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A milestone in the history of popular theology, The Screwtape Letters is an iconic classic on spiritual warfare and the dynamics of temptation.
This profound and striking narrative takes the form of a series of letters from Screwtape, a devil high in the Infernal Civil Service, to his nephew Wormwood, a junior colleague engaged in his first mission on earth, trying to secure the damnation of a young man who has just become a Christian. Although the young man initially looks to be a willing victim, he changes his ways and is "lost" to the young devil.
Dedicated to Lewis's friend and colleague J. R. R. Tolkien, The Screwtape Letters is a timeless classic on spiritual conflict and the psychology of temptation which are part of our religious experience.
The Screwtape Letters
My dear Wormwood,
I note what you say about guiding your patient's reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naïve? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy's clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily 'true' or 'false', but as 'academic' or 'practical', 'outworn' or 'contemporary', 'conventional' or 'ruthless'. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous — that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about.
The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle on to the Enemy's own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient's reason; and once it is awake, who canforesee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it 'real life' and don't let him ask what he means by 'real'.
Remember, he is not, like you, a pure spirit. Never having been a human (Oh that abominable advantage of the Enemy's!) you don't realise how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the British Museum. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years' work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line for when I said 'Quite. In fact much too important to tackle at the end of a morning,' the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added 'Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,' he was already half way to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man's head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of 'real life' (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all 'that sort of thing' just couldn't be true. He knew he'd had a narrow escape and in later years was fond of talking about 'that inarticulate sense for actuality which is our ultimate safeguard against the aberrations of mere logic'. He is now safe in Our Father's house.
You begin to see the point? Thanks to processes which we set at work in them centuries ago, they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes. Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things. Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can't touch and see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists. If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don't let him get away from that invaluable 'real life'. But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is 'the results of modern investigation'. Do remember you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!
Your affectionate uncle
ScrewtapeThe Screwtape Letters. Copyright (c) by C. Lewis . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted May 23, 2010
The Screwtape Letters makes you think in a fashion that is unexpected. C.S. Lewis puts into words the unnoticed ideas and processes that go on everyday. The indirect (everything in the Screwtape Letters is indirect) messages concerning morality and faith are still valid today. It is eerie to realize that the same battles over worldliness have gone on since time began.
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Posted September 15, 2009
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Posted March 16, 2009
The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, consists of a series of correspondence between Screwtape, an administrator of relatively high (or, from his point of view, low) position in Satan's bureaucracy; and his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter just graduated from "temptation college," as it were. These letters -or at least those of Screwtape to Wormwood, we never read the actual replies- concern Wormwood's attempts to secure an ordinary man's soul for hell. This demonic point of view makes for an interesting read.
One note about the book is how, due to the viewpoint, there is a complete reversal of good and bad. Screwtape regards human "virtues" as exceedingly detrimental to the cause, and vices just their opposite. Satan becomes "our father below," and God as we know him is "the Enemy." If Screwtape recommends that Wormwood ought to encourage something in his Patient's (the person he is assigned to, and the human focus of the book) life, then we, as people, ought to discourage it. (Hence, Screwtape's being "low" in his master's service, mentioned earlier.) At first, this can be rather confusing; "Screwtape's black is our white." (Lewis, the forward.) It takes a moment to change back, transforming "good" back into bad, so that his "advice" can become helpful to the reader. However, after becoming used to the style, one can easily execute this reversal without much thought.
I found the book to be just fantastic. It is chock full of advice to aid the common Christian on their way, and I for one believe it is one book besides the Bible itself that every Christian should read. Of course, this overwhelmingly positive perception might not prove true for all. Lewis' very 20th century-British style might prove less accessible for some; and what seems to be of infinite importance to one might appear rather insignificant to someone else. Others still might think it just plain weird. But that does not change it for me; after initially picking up the book I have read it through three times and promptly proceeded to order a C.S. Lewis 'essentials' paperback box-set.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 20, 2012
In the reading of the book one is whisked away as if he was Uncle Screwtape's pupil himself. Wonderful book to wake you up to how the other side thinks.
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Posted December 10, 2013
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"It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out..." When people picture temptation, they usually picture a man with horns, red skin, and a pitchfork standing on their shoulder and whispering in their ear, maybe pausing to giggle or argue with the angel that is always standing on the opposite shoulder. But to C.S. Lewis, temptation was a business, a department of Hell with its own hierarchy ("Lowerarchy"), positions, and rules. The Screwtape Letters chronicles the letters between Screwtape, an under-secretary in Hell, and his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter trying to lead an average British man astray. In these letters, Screwtape advises Wormwood on how best to corrupt the man, who they call "the patient", as well as offering some general advice on steering the human soul towards Hell. At first glance, the book would seem like the farthest thing from Christian literature. But after reading it, I can say that The Screwtape Letters is the most compelling argument for Christianity I've ever encountered.
