Screwtape Letter #23 – Questions

Letter #23

Time for Wormwood to take practice to reality.

My dear Wormwood,

Through this girl and her disgusting family the patient is now getting to know more Christians every day, and very intelligent Christians too. … A spoiled saint, a Pharisee, an inquisitor, or a magician, makes better sport in Hell than a mere common tyrant or debauchee.

23.1) Although we don’t know if it’s even possible to lose salvation, Screwtape says one who has lost it “makes better sport”. Why would this be the case – especially considering that he tells Wormwood to pretend to be an angel of light?






Looking round your patient’s new friends I find that the best point of attack would be the borderline between theology and politics. Several of his new friends are very much alive to the social implications of their religion. … The advantages of these constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifold.

Screwtape now gets into two topics we often say it’s best to avoid – politics and religion.

In the first place they all tend to direct men’s devotion to something which does not exist, for each ‘historical Jesus’ is unhistorical. … but which is enough to produce a crop of new Napoleons, new Shakespeares, and new Swifts, in every publisher’s autumn list.

23.2a) Including Napoleon in the list is an interesting choice. Even while Jesus was alive (as a human) – His followers wanted Him to be a Napoleon of sorts. What’s wrong with this view?





In the second place, all such constructions place the importance of their historical Jesus in some peculiar theory He is supposed to have promulgated. … We make the Sophists: He raises up a Socrates to answer them.

23.2b) What is the problem with considering Jesus to be nothing more than a great moral teacher?





Our third aim is, by these constructions, to destroy the devotional life. … Instead of the Creator adored by its creature, you soon have merely a leader acclaimed by a partisan, and finally a distinguished character approved by a judicious historian.

23.2c) How can this be done – and how can it be prevented?





And fourthly, besides being unhistorical in the Jesus it depicts, religion of this kind is false to history in another sense. … The ‘Gospels’ come later and were written not to make Christians but to edify Christians already made.

23.2d) That last sentence is very powerful –

The ‘Gospels’ come later and were written not to make Christians but to edify Christians already made.

Maybe this is why some people read the Bible and think it’s a “nice story” – others think it’s foolish – and others think it’s a Book of Truth.

Talk about what it really means about our ability to “save ourselves”.





The ‘historical Jesus’ then, however dangerous He may seem to be to us at some particular point, is always to be encouraged. About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that ‘only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations’. You see the little rift? ‘Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.’ That’s the game,

Your affectionate uncle



23.3) Screwtape quotes an American theologian?

That quote is from Reinhold Niebuhr, who some would say was one of the great American Theologians of the 20th Century.

The following quotes are from The Presbyterian Outlook website, on Nov 5, 1007.

Thirty-six years after his death, Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr seems more alive than ever. Perhaps not since President Jimmy Carter acknowledged Niebuhr’s influence in his 1976 campaign has the name been on so many people’s lips.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama told New York Times columnist David Brooks that Niebuhr is “one of my favorite philosophers.” Brooks himself quotes Niebuhr consistently, describing him as a thinker we could use today “to police our excesses” in foreign policy.

Niebuhr’s own grounding of his political beliefs in his Christian faith may serve as another factor in the increased interest in him. While Republicans have long cloaked their programs and policies in the language of faith, Democrats have increasingly turned to a religious vocabulary to cast foreign and domestic issues in moral terms. At debates and forums, candidates from both parties have spoken about how faith has informed their public policies and personal lives with a pietistic emphasis some believe would have discomfited Niebuhr.

It would seem that C. S. Lewis wasn’t a fan of Niebuhr’s point of view.

Given what Screwtape said – how is his proposed plan of attack using religion and politics taking place today?








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