This week, we are reading through and discussing letters 5-8 of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters.
Letter 7 – Extremism and Factionalism:
This letter begins with the question of whether Wormwood should somehow disclose himself to the Patient. In the past this was the policy, however, in the modern world, the goal is to create materialists and skeptics. Therefore disclosure of any spiritual nature, good or evil, can only make people think of the Enemy (God) and be detrimental to demons.
Screwtape wants to turn Wormwood’s attention back into making the Patient either an extreme Patriot or an extreme Pacifist. Wormwood’s goal is to fan the flames of division in society and extremism is the fuel. Even better for Wormwood, is if the Patient thinks his cause is religious. If he begins to identify his Christianity as either Patriotic or Pacifist, the Patient will cease identifying his Christianity with the Enemy but as part of a larger worldly cause. In this case, the more “religious” the Patient becomes, the more he belongs to the demons.
Within this discussion, Screwtape also mentions that small or factional congregations can also serve this same purpose. A small church may acquire an uneasy intensity and defensive self-righteousness. They thereby become their own goal and not service to the Enemy. In the same way, church factions look to support themselves and their causes, and not the Enemy. Extremism and factionalism well serve Screwtape’s father down below.
For me, this is one of the letters that hits a bit too close. We do not have to look far to see extremism and factionalism in the church. Nor must we look far to see churches become overcome by secular and political concerns. In reading this letter, it is very easy to see the “other side” of these intra-ecclesiastical disputes as being in the service of Screwtape. The harder question is to look in the mirror and see how I have been in service of Screwtape within these disputes. Service to the demonic can only truly be discussed in the first person.
Now the works of the flesh are plain: . . . enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.Galatians 4:19-20
Letter 8 – Troughs and Peaks:
In this letter, Screwtape writes that humans are subject to The Law of Undulation. We humans, as Screwtape writes, are amphibians – half spirit which can yearn for the eternal, and half animal which is grounded in time. As we go through life, we will naturally go through troughs and peaks – both spiritual revivals and dark nights of the soul.
Wormwood got excited because the Patient has entered a trough, but Screwtape knows that it is in the trough where the Enemy (God) is the most powerful. It is the troughs where spiritual growth in becoming like the Enemy (God) takes place. It is when humans lose their desire but still more towards the Enemey (God) which makes Screwtape shutter.
In the letter, Screwtape also points out the difference in goals between the Enemy (God) and the Father down below. Demons want cattle who can become food, the Enemy wants servants who can become Sons. To reach these goals, demons have the power to ravish, but the Enemy merely has the power to woo. Ironically it is in the troughs where the wooing becomes most intense.
This letter should also hit close to home for each of us. From my perspective, one of the great deficiencies in modern Christianity is that we always want to be at the peak. We have this desire for a spiritual high and, at least personally, we are taught that if we don’t feel God’s presence, then something is wrong with us. But is in the Dark Night of the Soul where transformation ultimately takes place. Think back to those dark places in your life when God appeared to be absent and see how you are now different on the other side.
O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,T.S. Elliot, Four Quartets, 2 (III)
. . .
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed.
. . .
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
We are back in person for our studies. If you are planning to join us, please let us know. Dinner is at 6:30 with the discussion at 7:30.