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Thoughts on The Screwtape Letters

Comprising most of Lewis' writings.

Thoughts on The Screwtape Letters

Postby Peepiceek » 30 Dec 2007, 20:38

I'm happy to report I have taken my first tenative step outside of my CS Lewis comfort zone. Until now I had only read CON albeit several times. It becomes abundantly clear to me that CON was indeed written for children and Screwtape was most assuredly not. I had no Idea Jack wrote on this intellectual level. I'm reminded of my transition from high school to freshman college where I learned I was not half so smart as I thought I was.

I find the book primarily disturbing on a religious level well beyond the itellectual level of giving my dictionary a sound workout. I thought I had it all figured out, that is to say I followed the simple three step plan to salvation. If it is to be believed that each of us has out own Wormwood to deal with my first reaction was: I'm doomed. I seem to have fallen into many of the pitfalls Screwtape is describing. Hopefully I'm am at least correct in my belief that in the end it will come down to a simple decision to look Christ in the face and love Him or run away into the darkness.

More to come. I have finished letter 23 and may immediately reread the book when finished for further comprehension. Perhaps I should record my thoughts one letter at a time.
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Re: Thoughts on The Screwtape Letters

Postby Karen » 30 Dec 2007, 20:45

Peepiceek wrote:I followed the simple three step plan to salvation


There's a simple three-step plan? I'm not being facetious, I have truly never heard of such a thing....
I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library. -- Jorge Luis Borges
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Postby Peepiceek » 30 Dec 2007, 21:23

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Postby Paul F. Ford » 30 Dec 2007, 22:19

Peepiceek,

Please do me/us a favor, while your first reading of The Screwtape Letters is still fresh, make note of the words, phrases, and concepts you did not understand; and send them to me for my annotated version.

In return, I promise to address each of them in this forum.

Gratefully,
Paul
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Re: Thoughts on The Screwtape Letters

Postby Tuke » 30 Dec 2007, 23:17

Peepiceek wrote:.... If it is to be believed that each of us has out own Wormwood to deal with my first reaction was: I'm doomed. I seem to have fallen into many of the pitfalls Screwtape is describing. Hopefully I'm am at least correct in my belief that in the end it will come down to a simple decision to look Christ in the face and love Him or run away into the darkness.
....
Though not stated, I'm confident Lewis had Romans VIII.31 and I John IV.4 in mind as the key to unlocking Screwtape (which is looking Christ in the face and loving Him, as you say).
"The 'great golden chain of Concord' has united the whole of Edmund Spenser's world.... Nothing is repressed; nothing is insubordinate. To read him is to grow in mental health." The Allegory Of Love (Faerie Queene)

2 Corinthians IV.17 The Weight of Glory
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Postby Paul F. Ford » 31 Dec 2007, 00:46

Good response, Tuke! You remind me to tell Peepiceek that Lewis is NOT teaching that each of us has a guardian devil. Wormwood is part of the fiction of The Screwtape Letters.

Thank God we are ALL under the Mercy.

Blessings,
Paul
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Postby rusmeister » 31 Dec 2007, 02:16

FTR, Screwtape speaks of the patient as being Christian. He never speaks of him as being 'saved'. Indeed, the entire battle seems to indicate that the patient is not saved until the end.
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Postby Peepiceek » 31 Dec 2007, 11:55

Paul, I would love to help out. I will immediately reread the book when I finish it and write down my thoughts on each letter as I finish it. May that not be construed as flooding. Tuke, you are then confirming then that I am correct? That Lewis' point is that the devils are ridiculous and impuissant despite their intricate and overcomplicated plans to fuddle us because salvation is just as simple as I imagine and hope it to be? If Screwtape (the character) is to be believed Christianity is akin to brain surgery or rocket science and only a very wise and select few would ever make it through alive. The passage you mention is very close to one of my personal favorites which gives me great hope that Screwtape despite his long-winded verbiage doesn't heve the first clue what he is about. I speak of First John 4:8 and that Screwtape has not even the basest understanding of love, denying that it even exists and that God must be 'up to something' in creating us.
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Postby nomad » 01 Jan 2008, 01:27

It's been a long time since I read SL, but I think it would be safe to say that Screwtape has a very good understanding of certain aspects of human nature - the self-contradiction, selfishness, insecurities, etc. - but, as you say, doesn't understand things like love and doesn't have any idea who Christ is or what he is capable of.
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Postby Tuke » 01 Jan 2008, 01:44

Peepiceek wrote:.... Tuke, you are then confirming then that I am correct? That Lewis' point is that the devils ....
About your approach to Christ and your link to the three step plan of salvation, yes. Concerning Lewis' point about the devils and Screwtape in particular, I feel inadequate to say much. I'm not aware of a better insight than Lewis' own prefatory comments.
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What about those devils?

