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Temptation from Another Point of View

C.S. Lewis in his book The Screwtape Letters gives readers a different perspective of temptation: a demon’s.

Written by Kayla Guevara

In C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape guides his nephew as he is tasked to tempt a human into sin; this book is set in England during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Screwtape, an experienced demon, writes letters to Wormwood, his nephew, wherein he gives ingenious advice in order for him to successfully win over his patient’s soul. Aside from the three characters mentioned, two other individuals are also significant to the story, the patient’s mother and the patient’s lover. While the patient struggles to live a moral and Christian life versus Hell’s temptations, Wormwood works to entice the man to wickedness with the help of his uncle’s instruction. Screwtape shows clever subtlety in tempting patients to self-centeredness in prayer through feelings and images, to gluttony through delicacy, and to pride through membership in an elite Christian social circle. 

One of Screwtape’s sly techniques in tempting a human is by distracting him from the true purpose of prayer by using his emotions and his surroundings. Screwtape says, “the simplest [way] is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves.” He advises Wormwood to keep the patient focused on his mind, so that he may intentionally develop feelings there. For example, if he prays for forgiveness, he should be attempting to feel forgiven himself. If he prays for courage, he should be attempting to feel fearless. Screwtape informs his nephew that he should teach the human to “estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling.” (17) If the desired feeling is not attained, the prayer is not quite successful. By using the patient’s surroundings, Screwtape reveals that it can also be used to divert him from sincere prayer. For instance, if the patient lays his eyes upon a crucifix, he should be kept praying to it. Rather than praying to the Person Himself, he is to pray to the physical object that represents the Divine Being instead. From the patient’s point of view, he may think that he is still genuinely praying, yet it could already be the opposite. In order for prayer to be favorable of Hell’s agenda, Screwtape teaches Wormwood on how to slyly twist prayer, so the patient may be drawn away from its true purpose. 

Another way for Screwtape to catch souls is gluttony through delicacy, which is a sin just like gluttony through excess, yet it may not seem so. In one of his letters, Screwtape speaks of the patient’s mother as well as Glubose, another demon who is in charge of her soul, and how he has successfully made her a terror to servants. She eats in small quantities, but she is extremely determined to get exactly what she wants. As she satisfies her hunger, she “believes that she is practicing temperance” (88) by not eating much, but she does not recognize her gluttony. Regardless of how troublesome it may be to others, she insists on having her food at a certain temperature or done at a certain way. However, since she is never able to find a person who can meet her rather impossible standards, she is regularly disappointed and ill-tempered. She creates an excuse for herself as well by saying she likes to have nice things for her son; her greed then becomes a discomfort for him. As for the patient himself, Screwtape indicates that “males are best turned to gluttons with the help of their vanity.” (89) The patient can be made to think that he knows very much about food or that he has found the best and only restaurant for a certain dish, and this then can steadily turn into a habit. Hence, by way of another of Screwtape’s clever tactics, humans could continue to live a life of gluttony, as they do not realize that gluttony through delicacy is just as bad as through excess.

Lastly, the pride through membership in an elite Christian social circle is ideally favorable for the demons. In letter 24, Screwtape talks about the patient’s lover and her vice. As she is a Christian woman, she can ultimately bring the patient towards God, and yet, she has a blemish that she shares with other Christian women who have grown up in a similar circle. She speculates that “outsiders who do not share this belief are really too stupid and ridiculous.” (129) In other words, she has spiritual pride, but her ignorance is her vice. With the influence of the patient’s lover, he may then be led to believe the same notion because the group he is now part of is “one which he is tempted to be proud of for many other reasons than its Christianity.” (130) Screwtape advises Wormwood that he must make the patient feel that “he is finding his own level – that these people are his sort.” (131) He may think that he is part of the educated and more intelligent Christian circle because of his love for his girl. Wormwood must also teach him to distinguish the difference between the circle of Christians and the circle of nonbelievers. The patient must be taught to feel “how different we Christians are” (131), yet what he means by the phrase “we Christians” is the people whom he associates with rather than the people who have humbly accepted him. The sense of pride through membership in an elite Christian social circle is favorable to the demons’ side because it makes one feel superior over others. 

Screwtape, a skilled demon, shares his clever methods of tempting patients with his nephew, Wormwood. He shows how prayer can be made self-centered by the use of the patient’s emotions and through images; consequently, prayer can then lose its true purpose. Furthermore, he speaks of the strength of gluttony through delicacy since it is a sin that is not quite apparent. He also talks about how the patient’s lover may influence the patient himself to feel the pride of being part of an elite Christian social circle. Screwtape shows how there are many ways for demons to provoke a person into sin and how such procedures are subtle that they do not seem directly sinful.

Book: Lewis, C.S. (2001). The Screwtape Letters. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Featured book cover image from this source.

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