The Screwtape Letters – 9 & 10

This week, we are reading through and discussing letters 9-12 of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. I have always thought the letters more interesting when narrated by John Cleese.

Letter 9 – Troughs and Temptations:

In the last letter, Screwtape cautions Wormwood that when humans are in a spiritual trough, this is not necessarily good for our side. In this letter, Screwtape advises Wormwood on how to use these spiritual troughs to advance their aims with the Patient.

First, troughs are perfect for sensual, particularly sexual, temptation. Screwtape points out that all pleasure arises from the Enemy (God), so Wormwood must be careful in using the Enemy’s tools against the Patient. The goal, however, is to have the Patient engage in pleasure in an unhealthy or forbidden manner. In this way, the physical experience will fail to result in real pleasure and instead will cause an ever-increasing craving for an ever-diminishing high.

Second, troughs may be exploited by keeping the Patient’s own thoughts focused on the trough itself. The Patient should be made to think that the trough will last forever. If the Patient is depressive, Wormwood should convince him to seek isolation and to try to get out of his trough by an act of his will. If the Patient is prone to wishful thinking, Wormwood should convince him his trough is not that bad and thereby the last peak was not so good.

The final means of using a trough against the Patient is for Wormwood to attack the Patient’s faith directly. He must simply convince the Patient that his prior religious experience was merely a phase he went through. His spiritual peak phase has passed and now he is simply in another phase of life. The Patient can therefore leave his “religious phase” in the past.

As we discussed last week, we have all gone through troughs or dark nights of the soul. I imagine that each of us can see ourselves in one or more of Screwtape’s categories of how humans deal with spiritual troughs. Think back over your life, and the temptations you encountered during your own spiritual troughs. Are these temptations similar in kind to those described in this chapter?

Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable. . . . Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.

G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

Letter 10 – Dangerous Friendships

In this letter, Screwtape responds to Wormwood’s report that the patient has made friends with a couple that are rich, smart, superficially intelligent, brightly sceptical, and fashionably communist. If you recall, in chapter 1, Screwtape cautions Wormwood to not allow the Patient to think deeply. These friends do not appear to be deep thinkers. Wormwood is to encourage this relationship. Screwtape points out the people become what they pretend to be, and if the Patient pretends to be superficially intelligent and brightly sceptical, then he will become like his new friends.

This relationship also presents a wonderful opportunity to divide the Patient in half living two parallel lives. The Patient’s inherent vanity will allow him to feel superior to his new friends because they lack an understanding of a deeper, spiritual world and he will feel to his church friends who are not brightly sceptical and fashionably whatever. His self-satisfaction and superiority will be useful to draw him away from the Enemy.

As we read through this letter, think through the issues that are present in any company that you keep. It is human nature to want to be liked by others and therefore to adopt their outlook on fundamental matters. We can also readily see (mostly in others) that no person is immune to the information they put in themselves. The benefit that these new friends lend to Wormwood is not simply their scepticism, but their superficiality and shallowness as well. As you read this letter, think about those times in your life when you are been drawn away from God from your friends and acquaintance.  

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
Their delight is in the law of the Lord, *
and they meditate on his law day and night.

Psalm 1:1-2

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.

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