite ordinary woman does every day.

  • And finally (this is from Screwtape Makes a Toast, which was written much later than the letters):

    All said and done, my firends, it will be an ill day for us if what most humans mean by ‘religion’ ever vanishes from earth. It can still send us the truly delicious sins…. Nowhere do we tempt so succesfully as on the very steps of the altar.

  • So, I really want to read this book again and take more time to study it, to think about some of the deeper thoughts more. I highly recommend this book — one of the best I’ve read in some time.

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One thought on “The Screwtape Letters. C.S. Lewis

  1. breeves_2000

    Interesting. I’ve heard of this book before, but never much about it. I want to read it now!
    One comment though. The part where you mentioned:
    “But if things are done with the illusion of pleasure, but are really done for other reasons, you “detach him from the Enemy [God] … by deteching him from himself.”
    That almost sounds a bit humanistic.

    Reply

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