This week, we are reading through and discussing letters 9-12 of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.
Letter 11 – Laughter:
In this letter, Screwtape has a brief discussion on the topic of laughter. Screwtape tells Wormwood that laughter arises from four causes: Joy, Fun, Jokes, and Flippancy. Joy comes from the Enemy (God) and Fun is closely related to Joy. Laughter in these circumstances is not to be encouraged.
On the other hand, Laughter arising from Jokes and Flippancy can be quite useful to Wormwood. The most useful Jokes are those where the teller of the joke creates an incongruity within a vice to excuse the vice. It is shameful for a person to tell of his engaging in vice, but if he can make a joke about it, then the behaviour is readily excused. Being a bully is shameful but joking about bullying is comical and thereby excuses the bully.
Flippancy is the best laughter of all. Every serious subject or discussion is simply written off as being inherently ridiculous. As Screwtape explains, Flippancy is the very opposite of Joy. Joy arises from deeper meaning and binds people together. Flippancy excuses any meaning of any substance and simply serves to dull the intellect and of any affection between people.
Laughter, like pleasure as written about in Letter 9, has a divine origin but its misuse can lead us away from God. Laughter can be good when it draws us closer to God and to our neighbor. On the other hand, think about how easy it is to minimize and encourage or excuse bad behaviour through humour. Also, think through how laughter can be used to minimize or dismiss serious subjects.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, *Psalm 126:1-3
then were we like those who dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter, *
and our tongue with shouts of joy.
Then they said among the nations, *
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
Letter 12 – Insignificant Nothingness:
In this letter, Screwtape praises Wormwood’s progress in having the Patient begin to move away from the Enemy (God). Screwtape encourages Wormwood to keep the Patient focused on insignificant and trivial matters and for the Patient to believe that all choices are trivial and revocable. Wormwood’s goal should be to go slow, for if the Patient realizes he is wandering from God, then he will change course. However, in going slow, the Patient will only develop a dim uneasiness which will cause a general reluctance for him to engage the Enemy (God).
The chief weapon to used by Wormwood is nothingness. As the Patient wanders, distracting him with nothingness becomes easy. Screwtape quotes a Collect that “without whom Nothing is strong” to emphasize the strength that Nothingness has over the Patient when the Enemy is absent. “Nothingness is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind.”
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whomProper 12 (Sunday closest to July 27) 1979 BCP 231
nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon
us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so
pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
We are back in person for our studies. If you are planning to join us, please let us know. Dinner is at 6:00 with the discussion at 7:00.