The Screwtape Letters

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper edition of The Screwtape Letters published in 2001.
Preface Quotes

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.

Related Characters: C.S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: IX
Explanation and Analysis:

In the preface to his book, C.S. Lewis makes an interesting point about devils, and about evil in general. Lewis argues that humans make a mistake when they deny the existence of devils (and evil more broadly)--it's easier for devils to manipulate human beings when human beings don't know what's manipulating them. But on the other hands, it's almost as bad when humans are too interested in devils. Their interest suggests a general attraction to evil, and this attraction itself is, of course, evil.

Lewis's observations are interesting because they establish a reason for the format of his book. Lewis wants to write about devils, but he doesn't want to convey too much shock or awe in association with them. In other words, Lewis writes about devils in a light, comic tone, portraying his characters as petty, obnoxious, and frequently clumsy. In such a way, Lewis avoids falling into the trap he details in the quotation—nobody could read Screwtape and walk away feeling an "excessive and healthy interest" in evil—Lewis shows evil to be second-rate in every way.


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Letter I Quotes

Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have 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.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

Screwtape argues that it's now common for "intelligent" people to speak about philosophy in terms of fashion and history, not truth and falsehood. Thus, in studying religions and philosophies, people like the patient are encouraged to learn ideas are in vogue or are controversial, rather than which ideas are actually true. Furthermore, some doctrines (like the ideas of philosophers such as Hegel and Nietzsche) relativize the concepts of truth and falsehood altogether, arguing that a statement isn't necessarily true or false—instead, it might be true at one time and false at another, or somewhat true and false simultaneously.

In all, the passage argues that Christianity is the ultimate rational doctrine—the doctrine that maintains that ideas are either true or false, and nothing else. The passage is important, then, because it sets up the project of Lewis's entire book: to use logic, reason, and careful thought to "prove" that Christianity is correct, and all so-called "intellectual" doctrines are nonsensical.

If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don't let him get away from that invaluable "real life". But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is "the results of modem investigation". Do remember you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

The passage reinforces the idea that reason and Christianity are friends, not enemies. Lewis, writing from the perspective of a devil, shows that the best way to corrupt a human being is to make him believe in the vague idea of science, not to practice reason itself. The key point here is that real science is dangerous to the devils, because it supports the principles of Christianity (at least according to Lewis)—so the patient must not be allowed to get too close to science.

By implication, the passage suggests that people choose to believe things because they're novel and interesting, not because they're true or false. The patient chooses to identify as a "scientific" kind of person, not because he knows anything about science, but because he wants to seem intelligent and knowledgeable. As Lewis suggests, a devil's best course of action is to keep human beings bouncing from one trendy ideology to another, never actually teaching anyone anything. The only real source of knowledge about the universe, it's further suggested, is Christianity.

Letter II Quotes

He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His "free" lovers and servants—"sons" is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals. Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to "do it on their own". And there lies our opportunity. But also, remember, there lies our danger. If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, God
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Screwtape discusses God's "plan." Although he phrases his analysis negatively, it's clear from the reader's perspective that Lewis himself thinks of God positively—the more a devil is supposed to hate something, the more we the readers are supposed to like it.

Screwtape chooses to focus on the principle of free will here. Humans are born in a state of uncertainty: they have the option to embrace God or embrace evil. On one hand, devils have a great advantage over humans: because of their state of limbo, humans can easily be drawn toward the path of evil. But on the other hand, the fact that humans have free will means that when they do choose to embrace God, God is more pleased with the achievement, and offers greater love as a reward.

Letter V Quotes

But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew. Consider too what undesirable deaths occur in wartime. Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they are at all of the Enemy's party, prepared. How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition!

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, God
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Lewis offers his own interpretation of Christianity (one that's by no means shared by all Christians). As Lewis sees it, God rewards human beings who sacrifice their lives for a cause they believe to be noble and good, even if God himself considers the cause immoral. In this way, humans who die in battle with good intentions may go to Heaven, no matter which side they're fighting for.

The passage further suggests that most hospitals, in spite of their reputation for kindness and mercy, endanger the souls of human beings by depriving them of the religious care they desperately need, and by lying to them about their true condition. Paradoxically, it's better (in terms of the state of one's soul) for a human being to die in the army than in a modern hospital—at least the army provides chaplains and priests to listen to soldiers' final confessions before they die.