Postby larry gilman » 27 Mar 2008, 20:05

Re. Lewis's attitude toward the reality of devils and how this relates to the contents of Screwtape:

Wormwood and Screwtape, as characters, are not only fictional but satirical: not speculative devils, but humorous fictions. But in his 1961 Preface to Screwtape, Lewis is at pains to make clear that he really does believe in devils. This creates, I think, a puzzle: for this fine book reads to me as a study in the psychology of ethics, not as a manual of supernatural warfare. That is, the human thoughts and desires attributed (in the fantasy) to Wormwood's intervention are such as might arise in any human mind: rationalizations, weaslings, egotisms, all the rest. There seems no need to posit devils to explain such things: we are sinners. But Lewis does believe in devils: he says so. So in what exact sense are the book's devils fictional? They appear to be fictional in their particulars, real (on Lewis's view) in principle, and irrelevant in practice. For Lewis writes,

the question of my own opinion about devils, though proper to be answered once it was raised, is really of very minor importance for a reader of Screwtape. To those who share that opinion, my devils will be symbols of a concrete reality: to others, they will be personifications of abstractions, and the book will be an allegory. But it makes little difference which way you read it. For of course its purpose was not to speculate about diabiolical life but to throw light from a new angle on the life of men. (Screwtape LEtters, Macmillan Paperbacks, 1968, p. xii)


But this is odd. For if we were actually in a state of continual psychic siege by devils who were empowered to alter our emotions and suggest rationalizations for sin (as Lewis seems to have believed, though I do not), then these facts would be a defining aspect of the "life of men," and the struggle with sin would be radically different than if all our "temptations" arose from the texture of our own selves. Not superficially, maybe: if a desire arises in me to steal a cookie from a toddler, I should deny it, never mind whether it comes from a real-world Wormwood or from the texture of my own fallen self. OK so far. But from there on out, things diverge. If sinful desires were devilish sabotage of the mind, one could do nothing about them, presumably, except resist the next sinful desire that was fed into the mind, and the next, and the next: whereas if they arose from the texture of one's own self, there would be the possibility of making choices that changed that texture so that the desires did not arise, or at least arose more weakly or less frequently. One's strategy would be different because the reality would be different.

So how can Lewis say that it makes "little difference" what one believes on this point? How can someone who believes in devils not be both "speculat[ing] about diabolical life" and throwing light on "the life of men" when he writes about the psychology of sin? If Lewis believed that "diabolical life" really impinges on "the life of men" how can he segregate one from the other as he claims to?

Maybe it comes to this: Lewis believed in devils (though he was at pains to say that he did not think Christians are obliged to: "My religion would not be in ruins were this opinion shown to be false," Screwtape vii). But it is not clear what he thought devils do to us (if anything). His above-quoted position on Screwtape seems to me to imply that he thought that whatever devils do, it is not very much -- namely, not enough to put us in a spiritually or psychologically or tactically distinct situation versus the case where we have only our own fallenness, our own demonic potential, to cope with. Devils are real, per Lewis, but make "little difference."

Huh!

Many oddities here. I am open to alternative ways of looking at these questions.

Sincerely,

Larry
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Postby archenland_knight » 08 Aug 2008, 07:12

I see a couple of thought processes running concurrently here, so I'm going to respond to the themes rather than to specific quotes.

First, if one believes that each human has a specific "guardian angel", then why would it be so hard to believe you have a "nemesis demon"?

Now, personally, I don't believe at all that humans are assigned individual guardian angels. It makes for great stories, but I don't see any support for it in scripture. In fact, what I see in scripture indicates that they operate on more of a "zone defense" than "man-to-man coverage".

However, I wouldn't say I can prove that, either.

Second, if you ever read anything in Lewis' work with which you disagree, it does not make you a heretic. Lewis was a hard-core Anglican ... straight up "Church of England". Unless you too are Anglican, he probably had many beliefs with which you would disagree. I know I disagree with quite a bit of what he said. But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy reading his work and taking wisdom and inspriation from it, even the parts I with which I disagree.

Third, I do believe that Lewis was saying that "Yes, this is how the devils work on our weeknesses". I think he believed, and I certainly believe, that devils watch for opportunities in our own weaknesses and own lusts, and have some power to strike at those points in us. The exact nature of this power I do not pretend to understand. I know only that the scriptures speak of it without explaining it in detail.

I am not suggesting that they can control our minds at all, but that they can attack and offer suggestions and rationalizations for our sins. We know that in the case of Judas, that satan actually entered into him, though we also know that by this point Judas had been in sin for some time, taking from the disciples' purse, and that he had left himself open to this kind of demonic influence.

1 Thessalonians 3:5 speaks of us being tempted by "the tempter", indicating that satan can influence tempations on humans. 1 Corinthians 7:5 speaks specifically of satan tempting through our lack of self control. In that verse, it is speaking specifically of sexual temptation, but I think the principal would apply to any temptation.

Most frightening of all is 1 Timothy 4:1

[quote="The Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 4:1]"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons."[/quote]

While v.2 says that "Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron," the liars must have gotten the doctrines from the demons mentioned in v. 1.

So yes, I think "Wormwoods" are very, very real. I think that like angels, they play a zone defense, but that makes them no less real, and no less dangerous.

