The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis

I just finished¬†“The Screwtape Letters”¬†and I must say that I was very impressed. C. S. Lewis provides a masterful revelation of humanity’s moral problems in terms of the demons that try to manipulate them and corrupt us, while also creating a deep and fluid critique of the modern era’s cultures and common collapses. And the detailed of how this critique is created is incredibly creative: letters from an elder demon to his younger, unexperienced demon nephew, providing advice on how to tempt and corrupt a young man’s spirit.

One of my favourite parts is near the end when Screwtape is giving a toast to the graduates of the College of Temptors and discussing some great problems his generation was able to create in the hearts of the humans. Specifically, he is talking about the desire to be “normal” and “like everyone else”, he says:

All is summed up in the prayer which a young female human is said to have uttered recently: ‘Oh God, make me a normal twentieth-century girl!’ Thanks to our labours, this will mean increasingly, ‘Make me a minx, a moron, and a parasite’. (pg 200)

 

Another common theme of the letters that Screwtape wrote that I thought was interesting was how to create mutual hatred and animosity between two humans who think they are “in love” with each other. He writes that a method perfected in Hell is to get each to commit to “Unselfishness”, rather than “Charity”, to one another. That is, try to lessen yourself rather than uplift someone else. An excerpt:

In discussing any joint action, it becomes obligatory that A should argue in favour of B’s supposed wishes and against his own, while B does the opposite. It is often impossible to find out either party’s real wishes; with luck, they end by doing something that neither wants, while each feels a glow of self-righteousness and harbours a secret claim to preferential treatment for the unselfishness shown and a secret grudge against the other for the ease with which the sacrifice has been accepted. (pg 143)

 

While I was reading the book I couldn’t help but think of all the things that Lewis mentions as effective means of corruption that I notice myself do and don’t enjoy it one bit. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t like being “attacked”, more that I didn’t like being reminded of my failure to remedy the situation that had previously made itself apparent to me. Although I don’t consider myself a Christian, like Lewis, or a good person, like the ideal of contrasts with, I think that that ideal is ideal regardless of it’s religious backing or it’s supporters occasional righteous barking.

One final thing that this book brought to my attention that I found interesting: Lewis consistently mentioned “Aristotle’s Question”: “Whether ‘democratic behaviour’ means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. [It may not occur to the inquisitor] that these need not be the same.” Which I think is very astute and a hugely interesting debate in and of itself. (pg 197)