Letter VII Quotes

All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient, God
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous passage, Screwtape argues that extremism is always easy to twist into sinfulness (and therefore helpful to the cause of evil)--unless the extremism is a form of devotion to God himself.

There are several senses in which extremism appears to be a danger to the soul. By devoting themselves to an idea or a cause, human beings turn away from God, worshipping a "false idol" instead. No matter what the idol might be—football, Marxism, alcohol, etc.—the implication appears to be that humans are equipped to worship one and only one divine authority. Thus by holding extreme opinions about anything other than God, they're essentially replacing him.

Letter VIII Quotes

He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, God, Satan
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Screwtape paints a picture of the universe as God wants it, and as the Devil wants it. Screwtape describes God's world as loathsome and insufferable (although in rather poetic language), though from the reader's perspective it's perfectly clear that God's world is the desirable one, and the Devil's world the loathsome one. As Screwtape says, God gives human beings free will so that they can be "separate" and yet "united" with God: a human who is born in a state of uncertainty and yet chooses to worship God has fulfilled God's plan for him.

In the passage, Lewis cleverly refutes some of the most common objections to the Christian worldview. It's been suggested that Christianity is unimaginative and tyrannical, since it demands that all humans join together in slavish worship of God. Yet Lewis argues that the oppositeis true: the Devil wants to pull all human beings to Hell (and, Lewis suggests, eat them), while God wants humans to worship him, but he doesn't want to dominate his own creations. Rather, he gives human beings the gift of free will, so that they'll always be separate and "free" from his control. In choosing God, they actually become more free and more personally fulfilled.

Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, God
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

As the quotation makes clear, God offers the handsomest rewards to the human beings who continue to obey him even when all comforting emotion and faith has disappeared. (The quote is also a reference to Jesus's words on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") God brings humans into the world in a state of doubt because he wants humans to choose to worship him, using their powers of free will. An angel who's been created for the purpose of serving God simply isn't as impressive as a human who chooses to do the same—the former has an easy choice, while the latter has a difficult one. This quote in particular emphasizes the ideal of will—it's easy to obey God when one is filled with feelings of faith, love, and satisfaction, but when it seems that God has abandoned the Christian, then it's only his will and conviction that can keep him faithful.

In a broader sense, then, Screwtape, Wormwood, and the other devils are really a crucial part of God's plan for humanity. If the most admired and loved human being is one who continues to obey God even despite doubt and temptation, then Screwtape is crucial to humanity's progress toward Heaven. By making humans doubt God, Screwtape only "sweetens" God's victory when humans eventually see the truth about Christianity.

Letter IX Quotes

The mere word phase will very likely do the trick. I assume that the creature has been through several of them before—they all have—and that he always feels superior and patronising to the ones he has emerged from, not because he has really criticised them but simply because they are in the past. (You keep him well fed on hazy ideas of Progress and Development and the Historical Point of View, I trust, and give him lots of modern Biographies to read? The people in them are always emerging from Phases, aren't they?)

You see the idea? Keep his mind off the plain antithesis between True and False. Nice shadowy expressions—"It was a phase"—"I've been through all that"—and don't forget the blessed word "Adolescent"…

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Screwtape reiterates the importance of jargons, trends, and fashion to the devils' cause. Because Christianity is the only true doctrine—and a very simple truth at that—the devils must corrupt humans by appealing to their vanity and their love for "something new." Thus Screwtape suggests that Wormwood fill the patient's head with the word "phase." This word, Screwtape explains, is important to the devils' cause because it can be used to relativize and dismiss truth. Screwtape hopes that the patient will come to dismiss the periods of the patient's life in which he was a Christian, reasoning that these periods were just passing phases. The word "phase" further reflects the intellectual trends of the 20th century, when the doctrines of Hegel and Marx argued that truth was relative—what was true yesterday may be false tomorrow.

Humans, it's suggested, don't know what's good for them. Although Christianity is plain and true, humans have an unfortunate habit of embracing the new for its own sake. Thus, they'll often move past Christianity simply because it's "old news." Because of the embrace of "phases" in the intellectual life of the time, it's much easier for humans to trick themselves into turning their backs on ideas that they once knew to be true.

