Do you ever ask such things as, “What is real?”, or “What is truth?”, or “What does it all mean?” These shouldn’t be questions asked only by fresh-faced college students or airy philosophers. Each of us should at some time or another grapple with the truly big questions of life, the ones that seek to uncover the meaning, the truths, behind the reality we experience day to day.
This is C.S. Lewis’s point at the outset of his acclaimed fictional work, The Screwtape Letters (Time Life, 1942). Lewis’s brilliance is on full display in a series of letters from a senior demon (named Screwtape) instructing a junior demon (named Wormwood) on the “best practices” for leading a man astray from God and into eternal damnation. Wickedly funny while at the same time instructive, Screwtape demonstrates Lewis’s keen grasp of human nature and moral psychology. Whether or not you are religious, I heartily recommend you pick up a copy and read this smart, entertainingly serious book.
“Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false,’ but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical,’ ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary,’ ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless’… The trouble with argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s [the “Enemy” here is God] own ground… By the very act of arguing, you awaken the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?… Your business is to fix his attention on the stream [of immediate sense experiences]. Teach him to call it ‘real life’ and don’t let him ask what he means by ‘real’ (2).”