The Screwtape Letters

There is a great book, written by a very interesting author, called the Screwtape letters. You may have read it, or heard me mention it, the book was written right after the second world war by CS Lewis. He was also the author of the Chronicles of Narnia series, one of the most overtly Christian fantasy book series that there is. He was a very vocal atheist until he saw the atrocities of the second world war and turned to Christianity. We could go on about the author but let me talk about this particular book.

The Screwtape letters is about a couple of devils. Demons and tempters to be exact. One is a senior bureaucrat in charge of many tempters and the other a junior tempter on his first assignment.  The book chronicles a series of letters between the senior, Uncle Screwtape, and the junior nephew Wormwood.

Allow me to share two quotes from the book that will give examples of their conversations.

The first goes: “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,…Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape.”

And the second is: “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”

In today’s readings we hear of Jesus casting out demons and their actions, in this book by CS Lewis we see the reality of these actions. In the first quote we see that it is the devil that sets the easy path that Saint Matthew warns us of in chapter 7 verse 13 and 14. He says: “There are two paths before you; you may take only one path. One doorway is narrow. And one door is wide. Go through the narrow door. For the wide door leads to a wide path, and the wide path is broad; the wide, broad path is easy, and the wide, broad, easy path has many, many people on it; but the wide, broad, easy, crowded path leads to death. Now then that narrow door leads to a narrow road that in turn leads to life. It is hard to find that road. Not many people manage it.”

The second quote is also painfully true. Satan does not put things in our head he keeps things from it. His ultimate weapons are distraction and diversion. In another portion of their conversations Screwtape cautions Wormwood of direct confrontation with the truth. He explains that if they go head-to-head with the truth they will lose. They need to distract. Instead of arguing against something it is better for them to agree and switch subjects. “Yes, going to church would be a good idea but should you go on an empty stomach? Wouldn’t it be better to get something to eat first and go fully recharged and energized?” The goal is that you will have long forgotten you good intentions halfway through that double stack of warm buttery blueberry pancakes.

In the gospel, Jesus talks about our fight. He tells of a “strong man” with fully armed guards. He cautions of an attack by “one stronger” who attacks and over comes him. He cautions us that “whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters”

One of the most telling quotes from the Screwtape letters is an ultimate caution that Screwtape offers to Wormwood.  He says: “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”

Courage is the means by which we are stronger than the one that attacks. It is the virtue through which we see clearly. We speak clearly. We can love clearly.

Blow the trumpet in Zion,
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all who dwell in the land tremble,
for the day of the LORD is coming;

And we cannot be distracted from this path. We need to watch for, and speak to, the things that we know to be true.

Lk 11: 15-26

When Jesus had driven out a demon, some of the crowd said:
“By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons,
he drives out demons.”
Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.
But he knew their thoughts and said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste
and house will fall against house.
And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?
For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.
If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul,
by whom do your own people drive them out?
Therefore they will be your judges.
But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons,
then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace,
his possessions are safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him,
he takes away the armor on which he relied
and distributes the spoils.
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

“When an unclean spirit goes out of someone,
it roams through arid regions searching for rest
but, finding none, it says,
‘I shall return to my home from which I came.’
But upon returning, it finds it swept clean and put in order.
Then it goes and brings back seven other spirits
more wicked than itself who move in and dwell there,
and the last condition of that man is worse than the first.”

October 8, 2021

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