Monday, February 28, 2011

Screwtape smacks me in the face this morning...

One of our great allies at present is the Church itself.  Do not misunderstand me.  I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.  That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy.  But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.  All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate.  When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print.  When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided.  You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours.  Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like "the body of Christ" and the actual faces in the next pew.  It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains.  You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy's side.  No matter.  Your patient, thanks to Our Father Below, is a fool.  Provided that any of those neighbours sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous.  At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of "Christians" in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial.  His mind is full of togas and sandals and armour and bare legs and the mere fact that the other people in church wear modern clothes is a real - though of course unconscious - difficulty to him.  Never let it come to the surface; never let him ask what he expected them to look like.  Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords.

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters


  1. I'm not sure I understand this, but I will read it several times until I "get it". I can be amazingly slow at times, but this is intriguing.

  2. Ha! As it turns out I've been currently and slowly reading The Screwtape Letters. This is my first encounter reading C.S. Lewis. I can't say I'm enjoying it though. I just can't get into the character of Screwtape . Every letter seems like the same as the previous. And by always presenting one character's point of view in the letters, the work seems to be missing conflict. After a few letters I'm getting tired of the repeated irony. But I'm going to struggle with it and read on.

    Joyce, I think Mary-C is identifying with Screwtape's irony (Screwtape being an evil angel) of the modern church architecture reducing Christianity, as opposed to the beautiful gothic architecture of the past.

  3. Joyce and Manny, I felt so smacked by this when I read it this morning because it sounds like the evil one has the perfect way to "get" me. How often do I sit at mass silently criticizing those around me, and the music, and the architecture. Just like his "patient" wishing for togas, etc.

  4. I am big fan of CS Lewis. I grew up and my kids also with the Narnia books. I think I have read everything he has written as well as a few biographies. I just appreciate his writing style, and his POV--he never converted, but was quite Catholic in his thinking. He and Tolkien were friends.
    I think it takes a little getting used to his kind of dry English style (I eat that stuff up) to appreciate the message.

    He wrote a science fiction trilogy that I love...Perelendra, Out of the Silent Planet, and That Hideous Strength. His grasp of theology mixed with his outlandish imagination, mixed with the aforementioned English Thing, makes for some great stuff.

  5. I have since done a little research into Screwtape and now the excerpt you printed makes sense so far as who he is and who the "patient" is. Interesting.