One of the devil’s most subtle temptations is dealt with in Letter 7 where Screwtape instructs Wormwood concealing the presence of devils. Moderns mostly regard devils as comic figures in red tights. Screwtape hopes that Wormwood’s patient can be turned into a sceptic and will close his mind to anything that is spiritual, thus making him think of existence in psychological terms as a ‘Life Force’.
However, in Letter 23 Screwtape realises that it will be almost impossible to remove spirituality from the patient’s life entirely because he is getting to know very intelligent Christians every day and so Wormwood is given instructions to corrupt the patient by encouraging his discussions about the ‘historical Jesus’ as a great man, a moralist and a social revolutionary rather like Socrates. Screwtape wants the patient to be ignorant of the fact that the Resurrection was the single most important historical doctrine that persuaded the earliest converts to believe in Jesus. Resurrection is a dangerous doctrine because repentance from sin and obedience to Christ are the only means for the sinner to keep the moral law and to live a good life.
Screwtape engages in a discussion with Wormwood about what he thinks God means by the concept of disinterested Love which he regards as being contradictory because God carried out his purposes of creating Man in his own image although God had already foreseen the Fall and ‘a certain episode about a cross’ (Letter 19). The patient can become engrossed in a discussion as to whether ‘Love’ or ‘celibacy’ is ‘good’, and to confuse love with sexual desire. Either he will develop a contempt for his body or will see how the ‘love’ poets and novelists see it, as both irresistible and intrinsically meritorious. And either pathway is useful to the devil.
The media’s portrayal of women’s physical beauty can be mixed with the patient’s vanity, and the result is a twisted view of sex and the body. This can result in serial adulteries or an unsatisfying marriage.
In Letter 21 Screwtape instructs Wormwood to encourage his patient to develop a flawed perspective about property and things and to have a sense of ownership or a sense of entitlement over his body, his time and his desires so as to lead him into the sins of coveting, strife and sexual immorality. Screwtape says the ‘my’ of ownership and the treatment of everything as a commodity to be bought and sold is produced in the patient by pride and by ignoring the fact of his own death and the sad joke is that every human being will find out in the end that their time, their souls and their bodies really belong to God.
Meanwhile the patient has fallen in love with a Christian woman.
In Letter 24 Screwtape tells us that whilst under the influence of ‘love’, the patient is living a Christian life he never before imagined because the young woman he has married has become a force of pure good in his life. The patient however becomes vulnerable to ‘Spiritual Pride’ because he sees this as a marriage into an ‘inner circle’, a secret club and as a mark of success, and uses it as a reason to exult himself above those outside this circle.
We arrive at Letter 31, the final chapter of Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. As the Germans are bombing the patient’s European town, the patient slips through Wormwood’s fingers, his breath ceases, he dies and suddenly wakes up ‘and breathes with the heart of heaven’ realising with absolute clarity the role, that each friend has played in his spiritual life and for the first time the patient is able to look at the face of God.
– Niocos Kaloyirou
Nicos Kaloyirou is a lawyer in Adelaide