Screwtape has learned that the Germans are certain to bomb the patient’s community, and that the patient, due to his “duties,” will be in the most dangerous part of the city. With this in mind, he tells Wormwood that he must produce a sin in the patient’s mind. This sin could be cowardice, or courage followed by pride, or racist hatred of Germany.
Although it seems as if the patient is in grave danger, he is actually, in Lewis’s estimation, now “safer” than he has ever been. He is close to death, and thus Heaven, and he is focused on virtuous duty. Screwtape and Wormwood are getting desperate, and their attempts to corrupt the patient are increasingly clumsy.
Of the sins that Wormwood could instill in the patient, Screwtape encourages Wormwood to avoid pride, because this would involve filling the patient with courage first, and devils don’t know how to create virtue of any kind. Hatred, on the other hand, the devils can produce easily. The challenge for Wormwood will be to make the patient identify with his friends and loved ones enough to despise the Germans who are trying to kill them, but not so much that the patient learns to selflessly forgive his enemies and love them, too.
Lewis, psychologically perceptive as ever, shows how a seemingly virtuous feeling—love for one’s family—can devolve into a highly sinful feeling—hatred for people who are unlike oneself. Implicit in Lewis’s thinking is the idea that the remedy for racism is more love: racism is a failure to love all people equally.
Screwtape considers the possibility that Wormwood could fill the patient with cowardice. Cowardice is one of the only sins that Western society has not learned to glamorize and celebrate. One of the reasons for this is that cowardice is often followed by genuine self-hatred, which leads to humility and personal growth. This leads to an irritating dilemma for devils: if they promote justice and peace, then they are serving God. If, however, they promote chaos and war, then in the ensuing violence, millions of people will discover their cowardice, and thus acquire humility and faith. Either way, the devils are helping God. In general, Screwtape continues, God creates a dangerous world because it is only in a world of this kind that truly moral, pious people can live.
Screwtape illustrates the huge disadvantage that devils face when they try to fight against God. This only reinforces what has been obvious all along (and what should surely be obvious to all devils, if they exist): one is always guaranteed to lose a war with God. In order to corrupt humanity, devils wind up inadvertently doing good—in this case, filling humans with loyalty, humility, and piety. It’s strange (and impressive) that Lewis has managed to make a suspenseful, well-plotted novel when, essentially, we already know how it’s going to end. God is all-powerful and all-knowing, so he always wins.
Because Wormwood cannot safely fill the patient with cowardice, he must adopt a subtler tactic. In a moment of panic, Wormwood must fill the patient’s mind with a long list of possible courses of action he could take. In this way, the patient will never actually lapse into cowardice, and thus humility, but he will also train himself to think that he has something other than God to “fall back on,” namely, superstition and elaborate plans and courses of action. Screwtape concludes by reminding Wormwood that convincing the patient to feel fear is entertaining, but not enough to bring him away from God—fear itself is not a sin.
As we reach the end of the book, Screwtape becomes increasingly apprehensive, and here, his advice to Wormwood repeats what he said in earlier chapters. Once again, he tells Wormwood to fill the patient with multiple, competing ideas about what could happen to him. It’s intriguing that Screwtape ends by observing that fear itself isn’t a sin. Here, more than anywhere else in the novel, Screwtape speaks with C.S. Lewis’s “voice.” Lewis is reminding us that it’s okay to be afraid.