This week, we are reading through and discussing letters 25-28 of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.
Letter 25 – Change
This letter opens with Screwtape complaining about the type (or rather lack of type) of Christian that the Patient has become. The patient is a “mere” Christian. What Screwtape desires is for the Patient to become a Christian with a special interest, like faith healing or vegetarianism. This is “Christianity And.” The “And” makes the Christian faith into a fad.
For Screwtape, the “And” needs to be constantly changing. Screwtape points out that change is part of the human experience of living in time. Time causes change. To be fully human is to both desire change (summer must give way to autumn) but also to desire permanence (summer will come back next year). This type of change is good and pleasurable and in service of the Enemy (God).
Screwtape wants Wormwood to corrupt Change, like food or sex, in such a way to make it into the service of the demons. Change for change’s sake and a human demand for absolute novelty is a corruption of the gift of change. As Screwtape explains, when humans demand an infinite, absolute change (summer never comes back) then pleasure decreases as the desire increases. This desire occupies both our time and our money in seeking out this absolute change. The “And” of “Christianity And” is this corrupted type of change.
C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity was originally a series of radio talks given by Lewis in the early 1940s (about the same time he wrote the Screwtape Letters). In his introduction to his book, Lewis writes that “mere Christianity” is not “an alternative to the creeds of the existing communion – as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. . . . But it is in the rooms, not the hall. that there are fires and chairs and meals.” What Lewis is speaking about in this chapter is not a bland Christianity, but rather a faith that is focused on the essentials and not our divisions or the next big thing.
In some ways, this letter is the mirror image of Paul’s letters. If you think back to 1 Corinthians or Galatians, the issue was always Christianity AND following the right apostle or Christianity AND following the Jewish law or Christianity And Spiritual Gifts. None of the ANDs are wrong necessarily, they simply are not the essentials. Think about the “And” in Paul’s letters and think about the “And” in the American church.
When I came to you, brethren . . . I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. . . and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Letter 26 – Unselfishness
In this letter, Screwtape discusses the difference between a passive unselfishness and an active charity, and particularly in the context of courtship and marriage. Screwtape tells Wormwood to teach the Patient that he should surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them, but that he may be “unselfish” in foregoing them. In this way, an “unselfish” person continues to remain self-centered and not other-centered.
Within the martial context, Screwtape writes that unselfishness can be a great source of conflict. First, women generally think that unselfishness means taking on trouble to help others whereas men generally think it means not causing other people trouble. This difference can make both men and women regard each other as selfish.
Second, unselfishness in marriage can create, what Screwtape says, is the “Generous Conflict.” When something trivial is proposed, like having tea, the other person will say he doesn’t want to have tea but will do it for the sake of the proposer. The initial proposer, however, will insist on doing what the other person wants. And so on. In the end, they will fight over who gets to be the most unselfish, and no one will be happy.
This topic of this letter comes from a talk, The Weight of Glory, given by Lewis in 1942. Lewis begins this talk by exploring the difference between the modern virtue of Unselfishness and the Christian virtue of Love. The former glorifies abstinence, the later happiness. Lewis says that although Christians are taught self-denial (Mark 8:34), the chief end of Christianity is not self-denial but finding true happiness and fulfillment in Christ (otherwise, we are just Buddhist). For Lewis, the problem in modern Christianity is not that our desires are too strong, but that they are too weak. For we are, as Lewis says in his talk, “like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”
He has showed you, O man, what is good;Micah 6:8
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God?
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.