However, the closer we are to God, the more time we spend in prayer and studying the scriptures, the stronger in us is the Power Of The Holy Spirit. And as you know, "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world." So, if you belong to Christ, fear no demonic influence, my friend. You will always have the final say in whether you will follow Christ or the flesh. It is always your choice.

Now, finally, much of the difficulty with SL that is being expressed in this thread comes from a confusion about the goal that Screwtape and Wormwood have. The "patient" has become a Christian, but S & W are determined to draw him away from Christ and essentially recapture his soul for the kingdom of hell. No one mentions it here, but in the book Screwtape is even seen to say that "Many of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojurn in the Enemy's camp."

I suspect that those of you who are bothered by this are from churches that teach either the doctrine of "Unconditional Eternal Security" (i.e. Once Saved Always Saved) or the more Calvinistic doctrine of "Perserverence of The Saints".

Now, while this thread is not the place to have a debate on the truth or falsehood of those doctrines, you must understand that Lewis did not hold to either of these doctrines. He made this very plain in his other works.

No, no! Please don't try to tell me why you belive these doctrines are true. That is not the issue this thread is addressing. The issue for this thread is that Lewis did not belive either of them.

Remember, as I said before, Lewis was a hard core Anglican. The best insight into his own beliefs can be found in "Mere Christianity". In MC he states that if you want to know what he personally believed, "... it is written in the Common Prayer Book."

He wasn't Baptist. He wasn't Reformed Presyterian. He certainly wasn't Pentecostal (like me). No, no. He was "Church of England" through and through, and an understanding of Anglican theology and practice helps in understanding his work.

The Church of England does not now, nor has it ever, taught, the doctrines of Unconditional Eternal Security or Perserverence of The Saints. (I know, there have been Calvinists within the CE that have taught the latter, but it has never been the teaching of that church.)

In fact, in "Mere Christianity", Lewis speaks very plainly of the possibility of a person, once saved, being able to "loose the Christ life". From his writings there can be no doubt that he believed that it was possible for a truly born-again, saved Christian to fall away and loose that salvation.

Again, if you disagree with Lewis on that (I don't) then you probably need to start another thread to talk about it. Let's not clutter up this one with it.

So, Lewis was writing from the perspective that Screwtape and Wormwood actually did have a shot at getting their patient back, and that Screwtape has actually succeeded in this before. You may disagree with him, but that was his perspective.

I hope that helps.
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Re: Thoughts on The Screwtape Letters

Postby StellerD » 17 Sep 2009, 05:55

Your not alone :) I just finished Screwtape letters yesterday and it made several of incredibly bad habits that have caused large depressions in my journey so obvious to me i will almost have to conciously make the same mistake in order for it to happen again. It included smugness about being Christian (believing myself to be above others), pushing several things bothering my concience that I need to pray about into the back files, Love distracting me from my spirituality, and the way I pray. And the way Lewis reinforced the fact he loves us so many times was also really encouraging.

Im so glad he wrote this, Its exactly what I needed to hear at this stage of my life.

Keep rereading it, theres a lot in here that can be easily missed the first or second time reading it!
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Re: Thoughts on The Screwtape Letters

Postby maralewisfan » 28 Oct 2009, 19:51

I think that this idea "zone defense" makes a lot of sense to me. I am doing a research paper on SL and the relevance to Christianity today. I have been re-reading book and looking through the Forums to help me in this effort.

Now, personally, I don't believe at all that humans are assigned individual guardian angels. It makes for great stories, but I don't see any support for it in scripture. In fact, what I see in scripture indicates that they operate on more of a "zone defense" than "man-to-man coverage".

This quote made me think of the part of the Toast where ST is talking about "Catch the bell-wether and his whole flock comes after him." (p. 194) We see this happening in celebrity way too often for my liking. Young girls trying to be like Paris or Lindsey or whoever is in fashion at the moment. It does not take a great stretch of the imagination to see this "zone attack" taking place everyday. I can only pray that we do have guardian angels in any modality to direct us.
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Re: Thoughts on The Screwtape Letters

Postby Bluegoat » 30 Oct 2009, 13:37

I think I am pretty much on the same page as what archenland_knight wrote (except that I am a hardcore straight-up Anglican.)

I do think that demons have some kind of influence on us. Aside from the NT stuff that has already quoted, we also have Job, and I think perhaps most importantly, the account of the Fall. And it seems clear to me we don't have much idea how this works, but that there may be some things we can do to make ourselves less vulnerable to it.

I heard a very interesting man on the radio who could, he said, "see" angels. I am usually very suspect about such things, but I actually found him quite plausible (perhaps I am becoming a romantic in my old age?! :stunned: ). When he talked about it to the interviewer, he said it wasn't really like they are located in a place, but more like they have a place, or perhaps a person, in their attention. This is rather how I have come to think of it, and I don't see why it would be different for fallen angels.

But I think Lewis is quite correct when he says too little or too much attention on angels are equally dangerous.
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