Clive Staples Lewis was one of the most influential writers of his time. He wrote over thirty books, including the wildly popular Chronicles of Narnia series, but none of his works were perhaps more powerful and unique than The Screwtape Letters.
The Screwtape Letters are exactly that… letters - a compilation of stolen correspondence between a demon named Screwtape and his young nephew named Wormwood. Wormwood - who's also a demon - has just been assigned the human “subject” that he is personally responsible for coaxing to hell. If he hasn’t brought his subject to damnation by the time his days on earth are over, he will have failed his mission.
Screwtape, with his extensive experience in the field, has much to teach Wormwood if he hopes to have an effective campaign. In the art luring his subject away from the Enemy (God) and into the clutches of 'Our Father Below' (Satan), there are many effective tactics to keep human beings on their heels.
Screwtape implores his nephew to discourage any and all desire that isn’t sin. He encourages him to get his subject to believe that the truth is relative. He even urges him to coerce the subject’s mind into nothingness, where he neither feels nor believes nor hopes in anything, because ultimately, life is meaningless.
The most important lesson for a young demon to learn, however, is the importance of remaining hidden. If their human subjects ever knew that demons existed, their power would be forever lost.
“They find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes,” says Screwtape. “Keep pressing home on the ordinariness of things. 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.”
The style with which Lewis delivers this message – that the devil is a liar and the king of all lies – is perfectly effective and wildly entertaining.
I can understand that dealing with things of the spiritual realm can feel disconcerting and spooky. We often leave it to reside in the “No Fly” zone. Sometimes it feels safer to not address it. Wrong. That’s exactly what Screwtape would want us to believe.
In the words of C.S. Lewis: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased with both errors.”
The devil is a liar. And so is Screwtape.
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