The Screwtape Letters

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The Screwtape Letters Letter XXIII Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Screwtape reveals that the patient is meeting more and more Christians every day through his new lover. This means that it will be very difficult to tempt the patient. Because Wormwood has tried and failed to tempt the patient using the World and the Flesh, he must now pursue a third strategy. While this third strategy is the hardest of all for devils, it is also the most satisfying. Wormwood might be able to pursue this third strategy by manipulating the patient’s conversations with his new Christian friends, many of whom are of a political and historical turn of mind.
Where before the patient was being exposed to an ever-growing group of militant atheists, he is now being welcomed into the fold of good Christians. There is something almost inspiring about the way that Screwtape refuses to give up hope, even when it seems likely that the patient will never abandon his faith again—and yet emotions like hope are foreign to the devils. They act only out of obligation to Satan, hatred of God and humanity, and fear of being punished themselves.
Themes
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Screwtape explains the third strategy that Wormwood can use to manipulate the patient: he can appeal to arguments about the history of Christianity. Many Christian writers, he explains, believe that Christianity has been going downhill since the era of its founding. This point of view claims that “the historical Jesus” was very different from the figure that Christians worship in the 20th century. “The historical Jesus” has been used to bolster arguments for liberalism, humanitarianism, Marxism, and more. The irony is that there is no historical Jesus for these writers—they simply invent a historical Jesus whom they use to support their ideologies.
Lewis’s arguments and musings have become more and more specific as the story goes on. Here, he addresses a phenomenon that isn’t immediately relevant to 21st century readers: the worship of the “historical Jesus.” During the first half of the 20th century, however, there was an effort to “split the difference” on Christ—in other words, to respect him as a great man, but doubt his divine powers. (One early proponent of this view was President Thomas Jefferson, who wrote a new version of the Bible with all mentions of Christ’s divinity edited out.)
Themes
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One common quality of every version of the historical Jesus is that he was a “Great man” in the modern sense of the word: in other words, he was a proponent of great, radical ideas that he used to attack the injustices of his time. The problem with this idea, Screwtape explains, is that Jesus’s teachings aren’t any different from the teachings of other famous moral teachers—God’s moral teachings, whether they come from Jesus or anyone else, are not new lessons, but rather reminders.
Here again, modern Westerners are flawed in their need to find novelty in the least novel things. Thus, rather than accept that Christ simply told the truth—to accept God and be good to other people—intellectuals feel the need to portray him as a radical, controversial, or difficult teacher. This obscures the simple beauty of Christ’s life and teachings, Lewis argues.
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The historical Jesus, Screwtape continues, is actually ahistorical insofar as the intellectual aspects of Jesus Christ are emphasized over the singular fact about his life—namely, that he died and was resurrected. By obscuring this truth, which is the central tenet of Christianity, writers and historians do a disservice to their faith, and thus, Screwtape concludes, devils should encourage their efforts.
One can almost hear the impatience in Lewis’s voice here as he speaks through Screwtape. Lewis wants Christians to rejoice in Christ’s resurrection—obviously the most memorable thing about Christ’s time on the Earth—rather than focusing on using his words to support certain ideologies or political philosophies.
Themes
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Screwtape discusses the relationship between Christianity and politics. While devils do not want Society to be based on Christian teachings, since such a society would be alarmingly just and loving, devils do want people to use Christianity to enact social justice. The reason for this is that political figures who use Christianity as a means to a political end will come to value Christianity less and less. There are also people who celebrate Christianity because it has survived for so long, instead of because it is true. Screwtape delights in questionable logic of this kind.
The relationship between politics and Christianity has challenged thinkers for hundreds of years. There are those who see Christianity as the cornerstone for any just society—a theocracy—but Lewis maintains that it’s important to divorce political causes from Christianity, since they will obscure the faith itself. One thinks of all the politicians who claim divine backing for their laws and wars—by Lewis’s standard, they’re diluting the value of Christianity.
Themes
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