Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

The Screwtape Letters: Letters from a Senior to a Junior DevilI feel like I'm falling behind in both blogging and reading, so I'm returning to my "favorite quotations" method of book blogging. I read The Screwtape Letters in an older paperback (published by A Mentor Book in 1988), but it looks like most paperback editions are out of print, or at least not readily available on Amazon. The image is not the same book that I read, but it was the best available. 

For those who are not familiar with the premise of the book, it is a series of letters from a senior demon named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, giving him advice on the management of his patient (human) so as to lure him away from the Enemy (God). For such a small book, it is extremely thought-provoking and insightful, not only of the human condition but also of the character and nature of God.

ON HUMAN RELATIONS: "Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother's utterances with the fullest and most oversensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him. Hence from every quarel they can both go away convinced, or very nearly convinced, that they are quite innocent." (11)

ON PRAYER: after giving examples of how humans tend to pray to a mental image of God, either figurative or literal, Screwtape writes, "But whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it - to the thing that he has made, not to the Person who has made him...For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if ever he consciously directs his prayers 'Not to what I think thou art but to what thou knowest thyself to be,' our situation is, for the moment, desperate." (16)

ON PLEASURE: "Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy's ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures; all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures wheich our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pelasurable." (34)

"The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about it, is by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack." (56)

"[The Enemy] has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least - sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it's any use to us." (87)

ON LOSING SELF: "When [the Enemy] 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. Hence, while He is delighted to see them sacrificing even their innocent wills to His, He hates to see them drifting awy from their own nature for any other reason. And we should always encourage them to do so. The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting point, with which the Enemy has furnished him. (51)

ON PRIDE: "The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour's talents - or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things." (55)

ON TIME & ETERNITY: "The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them." (57)

ON THE IDEAL WOMAN: "...we are more and more directing the desires of men to something which does not exist - making the role of the eye in sexuality more and more important and at the same time making its demands more and more impossible. What follows you can easily forecast!" (79)

ON UNSELFISHNESS: " can from the very outset teach a man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them but that he may be unselfish in forgoing them. That is a great point gained. Another great help, where the parties concerned are male and female, is the divergence of view about Unselfishness which we have built up between the sexes. A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others...Thus while the woman thinks of doing good offices and the man of respecting other people's rights, each sex, without any obvious unreason, can and does regard the other as radically selfish." (105-106)

ON HUMAN FREEDOM & DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY: "...the Enemy does not foresee the humans making their free contributions in the future, but sees them doing so in His unbounded Now. And obviously to watch a man doing something is not to make him do it." (112-113)

ON GUILT: "There is, of course, always the chance, not of chloroforming the shame, but of aggravating it and producing Despair. This would be a great triumph. It would show that he had believed in, and accepted, the Enemy's forgiveness of his other sins only because he himself did not fully feel their sinfulness - that in respect of the one vice which he really understands in its full depth of dishonour he cannot see, nor credit, the Mercy. But I fear you have already let him get too far in the Enemy's school, and he knows that Despair is a greater sin than any of the sins which provoke it." (122-123)


Carrie said...

I ADORED this book when I first read it and it's been ages. Your quotes make me want to race back to it!

This is another book I keep saying I'm going to get back to and haven't. I need to stop doing this to myself and just pick up the books!

Anonymous said...

Ditto for me.

There are insights from this book that just stay with me. I read somewhere that Lewis found it the "darkest" writing experience for him, but I'm glad he went through with it and finished it.

Caniad said...

I'm definitely going to have to read this. Thanks for the review!

Page Turner said...

Carrie & writer2b - I read this several years ago, and I was surprised at how much I had forgotten. If I were to start a list of books to read yearly, this would be on it. And since it only took me two evenings to finish it, it's a realistic goal, too!

I think it would be very difficult to write such a book. I even found it hard to switch my mind to thinking backwards (as in good is evil and evil good) while reading it.

Page Turner said...

Caniad - it's definitely worth it!

Pam Elmore said...

I love this method of book review and am swiping it! Thanks, "Page"!

Page Turner said...

Pam - swipe away! It works great for books like this where the quotations speak for themselves.

This was my original plan when I started blogging, but then I wondered if my lengthy quotations infringed on copyright laws... I still don't know the answer to that question, so I try to use it sparingly and provide bibliographic information.

Framed said...

I loved this book. Now I am reading "The Great Divorce". It's not as entertaining as "The Screwtape Letters" but just as thought provoking.

Richard Lee Terry said...

"The laborer is worthy of his reward," zmall as it may be from Amazon.