The Screwtape Letters

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Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Analysis

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Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon
Religion and Reason Theme Icon
Love Theme Icon
Freedom, Will, and Sin Theme Icon
Fashion, Progress, and Change Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Screwtape Letters, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Theme Icon

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.

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Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil appears in each chapter of The Screwtape Letters. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil Quotes in The Screwtape Letters

Below you will find the important quotes in The Screwtape Letters related to the theme of Proving Christianity True by Exploring Evil.
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.


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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 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 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 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 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.