Screwtape’s second letter begins with the news that Wormwood’s patient has become a Christian. Screwtape encourages Wormwood not to despair, since many humans have flirted with the Enemy before returning to evil.
There are many Christian works (see Background Info for more details) about good Christians who “lose their way” and take up atheism or sinful behavior. Lewis flips the clichés of these texts, and writes about an immoral man who “loses his way” and becomes a Christian.
Screwtape points out that the devils’ greatest ally is arguably the Church itself. Humans cannot the see the Christian church in its historical majesty—instead, they see half-ruined old buildings. As a result, they come to disrespect the Church, and gravitate toward evil.
Lewis suggests that the human disrespect for Christianity is based on a failure of imagination—humans can’t imagine the full history of the Church, but instead see only what’s right in front of their faces. This again implies that logic—along with a dutiful study of history—lead one to embrace Christianity, not reject it.
Wormwood should try to control where the patient sits when he goes to church, Screwtape advises. The patient is a fool, meaning that he confuses Christianity with the specific Christians he sees: old, ugly, or foolish people. As a result, the patient will come to disrespect Christianity if, when he goes to church, he sees people of this kind. Screwtape reminds Wormwood that he’ll have plenty of time to show his patient “clarity” when the patient is in Hell.
There are times when Screwtape is against God and Christianity, but there are also a few times when even he agrees with C.S. Lewis. Here, for instance, he calls the patient a “fool” for failing so see that Christianity consists of much more than the individual Christians in a church. In such moments it’s as if Lewis is saying, “this is so obvious, even a devil can see it!”
One of Wormwood’s most important weapons is disappointment, Screwtape reminds him. All humans feel disappointment in the moment after they’ve bravely begun a new project—which could be marriage, school, or, in the patient’s case, Christianity. This disappointment occurs because the Enemy creates humans to be free. Freedom is both an advantage and a disadvantage for the devils: they have more of an opportunity to tempt humans to Hell, but if humans freely convince themselves of Christianity, then devils have a much harder time swaying them in the future.
Here Lewis addresses the moral problems of freedom for the first time in his novel. On one hand, freedom keeps humans away from Christian salvation, because they have the opportunity to move toward sin and Satan. At the same time, the fact that humans can sin makes it more impressive when they don’t—and this makes their reward from God greater. There is a quote from John Milton, whom Lewis mentions in his book, about this idea: “sufficient to have stood yet free to fall.” It is because humans are “free to fall” that Screwtape and Wormwood devote so much time to tempting them.
As the patient sits in church, looking at the odd, ugly people around him, it might occur to him that it doesn’t matter what these people look like, or how they behave. Screwtape acknowledges that this is a very obvious thought. Nevertheless, Wormwood must keep the patient from thinking it. He should fill the patient with a smug sense of superiority to his neighbors, Screwtape concludes.
Again, Lewis and Screwtape accept the same facts—the only difference being that Screwtape treats the facts in a Satanic way, while Lewis uses them to support Christianity. In either case, the message is simple: one can’t simply dismiss Christianity, as so many people do, on the basis that individual Christians are imperfect.