The Screwtape Letters – 17 & 18

This week, we are reading through and discussing letters 17-20 of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.

Letter 17 – The Gluttony of Delicacy:

In this letter, Screwtape touts the virtue of the sin of gluttony (the over-indulgence in food and drink) to attack the Patient.  Screwtape divides the sin into two major categories – Gluttony of Excess and Gluttony of Delicacy. It is the latter to which Screwtape finds modern people most susceptible.

The Patient’s mother provides Screwtape with a great example of what the Gluttony of Delicacy looks like. This sin usually begins with the phrase “All-I-want.” The mother thinks that she is being chaste, by limiting her food and beverage intake to just a small, non-excessive bit. However, what she wants, she wants perfectly. All she wants is a Goldilocks cup of tea – not too weak, not too strong, not too hot, not too cold, not too sweet, not too bitter, but just like she wants it. And her “properly prepared” cup of tea is based upon an impossible standard of recreating the perfect cup of tea and she remembers it in the past when people knew how to make a proper cup of tea.

The result of this sin of the Gluttony of Delicacy is that she is always disappointed and ill-tempered because her tea is not just right. This harms her relationship with everyone  – cooks give notice and friendships are cooled. The magic of this sin, as described by Screwtape, is that the mother does not see the problem. She is not excessive, she just wants it done properly.

Lewis intends his book to work as a mirror. The Gluttony of Excess is easy to spot, the Gluttony of Delicacy is less easy to spot. We all want what we want, and we usually cannot see when we have crossed that line. Like most sins, this is much easier to see in others, and particularly here in Myrtle Beach, much easier to see in people on vacation. For me, this sin of the Gluttony of Delicacy is best demonstrated by Meg Ryan in this movie clip from “When Harry Met Sally.”

For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit; he who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.

Romans 14:17-20a

Letter 18 – Being In Love:

In this letter, Screwtape circles back around to human sexuality. Here Screwtape instructs Wormwood on the interplay of sex, love, infatuation, and marriage, and these things can easily be confused to the demon’s benefit. In the letter, it appears that even Screwtape himself cannot make clear distinctions. Screwtape points out that humans are somewhat unique in the animal kingdom in having sex and affection are closely associated. Spiders, as he points out, eat their mates. 

Screwtape wants Wormwood to emphasize that physical attraction and desire are the true grounds for marriage itself, not a transcendental spiritual longing. Love and marriage spring from desire, and when desire fades or ages, then love dims and the marriage dies. Wormwood must emphasize that love is the feeling of “being in love” and that therefore marriage as a partnership for mutual help, the preservation of chastity, and the means of procreation are also subject to a “storm of emotion.”

Throughout Paul’s letters, the apostle tells us about love and sexual desire. Sexual desire and activity are always transcendent acts. The two always become one flesh if the relationship is merely an economic transaction. 1 Cor. 6:16. Love is also the joining of the two into one flesh as well. Paul writes of the self-sacrificial nature of this love as best exemplified by the relationship between Christ and his Eph. 5:22. How this all works, as Paul says, is a profound mystery. Id. If you have the opportunity read through the reasons for marriage in both the original 1662 BCP (which Lewis references) and our own 1979 BCP.

To love somebody is not just a strong feeling – it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision?

Erich Fromm, “The Art of Loving”

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 6:45.

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