Monday, May 5, 2008

Logos Discussion: The Screwtape Letters

Yesterday our literary discussion group at Lake Murray, Logos, tackled C.S. Lewis' justly classic Screwtape Letters. I had the advantage of reading the book with Alpine Anglican's Wednesday night Lenten study group earlier this spring, so I have now discussed the book over a five week period (six chapters for each week) and then yesterday when we discussed the book in its entirety.

If you are a Christian and you haven't read Screwtape, hie thee to a library, bookshop, or online purchasing establishment, get a copy, and read it. It's one of the most important books a Christian can read. Really.

The book consists of fictional letters written from a demon, Screwtape, to his apprentice, Wormwood, regarding Wormwood's "patient," the man he's supposed to be keeping from Christianity and defeated in every way possible so that he'll go to "Our Kingdom Below" and thus into Satan's clutches, who is referred to as "Our Father Below." The whole book turns our beliefs about God on their head as we see life, God, and "the patient" through the eyes of demons -- disconcerting in the very least but very, very effective as a literary device. Christ is referred to as "the Enemy" who has "the abominable advantage" of being human. Screwtape is constantly advising Wormwood on how best to keep "the patient" as far from the "Enemy" as possible. But despite their best efforts, the "patient" becomes a Christian and dies in a state of grace which necessitates Screwtape's devouring Wormwood in the "patient's" place, which of course is a topsy-turvy retelling of Christ's willing sacrifice for our redemption.

While being fiction, the book is filled with true observations of our Christian lives which serve as warnings to us of how demons may work to defeat us and how we also defea ourselves and thus make ourselves less useful to the Kingdom of God. A definite thread of humor runs through the novel, making its seriousness a little easier to bear. For The Screwtape Letters is indeed a serious book and a wake-up call to complacent Christianity, to the church-hopping mentality, to much that is wrong with the church and with society. Written at the height of the Second World War in 1942, the war itself plays a part in the novel, almost like yet another character. It is war that brings fear that the demons try to use for their own purposes, and it is also war that removes "the patient" from their influence forever.

Following are a few quotations from the novel that struck me with their truthfulness and with their pointed critique of "Joe Christian":

-- "... you don't realize how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary." (Aren't we, though?)

-- "Do remember that you are there to fuddle him." (The demons' first job is to confuse us, to keep us from seeing and recognizing reality and truth.)

-- "One of our great allies is the Church itself." (Sad commentary, but still true at times.)

-- "The Enemy [Christ] takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what he calls His 'free' lovers and servants -- 'sons' is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged creatures." (Yes, He does, thanks to His mercy and grace!)

-- "It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always very 'spiritual,' that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism." (Something for us to learn about prayer here, right?)

I could quote on and on -- these are only from the first three chapters.

The discussion was lively and animated, as it is when we get Bill, Guy, Paul, Russ, Kitty, myself, and a few others talking spiritual things. We went through the book rather chronologically rather than our usual jumping about, but we definitely addressed the major points that Lewis brought up as we read short passages aloud and discussed their implications. We broke for dessert in the middle of a discussion of gluttony, an irony not lost on the group in the least.

I really love these monthly meetings in which we discuss literature, ideas, theology, poetry, words, our lives, our faith journeys. Kitty is a perfect hostess, offering us delectable fare (ribs,their baked beans, and freshly-baked rolls, Diana bringing strawberry salad and Linda the dessert) as well as her home, plus her incisive comments and observations. I always walk away from Logos meetings feeling refreshed in the pit of my soul, as if a hunger was satisfied or an itch scratched. That's the value of great Christian inquiry and discussion among dear friends, some of whom I've known for fifteen years. God's gracious blessing upon this group simply takes my breath away....

Later this month: Persuasion by Austen. (I guess we'll lose a good number of the guys for that discussion!) And we'll also be working on our reading list for next year, starting in July, Logos' first birthday.

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