Although The Screwtape Letters is a novel about Christian morality, it’s written from the perspective of evildoers—devils. It’s important to understand why Lewis chooses to tell his story in this way, and what the advantages and limitations of his form are.
Throughout the book, the devil Screwtape gives Wormwood, his nephew, advice about how to corrupt human beings. In giving this advice, Screwtape makes observations about human nature and humanity’s potential for virtue. In other words, in order to talk about doing evil, Screwtape has to talk about good. The result of this is that Screwtape’s letters form a “negative” portrait of Christianity. For example, when Screwtape tells Wormwood that he should try to convince the “patient”—the human they’re trying to corrupt—to embrace fashion and progress as his ideals, it’s very clear that C.S. Lewis believes that fashion and progress impede Christians in their quest to remain pious. In short, The Screwtape Letters is a thorough guide to how not to be a Christian—and therefore, it’s an equally thorough guide to how to be a Christian. Screwtape essentially expresses Lewis’s beliefs—the only difference is that Screwtape views and expresses these beliefs in a negative way, whereas Lewis sincerely believes them.
One consequence of Lewis’s writing The Screwtape Letters in this “negative” fashion is that he can “disprove” evil by means of the logical strategy known as “reductio ad absurdum.” In this technique, the logician first tries to prove that “not X”—the opposite of X—is true. But if, in following the logic of “not X,” the logician reaches a logical impossibility, the logician then demonstrates that “not X” is absurd—and, therefore, that “X” is true after all.
In this way, by depicting Screwtape’s efforts to logically explain his theories, Lewis ends up showing that those theories of God and morality are self-contradictory. At one point, Screwtape acknowledges that God loves humanity. Elsewhere, he expresses his belief that love doesn’t exist, and that the only goal of life is to conquer other life. When Wormwood calls him out on this contradiction, Screwtape is forced to backpedal and amend his beliefs. Following the rules of reductio ad absurdum, the message is clear: love does exist, and God has boundless love for human beings.
Ultimately, the form and logical structure of The Screwtape Letters supports the traditional Christian idea that, in the end, evil actually aids the side of good. Screwtape explicitly acknowledges this toward the end of the novel, when he angrily points out that devils “can’t win” when it comes to corrupting humanity. If they fill humans with fear, then humans will feel humility for their sins, and ultimately come closer to God. The devils’ attempt to corrupt humanity usually backfires. In this sense, the form of The Screwtape Letters mirrors the content. Because it’s written from the devils’ point of view, it forms a perfect “negative” of Christian doctrine, and by showing that the worship of evil is ultimately self-contradictory and self-defeating, Lewis’s examination of evil ultimately pushes the reader back to morality and piety.
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil ThemeTracker
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Quotes in The Screwtape Letters
All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.