Letter XII Quotes

Obviously you are making excellent progress. My only fear is lest in attempting to hurry the patient you awaken him to a sense of his real position. For you and I, who see that position as it really is, must never forget how totally different it ought to appear to him. We know that we have introduced a change of direction in his course which is already carrying him out of his orbit around the Enemy; but he must be made to imagine that all the choices which have effected this change of course are trivial and revocable. He must not be allowed to suspect that he is now, however slowly, heading right away from the sun on a line which will carry him into the cold and dark of utmost space.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Screwtape insists that Wormwood mustn't be too hasty in drawing the patient toward the path of evil. If the patient moves toward evil too quickly, he'll realize he's becoming evil, "wise up," and return to Christianity.In short, the more quickly successful Wormwood is the less successful he'll be in the long-run.

The passage establishes that the deck is stacked against Screwtape and the other devils. Humans have a natural instinct to embrace good and righteousness, and God wants them to turn to him—it's this instinct that would prevent the patient from joining with evil too rapidly.

The image of the patient traveling through space is also a potent one, and a reflection of the idea that Heaven and Hell aren't necessarily places, but are states of closeness to God. Heaven is blissful and beautiful because it involves being near to God, while Hell is torture because it means being alone in the "cold and dark of utmost space."

Letter XIV Quotes

Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point. The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue. By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools. And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 70-71
Explanation and Analysis:

Along with defending Christianity, Lewis also uses The Screwtape Lettersto voice many of his opinions about the problems with society and its view of religion. One of these issues is the idea of humility—many people think that being humble means being self-deprecating, even when to do so is untruthful. But as Screwtape explains, God never said he wanted human beings to deny their own talents—and yet it's often assumed that this is precisely what "good Christians" are expected to do. In reality, God tells humans to celebrate themselves, and yet accept that they are not the "owners" of their own talents. Nobody "makes" their own intelligence, strength, or good health—only God can give such gifts to his own creations. As always, Lewis stresses that humility—true humility, not the typical caricature of humility—is the obvious truth: nobody could argue that Albert Einstein was in any way responsible for his own genius, but also no one would argue that Einstein should have pretended he was stupid. Therefore, it's the devils' job to confuse humans, preventing them from seeing the obvious truth.

Letter XV Quotes

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. Do not think lust an exception. When the present pleasure arrives, the sin (which alone interests us) is already over. The pleasure is just the part of the process which we regret and would exclude if we could do so without losing the sin; it is the part contributed by the Enemy, and therefore experienced in a Present. The sin, which is our contribution, looked forward.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, God
Page Number: 76-77
Explanation and Analysis:

Through the character of Screwtape, Lewis argues that sin is almost always rooted in thoughts of the future. Humans have a natural instinct to do the right thing—don't hurt other people, don't steal, etc. The only way for humans to justify their sins to themselves is to think ahead to the future. (For example, one could rationalize stealing from a store on the grounds that the "payoff" for the theft outweighs the guilt one feels in the moment.) Evil, then, is both rational and irrational: humans sin because they can convince themselves that somewhere down the line, their evil will be balanced out with good. Yet in sinning, humans are ignoring the most basic and logical thought process imaginable: the notion that one shouldn't do things that make one feel bad.

Letter XVI Quotes

At the other church we have Fr. Spike. The humans are often puzzled to understand the range of his opinions—why he is one day almost a Communist and the next not far from some kind of theocratic Fascism—one day a scholastic, and the next prepared to deny human reason altogether—one day immersed in politics, and, the day after, declaring that all states of us world are equally "under judgment". We, of course, see the connecting link, which is Hatred.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Lewis offers a dark critique of the modern state of the church. Some modern preachers, Lewis suggests, embrace a startling array of doctrines, and use Christianity essentially as a tool to justify them. The preacher Screwtape mentions here, Friar Spike, functions as a caricature of the clergy as a whole: always moving back and forth between new ideas.

That a friar could move between so many new ideas suggests that not even the clergy is immune to the trend of fashion, progress, and change. Priests, no less than other people, will often abandon an idea they sense to be true, simply because they're tired of it. Moreover, Friar Pike's behavior illustrates another important respect in which Christianity can go wrong: Christianity can be used to persecute different kinds of people. Christianity can be twisted to justify anti-Semitism, anti-elitism, anti-imperialism, etc.—but in focusing so exclusively on the hatred of specific groups of people, Screwtape points out, preachers turn away from the most basic tenets of Christianity: that humans should love God.