When I first started reading the book, I knew it would be praising Christianity. It was C.S. Lewis after all, and a book about leading humans away from "the right path". I figured it would be a bunch of thinly veiled praises of God and Christianity in general. But the book really isn't about Christianity. It's about human nature, and the struggle for humans to look beyond themselves and their problems. The whole book is actually a beautiful example of antithesis, showing the reader what is right by promoting what is clearly wrong. The book actually addressed a lot of criticisms of Christianity, like the ease of conversion and the corruption of the Church. Instead of promoting Christianity above all else, Lewis instead encouraged a more charitable and humble attitude in general, saying that, not the patient's religion, is what got him into Heaven. Of course, the book does include plenty of Christian ideas, but they're all presented in a positive way, like when Lewis says, "We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons."
Even though the language is tough and the philosophical concepts can be hard to digest, I would recommend this book. It's a stimulating look at the complex motivations and behaviors of good and evil, and it praises the appropriate use of religion without getting too denominational. C.S. Lewis is a beautiful writer, and what he writes about morality and God's infinite love is more compelling than any evangelical sermon. I'm a stout atheist, and my beliefs haven't changed after reading this book. However, I feel like I'm a little more conscious of what I think about others and how I live my life thanks to this book. And I don't think anyone can criticize that.
Posted February 25, 2011
Posted January 2, 2011
Posted December 2, 2010
This book made me think, which is generally a good thing. The letters made me view life in a completely different way. Some of the lessons contained in these pages still ring true today and could explain a lot of the issues that society seems to be having right now if we would but listen. The only reason I couldn't give this a 5 star rating is because after awhile the complex nature of the material got a little tedious to read, especially when you're not completely alert or focused.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 11, 2010
The Screwtape Letters is a book that I would recommend for all, but it would be really helpful to people who dont quite understand how and why things happen with such a great GOD around. This book helped really understand how often the decisions that we make or rationalizations are not always our true thoughts but thoughts put into our head for a bigger cause, the cause: TO KEEP US AWAY FROM GOD.
I was able to see by the different scenarios that Mr. Lewis set up how often we are being manipulated and we dont even realize it. It made me more aware of how important it is to remain close to GOD. It put into perspective that everytime I choose to do things wrong the Enemy gets the glory and who wants that! I want GOD to get His glory because He is the one that gives me everything. Mr. Lewis was able to show me this in Screwtapes letters and how eager the enemy wants to destroy any happiness and the lengths he will go to do so.
This is a must read!! My only issue was due to the age of the story the English used was difficult to follow at times but not to the extent that i couldnt enjoy it!
Posted May 5, 2010
I've read The Screwtape Letters many times and never fail to profit from it. It is hugely entertaining, can be read in short doses, and no matter how many times one reads it, one has a shock of recognition. "That's me Lewis is talking about!" It is a psychological masterpiece. I also recommend John Cleese's superb reading on CD, and (if you're in or around New York City in the month of May) the Off-Broadway show.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 5, 2005
I thought that this book had great theology and allowed the reader, if they were open to it, to see many things about Christianity. I would recommend this book to any christian or borderline christian that I know, young or old.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 27, 2004
Posted May 6, 2003
This book is a great way to show how demons would think. it shows ways that demons would try to munpilate us and how we should prepare. i suggest this to book to readers that would be able to understand and comprehend well.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 22, 2002
I read and re-read this book time and time again! Years ago a priest gave me a copy of it and that began a lifelong love of this work. The very complex issues of good and evil are touched so elequently here that I think everyone should read this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 28, 2002
Lewis was a strange man. I say 'strange' in the sense that he was so insightful. How he did it, I'll never know. The Screwtape Letters is wonderfully insightful and such an important work. The humorous style takes the wind out of the Devil's sails. If you fear Satan, you won't after reading this book. You will only know his cunning and his cheap trickery. You can learn a lot from a demon!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 30, 2002
This is a fantastic story by 2 masters: C.S. Lewis shows the gritty psychology of Christianity's rubber meeting life's road with broad comic strokes. Then John Cleese brings the story alive from the evil spirit's dark and diabolical perch, ready to pounce on humanity (a.k.a. 'the patient') at all times. A true fight to the death, and beyond.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 27, 2001
Written as helpful letters from a demon to his nephew, The Screwtape Letters gives a hell's-eye-view of how satan captures souls. Do not be leary of the subject of this book. Within it's pages you will find some of the most helpful insights you can find on how to overcome temptation. One of the best books I have read on the personal struggle to overcome evil. I very highly recommend this book. A MUST READ for any Lewis fan or Christian.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 2, 2001
Entertaining and profoundly helpful, The Screwtape Letters is the best of practical Christianity. John Cleese has the perfect voice for a senior tempter sending advice to an inexperienced subordinate. If you want to be preached at, some other book would probably be better.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 11, 2011
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Posted August 16, 2011
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