The Screwtape Letters traces one Christian's growth in faith. Is this representative of the average Christian life? What stages of faith or spiritual experiences are common to most, if not all, Christians?
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The pitfalls that Screwtape details to his nephew, Wormwood, are indeed representative of the challenges all Christians will face as they move through life. Likewise, most adherents to the faith will follow a fairly predictable path (according to Lewis and other theologians).
1) New Conversions. In the second letter (chapter), Screwtape writes:
"I note with grave displeasure that your patient has become a Christian. Do not indulge the hope that you will escape the usual penalties; indeed, in your better moments, I trust you would hardly even wish to do so. In the meantime we must make the best of the situation. There is no need to despair; hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a I brief sojourn in the Enemy's camp and are now with us. All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favour."
2) Fundamentalism: Lack of critical thinking and unwillingness to challenge one's own belief system to test its merits works in the demons' favor. In letter XVI, Screwtape advises:
"What He wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise—does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going. (You see how grovelling, how unspiritual, how irredeemably vulgar He is!) This attitude,
especially during sermons, creates the condition (most hostile to our whole policy) in which platitudes can become really audible to a human soul. There is hardly any sermon, or any book, which may not be dangerous to us if it is
received in this temper. So pray bestir yourself and send this fool the round of the neighbouring churches as soon as possible. Your record up to date has not given us much satisfaction."
3) Skepticism/Doubt: When a human being reaches this stage of spiritual development, demons must be on alert. In Letter IX, Screwtape explains that the soul is not yet lost to them, however, should his minions follow this advice:
"But there is an even better way of exploiting the Trough; I mean through the patient's own thoughts about it. As always,the first step is to keep knowledge out of his mind. Do not let him suspect the law of undulation. Let him assume that the first ardours of his conversion might have been expected to last, and ought to have lasted, forever, and that his present dryness is an equally permanent condition. Having once got this misconception well fixed in his head, you may then proceed in various ways. It all depends on whether your man is of the desponding type who can be tempted to despair, or of the wishful-thinking type who can be assured that all is well. The former type is getting rare among the humans. If your patient should happen to belong to it, everything is easy. You have only got to keep him out of the way of experienced Christians (an easy task now-a-days), to direct his attention to the appropriate passages in scripture, and then to set him to work on the desperate design of recovering his old feelings by sheer will-power, and the game is ours. If he is of the more hopeful type, your job is to make him acquiesce in the present low temperature of his spirit and gradually become content with it, persuading himself that it is not so low after all. In a week or two you will be making him doubt whether the first days of his Christianity were not, perhaps, a little excessive. Talk to him about "moderation in all things". If you can once get him to the point of thinking that "religion is all very well up to a point", you can feel quite happy about his soul. A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing."
4) Mature Faith: Demons must always remember that God will eventually reward those who stay on the path. If a man reaches this stage, he is literally tried-and-true Christian. Screwtape warns Wormwood in Letter XIII to,
"Remember always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever."
And, of course, in the final letter (XXXI), Screwtape marvels at those they have lost, explaining to his nephew that even though the soul is still earthbound, he will not renege if this stage is reached. Finally, of this Christian Screwtape writes:
"Pains he may still have to encounter, but they embrace those pains. They would not barter them for any earthly pleasure. All the delights of sense,or heart, or intellect, with which you could once have tempted him, even the delights of virtue itself, now seem to him in comparison but as the half nauseous attractions of a raddled harlot would seem to a man who hears that his true beloved whom he has loved all his life and whom he had believed to be dead is alive and even now at his door. He is caught up into that world where pain and pleasure take on transfinite values and all our arithmetic is dismayed."
Source: Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters: Annotated Edition. New York: HarperOne, 2013. Print.
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