Screwtape Lessons

Lessons from The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis:

Chapter 1: 

– Demons can read humans’ minds, but not what God says to them.  A demon said, “I saw a train of thought in his mind…. One can never quite overhear what He says to them.”

– We should not dwell so much on sensory perceptions.

– Beware of falling from grace (losing temporal fellowship with God).  “…hundreds of these adult converts have been reclaimed after a brief sojourn in the Enemy’s camp and are now with us.”

– Beware of the unpardonable sin (losing eternal fellowship with God).  “…you can finally secure his soul, he will then be yours forever.”

– Satan’s only potential power over us is in this life, not the hereafter.  “If he dies now, you lose him.  If he survives the war, there is always hope.”  i.e., Satan can always “hope” to use unbelievers and wayward Christians for his purposes in this life, but not so in the afterlife.

– Satan’s desire is to destroy any real biblical truth that one may have built up.  “…unravelling their souls from Heaven…”

– God wants us to freely choose to love and obey him–not just to be robots.  “Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them.”

Chapter 2: 

Don’t be a “churchman”–impressed with buildings and liturgy.

– We are all capable of deception and craftiness.  “…a human saying things with the express purpose of offending and yet having a grievance when offence is taken.”

Chapter 3: 

– The demons promote domestic hatred through simple daily annoyances and irritations.

– Is there some sort of family relationship among demons–uncle, nephew, etc.?

Chapter 4: 

– The demons promote prayer as “the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood; supplication only; clever and lazy.  Bodily position in prayer makes a difference–Whatever our bodies do affects our souls.  We should pray to God as He knows Himself to be; not as what we think He is.  We should pray with real nakedness of the soul.  Pray to glorify God.

Chapter 5: 

– We should divert attention from ourselves to values and causes which we believe to be higher than the self.  “…suffering is an essential part of what He calls Redemption.”  Self-sacrifice is a key to the Christian life.

Chapter 6: 

– We should be concerned with what we do, not with what will happen to us.  We should fill our minds with virtue, not worry.

– Religion can be a Christian’s downfall.  “Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours–and the more ‘religious’… the more securely ours.”

Chapter 7: 

– Use everything to glorify God.

– Satan understands that discouragement tends to make us lose our fervor, and we get overly carried away with emotional highs.  On undulation:  “… to be in time means to change…the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks…  He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs–to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish.  It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.  Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best…  He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.”

– Satan is no match for our perseverance of faith.  “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

Chapter 8: 

– How we handle the troughs reveals what we truly believe.

Chapter 9: 

– Recognize life’s troughs–undulation–as temporary.

Chapter 10: 

– We have a tendency to fool others (adapt to each group), as well as ourselves.

– Satan recognizes the power of laughter, joy, fun, jokes, and flippancy.

– Demons hate music.

Chapter 11: 

– We should laugh from joy, not from flippancy.

– Satan recognizes our short attention spans.  “You can make him do nothing at all for long periods.  You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room (TV!).”  “…I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”

– Satan would like to separate us from God.  “The only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy.”  It’s interesting that, in biblical terms, separation means death.

Chapter 12: 

– Small sins–habits (e.g., idleness, foolishness)–separate us from God.

– Satan realizes how we tend to be very shallow, and how we submit to peer pressure, and he uses these vices to his advantage.  “… read a book he really enjoyed, because he enjoyed it and not in order to make clever remarks about it to his new friends.”  “…truly and disinterstedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring two-pence what others say about it.”

Chapter 13: 

– We should do what we enjoy, the ultimate of which should be glorifying God, without regard to what others think about it.

– Satan knows how susceptible we are to pride, and how we’re even proud of being humble.  “‘By jove!  I’m being humble’, and almost immediately pride–pride at his own humility–will appear.”  “…keep the man concerned with himself…”  “…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.”

Chapter 14: 

– Be truly humble, and selfless, and don’t think about your own value.

– Satan would like to deceive us about the importance of the relationship of this current life to eternity.  “For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.”

Chapter 15: 

– We should live in the present–which is closest to eternity, and forget the past and future.

– Church attendance should be all about learning Bible doctrine and edification.  “What He wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise–does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going.”

Chapter 16: 

– We should find a good church, stay there, and not be judgmental.

Chapter 17: 

– We should reject vanity.

– Satan knows how vulnerable we are to be in competition about anything, even with unbelievers.  This can destroy the effectiveness of our spiritual gifts.  “‘To be’ means ‘to be in competition’.”

Chapter 18: 

– We should honor true love (not competition) in marriage and family.

Chapter 19: 

– Love pursues another’s well-being.

Chapter 20: 

Choose a mate based upon spiritual compatibility–not upon sexual taste.

– We tend to resent claims on our own time.  Disruptions anger us because we regard time as our own, and feel that it is being stolen.  Satan plays on “the sense of ownership,” when we fail in our stewardship for God.   “…the God on whom I have a claim for my distinguished services and whom I exploit from the pulpit–the God I have done a corner in.”

