C. S. Lewis

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Understanding "The Screwtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis


In The Screwtape Letters, letters 16 and 17 discuss strategies for undermining faith through church consumerism and gluttony, respectively. Letters 18-20 focus on distorting love, emphasizing selfish love and shallow beauty. Letters 22-23 shift tactics due to the patient dating a Christian, targeting novelty and bitterness. The final letters address temptations during bombings, including pride, cowardice, and hatred, all aiming to hinder Christian growth.

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What are letters 16 and 17 about in C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters?

Letter 16 and 17 are masterful ways in which Screwtape advises Wormwood to treat the "patient." Just in case you did not know, these letters are from a higher level demon to a lower level demon to hinder people from deepening their faith. 

In letter 16, Screwtape advises Wormwood to get his subject to take the stance of a consumer. If a person church hops or shops, then he or she will become a critic rather than a worshipper. This is a great point, because a critic will not grow in faith. Moreover, Screwtape urges Wormwood to send him either to a liberal church whose minister does not believe in the Bible or a radically conservative church that believes in the Bible with literal precision. Both are distortions of orthodox Christianity, and both do not understand the importance of unity. Here is an excerpt:

Surely you know that if a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that "suits" him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.

In letter 17, Screwtape teaches Wormwood the power of gluttony. Gluttony does not have to be a desire for excessive amounts of food or things but a commitment to a person's appetite. If a person's appetites are the highest priority, then the person is a slave to himself and will never become a maturing Christian. Keep in mind a strong strand in Christian theology is about denying appetites. 

Here are the words of the letter:

The woman is in what may be called the "All-I-want"  state of mind. All she wants is a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled, or a slice of bread properly toasted. But she never finds any servant or any friend who can do these simple things "properly"—because her "properly" conceals an insatiable demand for the exact, and almost impossible, palatal pleasures which she imagines she remembers from the past...

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What is the meaning of C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters?

Letters 18-20 are about love. If Wormwood can misdirect his patient in his understanding of love, then the patient will go awry. Two points stand out. First, since all people are fallen, their love is also selfish. So, if Wormwood can work on that point and make the patient love himself in his pursuit of love, then Wormwood would have done his job well. Second, Screwtape reminds Wormwood that shallow concepts of beauty are a great way to cause a person to marry the wrong person for the wrong reasons. 

In letters 22-23 Screwtape is angry, because the patient is now dating a Christian woman. So, the tactics must change. Screwtape wants to attack the patient in a different way: the desire for novelty (letter 25) and bitterness in view of the perceived selfishness of other people (letter 26).

The last letters in your list concern the bombings that are about to take place in the city. With these bombings, Screwtape wants to cause temptation in a different way: prideful courage, shameful cowardice, or hatred of the Germans.

As you can see, these letters are attacks on Christians to prohibit them from growing in faith. 

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