Screwtape Letter #3 – Discussion Guide

Letter #3

Screwtape is on a roll again –

full of advice for his nephew on how to affect his patient.

Let’s see just how good the tactics might be. (or not)

Open Amazon Cloud Reader — page 11 — location 152


My dear Wormwood,

I am very pleased by what you tell me about this man’s relations with his mother. But you must press your advantage. … build up between you in that house a good settled habit of mutual annoyance; daily pinpricks. The following methods are useful.

3.1) Notice how Screwtape says: The Enemy will be working from the centre outwards. Contrast this to how Satan works in our lives.

Things aren't as God intended ...


... but that doesn't mean God isn't here.



1. Keep his mind on the inner life. …You must bring him to a condition in which he can practise self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.

3.2) Why is Screwtape encouraging Wormwood to keep his patient focused on:

a) the most advanced and spiritual things

Spiritual growth

b) self-examination?

Are we talking about some kind of New Age religion here? Or Christianity?


2. It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. … I have had patients of my own so well in hand that they could be turned at a moment’s notice from impassioned prayer for a wife’s or son’s ‘soul’ to beating or insulting the real wife or son without a qualm.

3.3) Can prayers really be rendered “innocuous (harmless)?

Jesus even spoke on this topic


3. When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her. As he cannot see or hear himself, this is easily managed.

3.4) What is Screwtape’s goal here – what does he mean by that first sentence – and how far can this go?

Familiarity and Contempt


4. In civilised life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face. … Once this habit is well established you have the delightful situation of a human saying things with the express purpose of offending and yet having a grievance when offence is taken.

3.5) We can see the progression here, from step 1 to 4. Talk about this progression – and how easy or hard it might be to imagine it happening.

Are words bad?


Do words have to be bad?


Finally, tell me something about the old lady’s religious position. Is she at all jealous of the new factor in her son’s life?—at all piqued that he should have learned from others, and so late, what she considers she gave him such good opportunity of learning in childhood? Does she feel he is making a great deal of ‘fuss’ about it—or that he’s getting in on very easy terms? Remember the elder brother in the Enemy’s story?


Your affectionate uncle




3.6) Screwtape ‘s refers to “the elder brother”. He doesn’t say which one, but there area few to pick from:

Cain and Abel – in Genesis 4

Jacob and Esau – also in Genesis, chapters 25 +

The parable of the lost son – In Luke 15

(BTW – I have a more detailed look at the “non-prodigal son” – the “other” brother.  Click here to see it.)

Consider one or more of these, and relate them to what Screwtape is saying – and how they are still relevant today.

Cain and Abel


Jacob and Esau


The Lost Son (and his brother)


were there others + what does it mean?






expurgated — He thinks his conversion is something inside him and his attention is therefore chiefly turned at present to the states of his own mind—or rather to that very expurgated version of them which is all you should allow him to see.

amended by removing words, passages, etc., deemed offensive or objectionable

piqued — Is she at all jealous of the new factor in her son’s life?—at all piqued that he should have learned from others, and so late, what she considers she gave him such good opportunity of learning in childhood?

to affect with sharp irritation and resentment, especially by some wound to pride


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