Letter XVIII Quotes

The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

In the simplest possible terms, Screwtape sketches out the philosophy of hell. Screwtape argues that life is a "zero-sum game"; in other words, no two people can ever "share" a goo—-on the contrary, every time one person enjoys something, he's depriving some other person of happiness.

Although Screwtape's explanation might seem logical, it neglects one of the most basic parts of the human experience: love, cooperation, and unity. All humans instinctively know that Screwtape is wrong: there are many situations in which one person's good is also another person's. When a mother gives a present to her child, the child's happiness becomes her own happiness. The whole of human existence, Screwtape implies, rests on escaping the philosophy of Hell and embracing the philosophy that people can find happiness by helping one another.

For humans must not be allowed to notice that all great moralists are sent by the Enemy not to inform men but to remind them, to restate the primeval moral platitudes against our continual concealment of them.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the paradoxes of Lewis's book is that it's designed to communicate some incredibly simply ideas: be kind to other people; don't be bad; love your friends and neighbors, etc. In Lewis's view, humans often forget these basic moral lessons, because the lessons are so simple. Humans feel a natural craving for complex, new ideas (Lewis, a lifelong academic, knows this craving very well). So-called intellectual people dismiss the teachings of the Bible because they consider these teachings simple and old-fashione—thus, it's out with Christianity and in with Marxism, Hegelianism, etc.

Screwtape's argument in the passage also clarifies an important point about Christ and other important moral teachers. The genius of Christ, Screwtape insists, was that he reminded people of what they already knew to be true, not that he offered up any big, complicated theories of right and wrong. It's precisely because humans get bored with moral platitudes that figures like Christ (or, one could argue, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Buddha, etc.) are so important: they cut through man's unhealthy craving for difficulty and complexity and offer up morality in its purest, simplest form.

Letter XIX Quotes

I have been thinking very hard about the question in your last letter. If, as I have clearly shown, all selves are by their very nature in competition, and therefore the Enemy's idea of Love is a contradiction in terms, what becomes of my reiterated warning that He really loves the human vermin and really desires their freedom and continued existence? I hope, my dear boy, you have not shown my letters to anyone. Not that it matters of course. Anyone would see that the appearance of heresy into which I have fallen is purely accidental.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, God
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

Screwtape has previously told Wormwood that 1) God loves humans, and 2) love is an impossible idea. As Wormwood rightly points out, 1) and 2) can't both be true—Screwtape has contradicted himself. Here, Screwtape tries to backpedal in order to avoid saying something contradictory to the philosophy of Hell—something which, we're invited to believe, could get Screwtape punished and eaten alive. Screwtape seems genuinely nervous that Wormwood will reveal Screwtape's heresies to other devils. (It's suggested that the devils steadfastly deny the existence of love, and assume that God has some other, more selfish motive for creating and helping humans.)

From the reader's perspective, however, Screwtape's contradiction is proof that Christianity and only Christianity—understood in the simple sense as the doctrine that there is a God, who loves us and wants us to be happy—is the truth. Any doctrine that argues that competition and hatred are the bases for all life will eventually collapse on itself.

You complain that my last letter does not make it clear whether I regard being in love as a desirable state for a human or not. But really, Wormwood, that is the sort of question one expects them to ask! Leave them to discuss whether "Love", or patriotism, or celibacy, or candles on altars, or teetotalism, or education, are "good" or "bad". Can't you see there's no answer? Nothing matters at all except the tendency of a given state of mind, in given circumstances, to move a particular patient at particular moment nearer to the Enemy or nearer to us. Thus it would be quite a good thing to make the patient decide that "love" is "good" or "bad".

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Screwtape continues to backpedal regarding his philosophy of love. Screwtape has previously claimed that God loves humanity, while also arguing that love is loathsome or even impossible. While he's managed to weasel his way out of appearing to contradict himself, Wormwood appears to be trying to get Screwtape to contradict himself again, asking Screwtape, point-blank, if love is good or bad.

Screwtape is forced to answer that love is neither good nor bad. While Screwtape's answer might seem like more backpedaling, there's a grain of truth in it. Screwtape has already made it clear that love for God is the only kind of love that should be unconditional. Other kinds of love—indeed, other kinds of human behavior—may be either good or bad. To argue that celibacy or patriotism are always good or bad would be to make a judgment in a vacuum, and as Screwtape argues, vacuums don't exist in life. Every virtue, belief, or action serves in its time and place to move a human soul either towards or away from God.

