Screwtape reprimands Wormwood for writing him a letter about the war in Europe, including lots of details about mortality and destruction of various cities. Wormwood has written, gleefully, that there will probably be air raids in the town where the patient lives. Screwtape angrily reminds Wormwood that the patient’s death would be a disaster—his soul is so pious at the moment that if he is killed now then God will have defeated the devils. Screwtape suggests that Wormwood has spent too much time around humans: he’s echoing their belief that death is the worst thing and survival the best. Screwtape reminds Wormwood that this “human prejudice” is nonsense.
The final letters of Lewis’s novel are concerned with arguably the most terrifying problem humans are capable of discussing—the problem of death. Lewis begins by boldly claiming that death is actually the least terrifying problem humans are faced with. Death may seem horrible from our perspective, but from a divine perspective it leads to an eternal life in Heaven, and so should be welcomed when it comes—provided one’s soul is safe.
Screwtape hopes that the patient will survive the air raids so that he will enter middle age, which is an excellent time for temptation. So far, God has protected the patient from the temptations of youth, but those of middle age are arguably even more dangerous for humanity. Middle age can be a time of great pain and disillusionment: love wanes, beauty declines, and often loneliness grows.
It’s ironic, Lewis believes, that we think of young people as being the most susceptible to temptation. Arguably, it is middle-aged and elderly people who are most at risk of corruption, because they have had more time to become set in their sinful ways and grow dissatisfied with life.
Screwtape continues that old age is an even more dangerous time for humanity. Because God created men to live in Heaven, they find it difficult to live on Earth. Thus, if humans live to be 70, then they are often miserable in their final decades of life, meaning that it’s easy for devils to tempt them.
Humanity’s desire for Heaven is so enormous, Screwtape suggests, that they spend great energy and effort trying to build Heaven on Earth. This is the explicit purpose of eugenics, politics, Communism, psychology, and science. It is often the elderly and experienced who think themselves most qualified for these utopian projects, but their sense of qualification is usually nonsensical. A genuinely great philosopher once wrote that “Experience is the mother of illusion,” but luckily for the devils, this philosopher is now very out of fashion.
One of the main fallacies of human society, Lewis believes, is to attach some inherent value to experience, and therefore to old age. The elderly may think they have everything figured out on earth, but this just makes them forget about Heaven—and they are given extra authority and respect because of their experience. The result is that the “experienced” often do great damage with worldly philosophies like Darwinism and Communism.
Screwtape concludes that devils are only ever able to tempt a minority of human beings. Most humans die in infancy, and of those who don’t, many of them die very young. With this is mind, Screwtape hopes, on Wormwood’s behalf, that the patient survives and lives into old age, so that Wormwood will have ample opportunity to corrupt his soul.
Lewis reverses the usual perception of human life, turning tragedy into miracle. The fact that so many humans die at an early age, he insists, is actually a blessing, because this means that more humans go to Heaven. The more time a human spends on earth, the more opportunity they have to be corrupted.