Chapter 21: 

– We tend to deny ownership when it’s convenient for us.

Chapter 22: 

– The indwelling Holy Spirit fends off demons.

Chapter 23: 

– We believe in Christ, because He is true.

Chapter 24: 

– We believe Christianity because it’s true–not because of disbelief in all other faiths.

– We tend to desire change, and we desire change to be pleasurable.  Demons twist this into seeking novelty. “The humans live in time, and experience reality successively.”  “He wants men…to ask very simple questions:  is it righteous?  Is it prudent?  Is it possible?  Now if we can keep men asking ‘Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time?  Is it progressive or reactionary?  Is this the way that History is going?’ they will neglect the relevant questions.”  “For the descriptive adjective ‘unchanged’ we have substituted the emotional adjective ‘stagnant’.”

Chapter 25: 

– Our faith should be immutable.

– Satan wants to manipulate our emotional and sexual desires to his advantage over time.  He is patient. “… courtship is the time for sowing those seeds which will grow up ten years later into domestic hatred.”  “… that the girl does not always notice just how unselfish he is being.”

Chapter 26: 

– Love your spouse unselfishly.

– Satan attempts to dissuade us from prayer.  “If the thing he prays for doesn’t happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don’t work; if it does happen, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical cause which led up to it, and ‘therefore it would have happened anyway’, and thus a granted prayer becomes just as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective.”

– Satan attempts to dissuade us from prayer, and any other biblical action, by encouraging us to believe in deism, and by warping the doctrine of predestination.  “If you tried to explain to him that men’s prayers today are one of the innumerable coordinates with which the Enemy harmonizes the weather of tomorrow, he would reply that then the Enemy always knew men were going to make those prayers and, if so, they did not pray freely but were predestined to do so.  And he would add that the weather on a given day can be traced back through its causes to the original creation of matter itself…”

– Satan attempts to dissuade us any biblical action, by warping the doctrine of free will.  “…the total problem of adapting the whole spiritual universe to the whole corporeal universe; that creation in its entirety operates at every point of space and time, or rather that their kind of consciousness forces them to encounter the whole, self-consistent creative act as a series of successive events.  Why that creative act leaves room for their free will is the problem of problems, the secret behind the Enemy’s nonsense about ‘Love’.  How it does so is no problem at all; for the Enemy does not foresee the humans making their free contributions in a future, but sees them doing so in His unbounded Now.”

– Satan attempts to preoccupy us with arguments about the establishment of the canon of Scripture rather than its contents.  On reading books:  “…the one question he never asks is whether it is true.  He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the ‘present state of the question’.”

Chapter 27: 

– We need to view prayer from an eternal perspective.

– We need to focus on heavenly rewards–not earthly ones (money).  “Prosperity knits a man to the World.”  “… being really at home in earth, which is just what we want.”  “…attachment to the earth.”  “The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather.  You see, it is so hard for those creatures to persevere.”

Chapter 28: 

– We need to attach to Heaven (the eternal), not to the earth (temporal).

– We need to view despair itself as a sin.  “…Despair is a greater sin than any of the sins which provoke it.”

Chapter 29: 

– We need to have courage and avoid despair.

Chapter 30: 

– Reality is what’s spiritual, not just what’s physical.

– Satan attempts to make us focus on the physical world and prevent us from focusing on the spiritual world.  “…all his doubts became, in the twinkling of an eye, ridiculous…”  “He had no faintest conception till that very hour of how (spirits and angels) would look, and even doubted their existence.  But when he saw them he knew that he had always known them and realized what part each one of them had played at many an hour in his life when he had supposed himself alone, so that now he could say to them, one by one, not ‘Who are you?’ but ‘So it was you all the time.’  All that they were and said at this meeting woke memories.  The dim consciousness of friends about him which had haunted his solitudes from infancy was now at last explained; that central music in every pure experience which had always just evaded memory was now at last recovered.”  “…a man who hears that his true beloved whom he has loved all his life and whom he had believed to be dead is alive and even now at his door.  He is caught up into that world where pain and pleasure take on transfinite values and all our arithmetic is dismayed.”

Chapter 31: 

– We need to realize that angels (/ guardian angels) help us.

– Satan warps the purpose of government.  In Screwtape’s “toast,” he twists the meaning of democracy into something like Communism; changing “the freedom for individuals to demonstrate our inequalities,” to “all men are indeed equal, and not really individuals.”

– On big and little sins, and thorough and halfway repentance:  There is often much subtlety and deceit accompanying and compromising our so-called repentance.  “It is in some ways more troublesome to track and swat an evasive wasp than to shoot, at close range, a wild elephant.  But the elephant is more troublesome if you miss.”

– Satan discourages education.  He wants us to remain ignorant.  “The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils.  That would be ‘undemocratic’.  These differences between the pupils–for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences–must be disguised.  This can be done on various levels.  At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks.  Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not.”  “…all education (will become) state education.”

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