Letter XXI Quotes

He regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption "My time is my own". Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Screwtape satirizes the notion that humans have a "right" to their own free time. Screwtape knows perfectly well that human beings don't own their own time—instead, God has given them their time on the Earth. But humans falsely believe that time is their "birthright"—and therefore, that anyone or anything that deprives them of their time is an annoyance or an enemy.

The notion that human beings own their own time is so fundamental to human life that few people ever stop to consider how illogical it is. Lewis uses the character of Screwtape to shed light on the fallacies of time, reinforcing the point that Christianity is the only logical doctrine, while all other ideas about the universe are contradictory.

Letter XXII Quotes

I have looked up this girl's dossier and am horrified at what I find. Not only a Christian but such a Christian—a vile, sneaking, simpering, demure, monosyllabic, mouse-like, watery, insignificant, virginal, bread-and-butter miss. The little brute. She makes me vomit.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is a good example of how Lewis uses humor, contradiction, and the principle of reductio ad absurdumto defend Christianity. From the perspective of Screwtape, the patient's new lover is revolting: she's sweet, virtuous, and lovable; everything a devil would hate. From the reader's perspective, however, the patient's lover is obviously a wonderful person whom the patient is lucky to have met. The fact that Screwtape refers to this woman as a "brute" is a clear sign that we're not meant to take any of his judgements seriously: his inability to feel the basic human emotion of love renders him incapable of seeing the beauty in the patient's relationship with his new lover.

Letter XXV Quotes

It is here that the general Evolutionary or Historical character of modern European thought (partly our work) comes in so useful. The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking "Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?" they will neglect the relevant questions.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient, God
Page Number: 138-139
Explanation and Analysis:

Screwtape explains that the recent trends in European intellectual life (he seems to be referring to such movements as Marxism, Freudianism, Hegelianism, etc.) are destructive to humanity—in fact, he claims that devils were largely responsible for popularizing such intellectual movements in the first place. The reason that recent trends in intellectual life are so harmful, Screwtape goes on, is that they distract humanity from the basic, relevant questions about the world—questions about right and wrong.

Lewis was a lifelong opponent of the "big three" intellectual doctrines of the 19th century: Marxism, Freudianism, and Darwinism. (See Background Information.) As has been pointed out many times, all three of these ideologies deprived human beings of their free will by arguing that people do things for more complicated and elusive reasons than had previously been assumed. Suddenly, the basic question, "is this the right thing to do?" was replaced by a flurry of other questions: "what social group will benefit?" (Marxism), or "how's your relationship with your mother?" (Freudianism). In Lewis's view, modern ideologies replace truth with a mountain of irrelevant information, distracting human beings from their most basic moral instincts.

Letter XXVII Quotes

To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour—this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. 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"…

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, Satan
Page Number: 150-151
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Screwtape satirizes the state of modern academia. There's a strange tendency among so-called intellectuals, Screwtape claims, to trust more recent scholars and distrust older ones. Such a tendency is odd, since there's no automatic reason why new thinkers should be any wiser or more perceptive than thinkers who lived 500 years ago. The end result is that even many accomplished scholars would never consider actually basing their behavior around the lessons from long-ago thinkers—they only want to study the historicity of such thinkers. (The quote about history being bunk is usually attributed to Henry Ford, the famous car manufacturer.)

Lewis is notsaying that intellectuals make no progress over time—in fact, he freely admits that often, a later thinker will look over the work of his predecessors and correct an error or a lapse in logic. And most importantly, he reiterates the point that we can gain wisdom of thousands of years simply by reading old writings and actually taking them to heart, instead of having to figure everything out for ourselves or only trusting the most modern, fashionable philosophy.

Letter XXVIII Quotes

The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else. That is why we must often wish long life to our patients; seventy years is not a day too much for the difficult task of unravelling their souls from Heaven and building up a firm attachment to the earth. While they are young we find them always shooting off at a tangent.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 155-156
Explanation and Analysis:

Screwtape makes the argument that older, more confident people are easier to corrupt than younger, more innocent people. At a young age, human beings feel a natural desire to be close to God in Heaven—in other words, they have an easier time grasping the basic moral truths of the world, and they feel a sense of discomfort on Earth, a longing for something more. As humans grow up, however, they become more and more attached to their lives on the Earth, and thus more narrow-minded and worldly.

