C.S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters”: On the Value of Asking the Big Questions

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.

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“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).”

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4 comments

  1. geoffreymlyons

    Nice blog! It’s nice to see someone advancing Schall and the Great Books school on the web. The late David Foster Wallace’s (author of the mammoth ‘Infinite Jest’) favorite book was Screwtape Letters (http://toptenbooks.net/authors/david-foster-wallace#.UKREFbt4rZE).

    Similar to Great Books is Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon. I wouldn’t recommend the book but the list itself is extensive and free online.

    Have you read Closing of the American Mind yet?? I think the last time I saw you was in the elevator discussing it. (You were lugging Augustine’s Confessions around).

    All the Best!

    Geoff

  2. geoffreymlyons

    (P.S. – Not sure if you care but I like sharing what I’m reading with fellow bibliophiles. Recently finished Will in the World, a highly readable speculative biography of Shakespeare. Currently reading Churchill’s first volume of A History of the English Speaking Peoples. Sheer joy. The man was a phenomenal writer.)

  3. Pingback: Review: The Screwtape Letters « Jennifer Adventures

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