Lessons from Screwtape is a series of posts based on C.S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters, in which a principle demon, Screwtape, converses with a lower demon about their tactics to prey on humans.
Our post-Christian era is defined by a diverse population with a plurality of ideas and values. One major obstacle to faithfulness for the modern Christian is our proximity to non-Christian beliefs and practices. Look around and we find a world that values selfishness, indulgence, vanity, lack of control, destructiveness, secularism, and individualism. But are we always quick to acknowledge when we come face to face with such anti-Christian sentiments? More importantly, do we realize when we are affected by people that lure us away from faithfulness?
If we can learn from Screwtape (C.S. Lewis’ fictional demon), we would see that the human will is such that it looks to be agreeable with those around us. Screwtape speaks about a Christian whom the demons are working on and the “new acquaintances” he has met. He shows that humans look to connect with people they meet, sometimes unaware of the effect of such connections:
Did he commit himself deeply [to his new friends]? I don’t mean the words. There is a subtle play of looks and tones and laughs by which a mortal can imply that he is of the same party as those to whom he is speaking.
Screwtape explains that the “new acquaintances” easily become an influence on the Christian, and that once he realizes the effects, he will try to maintain his friendships even though they oppose his faith:
No doubt he must very soon realise that his own faith is in direct opposition to the assumptions on which all the conversation of his new friends is based. I don’t think that matters much provided that you can persuade him to postpone any open acknowledgement of the fact, and this, with the aid of shame, pride, modesty and vanity, will be easy to do. As long as the postponement lasts he will be in a false position. He will be silent when he ought to speak and laugh when he ought to be silent. He will assume, at first only by his manner, but presently by his words, all sorts of cynical and sceptical attitudes which are not really his. But if you play him well, they may become his.
Its funny how easily us Christians will try fit in with unbelievers. Like a school girl in front of her crush, we may shy about asserting truths regarding God, holiness, morals, and virtues. We may fear being seen as weird or an outsider; so we are silent when we ought to speak, and laugh when we ought to be silent. Screwtape says that we fool ourselves into thinking that we can balance two lives, pretending to go along with beliefs and practices that are not our own, until they become our own.
But how can we be so passive and blind so often when many of us were raised to be weary of the non-Christian world; to be “in but not of”?
Since the Enemy’s [God’s] servants have been preaching about ‘the World’ as one of the great standard temptations for two thousand years, this might seem difficult to do. But fortunately they have said very little about it for the last few decades. In modern Christian writings, though I see much (indeed more than I like) about Mammon, I see few of the old warnings about Worldly Vanities, the Choice of Friends, and the Value of Time. All that, your patient would probably classify as ‘Puritanism’—and may I remark in passing that the value we have given to that word is one of the really solid triumphs of the last hundred years? By it we rescue annually thousands of humans from temperance, chastity, and sobriety of life.
Screwtape helps us see our deep fear of being labeled a (gasp) Puritan. A prude or uptight. Maybe even “religious”! Our culture hates the discipline of spiritual living. It despises putting one’s self away for the sake of holiness and righteousness. Think of how difficult it is to tell people you don’t watch pornography, or drink alcohol, or schedule anything on Sundays because you go to church. Or even worse, that you forgive your enemies, or that you hold your tongue when prudent, or that you are willing to be taken advantage of for the sake of charity. You are inviting all sorts of cynicism and mockery of your “holy living”.
Screwtape’s most valuable lesson is revealed in his final tactic to keep the Christian in an agreeable relationship with non-Christians:
Finally, if all else fails, you can persuade him, in defiance of conscience, to continue the new acquaintance on the ground that he is, in some unspecified way, doing these people ‘good’ by the mere fact of drinking their cocktails and laughing at their jokes, and that to cease to do so would be ‘priggish’, ‘intolerant’, and (of course) ‘Puritanical’.
Screwtape says Christians are encouraged to continue their acquaintances with non-Christians, because we falsely believe we are doing them good by participating in worldly activities. This is the “Jesus was the life of the party” argument. You see, even some Christians promote a lifestyle that doesn’t take holiness too seriously. They says we should enjoy everything the world enjoys and that we show Christ’s love and preach the good news mingling with the unbelieving world and participating in every activity of those without faith. It’s true that we should be bringing the gospel to unbelievers, but many times our relationship with them is more like peers than guides toward grace.
Modern Christianity pays little attention to the sober-mindedness and chaste lifestyle that God demands; that is seen as “Puritanical”. But in this form of Christianity, we deceive ourselves into believing that we go unaffected by dipping our toe in the pond of unbelieving world. We might be in places of lewdness, but think to ourselves “I have self-control”. We might enjoy the finer things in life, but be convinced we’re not covetous or vain. We might enjoy pop culture, and doubt that it changes our way of seeing the world. Screwtape reveals that the more we engage in the world, the more we become part of it.
Our challenge, dear brother or sister, is to keep our hearts, minds, actions and allegiances wholly focused on Christ, through a disciplined lifestyle that is alert enough to disengage from sly and persuasive acquaintances, lest we forget that “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough”.