Lewis steers his readers toward the strange idea that life isn't all that good for human beings. The longer humans spend on the Earth, the easier it becomes for devils to corrupt them to Satan's point of view. The goal of one's life on Earth is to increase one's love for God by living a happy, moral life. Most of the usual benefits of having a long life—making money, becoming famous, etc.—are just distractions from the salvation of the soul, the only thing that ultimately matters to a human being.

Letter XXIX Quotes

There is here a cruel dilemma before us. If we promoted justice and charity among men, we should be playing directly into the Enemy's hands; but if we guide them to the opposite behaviour, this sooner or later produces (for He permits it to produce) a war or a revolution, and the undisguisable issue of cowardice or courage awakes thousands of men from moral stupor.

This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy's motives for creating a dangerous world—a world in which moral issues really come to the point.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, God
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

Through the character of Screwtape, Lewis answers one of the most basic criticisms of Christianity—"If God is perfect, why is the world a dangerous place?"Screwtape begins by giving a reason why it's so difficult for devils to successfully corrupt human beings. On one hand, devils sometimes try to promote chaos and violence among human beings, hoping that an atmosphere of fear and death will promote greater evil. The problem is that in such a time, a larger proportion of humans will demonstrate their bravery and loyalty by recognizing the wicked state of affairs and revolting against it, thereby undermining the original purpose of the devils' plans. No matter what course of action devils take, then, humans will tend to behave morally and go to Heaven.

Screwtape is perceptive enough to realize that God created the world to be a dangerous place precisely so that human beings could prove their loyalty to him. God offers the greatest rewards to the humans who continue to believe in him, in spite of danger—therefore, a flawed, chaotic world is a good one, since it gives humans opportunities to prove their faith.

Letter XXXI Quotes

Rest assured, my love for you and your love for me are as like as two peas. I have always desired you, as you (pitiful fool) desired me. The difference is that I am the stronger. I think they will give you to me now; or a bit of you. Love you? Why, yes. As dainty a morsel as ever I grew fat on. You have let a soul slip through your fingers.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, The patient
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the book, we've been wondering whether Screwtape really cares about Wormwood at all. We're told again and again that devils believe in practicalities and selfishness and nothing else, and yet we've also been given some evidence that Screwtape genuinely wants to help Wormwood succeed. Thus, it's not until the finale of the book that it becomes clear that Screwtape despises Wormwood, as all devils despise all other deviles.Like all the citizens of Hell, Screwtape believes in the doctrine of strength and the "zero-sum game"—his victory is someone else's defeat, without exception. Thus, when Wormwood fails to corrupt the patient, Screwtape is overjoyed: he gets to punish the unfortunate Wormwood by eating him and absorbing him into himself.

If only we could find out what He is really up to! Alas, alas, that knowledge, in itself so hateful and mawkish a thing, should yet be necessary for Power! Sometimes I am almost in despair. All that sustains me is the conviction that our Realism, our rejection (in the face of all temptations) of all silly nonsense and claptrap, must win in the end.

Related Characters: Screwtape (speaker), Wormwood, God
Page Number: 175
Explanation and Analysis:

At various points in the book, Screwtape has shown faint signs of believing in Christianity: for example, he can't reconcile the notion that God loves humanity with the notion that love is loathsome or impossible. Screwtape is a perfectly logical creature, meaning that he should be able to see that Christianity is the only logical doctrine. The reason why Screwtape can never be a Christian, however, is that he's incapable of understanding love. As he sees it, the universe is all about competition: one person's victory is always another person's defeat.

In this quotation, Screwtape seems to long for some understanding of God—suggesting, perhaps, that even Devils aspire to go to Heaven. But of course, Screwtape can never really embrace God, because he clings to his belief that Realism--the belief that the world is a competition, with winners and losers--is the truth.

Interestingly, Lewis never really tries to disprove Screwtape's Realism. One could say that Realism is a premise of Screwtape's argument, used to prove other points, but impossible to prove or disprove in and of itself. By the same token, it's impossible to prove that love exists—and yet if you believe in the premise of love (as almost all human beings do, Lewis hopes), then Christianity follows as the logical next step.

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