Monday, January 4, 2010

The Screwtape Letters

We finally finished reading this short book in our small group from church (it only took us about 3 months to get through our 8 week informal study).  The book is a series of letters written by Screwtape, a master tempter in the Lowerarchy of Hell, to his nephew, Wormwood, who is an inexperienced tempter handling his first case.  I'll just make a couple of observations since I read it for study rather than pure leisure reading.

Two key points really hit home for me:
1)  When you really sit down and examine human behavior (something which C.S. Lewis is extremely adept at), you begin to recognize that nearly all evil, un-Christian, etc. behaviors boil down to putting one's own wishes/wants/desires before those of others.  Ol' Jesus really knew what he was talking about when he exhorted people to follow the famous Golden Rule: "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Luke 6:31).  An often overlooked point is that he wasn't speaking solely in terms of giving charity (though this is a good thing too).  If one's thoughts, speech, and actions (about others AND yourself) are constantly and consistently held up to this litmus test, you have the makings of a virtuous life whatever your belief system may be.

2) Screwtape himself best sums up the second point when he counsels Wormwood that tempting humans to spectacular acts of evil will rarely pay off in the end (i.e. lead to the successful corruption of a soul).  Instead, he notes that "the safest path to hell is the gradual one."  That is to say, it is the mundane day-to-day choices in our words and actions that have the potential to do us humans the most harm by far.  Screwtape continually advises Wormwood to set up fairly innocuous situations where someone might be tempted to act in a sinful manner (as an aside, the word "sinful" sounds awfully strong, but I imagine that Screwtape would say that tempters have toiled to warp the meaning of the word so that we can easily apply it to our own actions less and less).  In the end, the message is that upright living requires a constant evaluation of one's thoughts, words, and deeds (hmm...sound repetitive? see Golden Rule above).

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