Screwtape Letter #26 – Discussion Guide

Letter #26

Unselfishness is like being charitable

– or is it?

My dear Wormwood,

Yes; courtship is the time for sowing those seeds which will grow up ten years later into domestic hatred. … While it lasts you have your chance to foment the problems in secret and render them chronic.

The grand problem is that of ‘Unselfishness’. Note, once again, the admirable work of our Philological Arm in substituting the negative unselfishness for the Enemy’s positive Charity. … Thus while the woman thinks of doing good offices and the man of respecting other people’s rights, each sex, without any obvious unreason, can and does regard the other as radically selfish.

26.1) Unselfish – such a simple word. It’s defined as

not selfish or greedy; generous

OK – maybe not. Is Screwtape right that it’s actually

A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others.

What’s the difference – and why is it important to recognize this?





Screwtape makes three points - but are they correct?

On top of these confusions you can now introduce a few more. The erotic enchantment produces a mutual complaisance in which each is really pleased to give in to the wishes of the other. … In discussing any joint action, it becomes obligatory that A should argue in favour of B’s supposed wishes and against his own, while B does the opposite. It is often impossible to find out either party’s real wishes; with luck, they end by doing something that neither wants, … Each side is, indeed, quite alive to the cheap quality of the adversary’s Unselfishness and of the false position into which he is trying to force them; but each manages to feel blameless and ill-used itself, with no more dishonesty than comes natural to a human.

26.2) Add in another “good” word – altruism – and see where that leads too.

I remember hearing a sermon where the pastor talked about a husband and wife that wanted to paint their house, but couldn’t agree on a color they both liked. So – they painted it something that neither liked!

What does that kind of thinking do to God and Christianity?




So many churches - so many disagreements - so much confusion

A sensible human once said, ‘If people knew how much ill-feeling Unselfishness occasions, it would not be so often recommended from the pulpit’; … I wish Slumtrimpet could do something about undermining that young woman’s sense of the ridiculous

Your affectionate uncle



26.3) Screwtape gets back to a common theme – don’t let the patient realize what’s really happening.

Unselfish – it sounds so good. And it can be. Or not. Depends on the motive. Take a look at the definitions below and see how Screwtape wants to go about corrupting yet another good characteristic.

Unselfish – not selfish; disinterested; generous; altruistic.

Selfish – devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.

Pride – pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself





Pride! But - pride about what?


The others instantly withdraw their proposal, ostensibly through their ‘Unselfishness’, but really because they don’t want to be used as a sort of lay figure on which the first speaker practises petty altruisms.

Altruism – the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others. 
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References   [ + ]

1. McDowell, J. (1997). Josh McDowell’s handbook on apologetics (electronic ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
2. MacArthur, J. (2000). Daniel: God’s Control over Rulers and Nations. MacArthur Bible Studies. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group.

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