I happened upon C.S. Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters" last week. I expected to find insight, something vaguely interesting to read, and the ability to check it off my reading list. And while I did find insight and I am able to truthfully say I've read the book, I also found The Screwtape Letters to be extremely profound - there are phrases and statements that struck a chord so strongly with me, I couldn't comprehend how Lewis could have known to write about them. This book is a masterpiece, and there is a reason why it's so highly recommended.
For those who are not familiar, the Screwtape letters are a collection of letters supposedly written by a devil, or a tempter, named Screwtape. He is writing to his young nephew Wormtail, who is just learning the ways of tempting and leading people, or 'patients', away from God, or as Screwtape and his fellow devils call him, the Enemy. The result is a fascinating examination of the flaws of man. I recommend this book for all, spiritual or not- even though it is a bit more heavy material, the messages that are conveyed really make you re-examine all of your own interactions. I have compiled a few of the phrases that struck me to the core most deeply, simply because I think everyone should have to read these at least once:
1. "Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment" (21).
It is far too easy to fall into the habit of letting your current mood dictate your perception of your spiritual well-being, where in reality emotions do not dictate it whatsoever.
2. "There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human's mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them" (28).
This was one that really made me stop and think, because I like to focus on the future and try to plan my time. I think it is important to make sure that doesn't morph into a lack of action in the present, by worrying about the possibilities of what could happen.
3. "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" (43).
Again, this statement made me stop cold, because I have heard people feel this way so many times, and even myself have fallen into thinking this way. It is so easy to simply have a separate box for religion that is opened up maybe once a week, and forget about it the rest of the time, where in reality that is simply not a relationship.
4."The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel" (61).
This was a big wake-up call for me. I know often I feel bad for somebody, or about a situation, but then I don't really do anything about it, and after a while, I am somewhat numbed to the person or the situation- and that is scary.
5."It is far better to make them live in the Future...it is unknown to them, so that making them think about it we make them think of unrealities... it is the most completely temporal part of time- for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays" (68).
I just loved the description of the Past and Present. Also, it pointed out how we need to be careful not to overly focus on the future, as often we have no idea what it holds.
6. "You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption 'My time is my own'. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours...The man neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels" (96).
I am totally guilty of this. If I planned to spend an evening relaxing at home, and somebody decides to come over, I feel robbed. But really, why do we feel this way? It really is all a gift, that we should be grateful for every day.
7. "For the presence of the Enemy, otherwise experienced by men in prayer and sacrament, we substitute a merely probable, remote, shadowy, and uncouth figure, one who spoke a strange language and died a long time ago. Such an object cannot in fact be worshipped" (107).
I found this extremely interesting. This is a fascinating way to describe Jesus, because it sounds so completely disconnected from today's society, and yet alarmingly it is probably the view held by many.
8. "The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience" (108-109).
With a large interest in social justice, this stood out to me. I think it is important to retain balance.
9. "We have trained them to think of the future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain- not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is" (119).
Currently being in transition years of my life, the future is a big question mark, and so this idea of the future interested me. Every new day is part of the future, instead of a land of success that you reach once you graduate or get married, and I think that is important when thinking about how we live each day.
10. "Let him say that he feels hatred not on his own behalf but on that of the women and children and that a Christian is told to forgive his own, not other people's enemies. In other words let him consider himself sufficiently identified with the women and children to feel hatred on their behalf, but not sufficiently identified to regard their enemies as his own and therefore proper objects of forgiveness" (136).
Hatred can be easy to excuse sometimes because of a horrible incident or the people that were injured because of it. But hatred only leads to more hatred- love is always the trump card in the equation.
11. "A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky" (137-138).
This is the last statement, and I think it fits that spot, because it was one of the phrases that caused me to stop and think the most. It has become so common to value helping others- until it could have a potential backlash to ourselves. But then are we any different from Pilate? It's an interesting question to ponder.
This book made me re-examine ideas and aspects of life that I had previously taken for granted. If you are looking for something to fill some of those extra summer hours, reading "The Screwtape Letters" is a good way to do it!