C. S. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters (3) Pride

Taken from the C.S. Lewis Study Program ‘The Screwtape Letters’ a six-part video study guide of one of the most popular and profound works of C.S. Lewis. By Dr. Jerry Root – noted C.S. Lewis scholar and faculty member at Wheaton College. CSLewisInstitute

The Screwtape Letters is a satirical Christian apologetic novel written in epistolary style by C. S. Lewis, first published in book form in February 1942. The story takes the form of a series of letters from a senior Demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter. The uncle’s mentorship pertains to the nephew’s responsibility for securing the damnation of a British man known only as „the Patient”. The Screwtape Letters comprises thirty-one letters written by a senior demon named Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, a younger and less experienced demon, who is charged with lewis holy trinity churchguiding a man toward „Our Father Below” (Devil / Satan) and away from „the Enemy” (God). (Read more, including the plot of the book at Wikipedia)

Here are the six parts Dr. Root covers in 4 separate videos (which I will posts as soon as they each become available):

  1. Background
  2. Doctrine of Hell
  3. Three major themes that run through these letters
  4. Antidote to Screwtape’s wiles and what Lewis might say about how we might protect ourselves against various forms of temptation.

The Screwtape Letters Part 1 – The Background

The Screwtape Letters Part 2 – C. S. Lewis’s Concept of Hell

Part 3 – The Screwtape Letters and Pride

One of the most dominant themes of the Screwtape Letters is Screwtape trying to woo his patient, through Wormwood, into this swollen sense of self into pride.

Dr. Root unpackages the 3 recurring themes that occur throughout the letters:

  1. Pride – a swollen sense of self and a diminished view of God. Pride, basically is man trying to play God of his own life. Every definition of sin in the Bible – gluttony, anger, greed, envy, sloth, lust-  has this (pride) as the definite concept embedded in what it means to sin. (Romans 3:23) God knows we have a diminished experience if we are estranged from him. He seeks to woo us back. Screwtape wants us to be as estranged as possible forever, if he would have his way. PRIDE is the complete anti-God state of mind. It is the essential vice leading to every other vice. Lewis concludes his chapter on pride with these words: If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can tell them the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. Screwtape seems to take good things and corrupt them with pride- even humility, even prayer, even the church. 
  2. The Rationalization of Evil (coming up in lecture 4)
  3. Temptations of the Flesh (coming up in lecture 5)

Lewis says all evil is a perversion of good. You can’t think of a bad banana, without thinking of a good banana that went bad. Evil compares to good like bread mold compares to bread. It feeds on the original thing. But, even man made in the image of the Creator can take bead mold  and make penicillin out of it; something good out of something bad. And so too, God can take the worst of evil events, as He demonstrated at Calvary and make of it divine penicillin, and the ultimate healing medicine  for the worst ailment of all- our sin and our pride. Pride is self centered and self exalting, and as such, estranges us from the real world where God and others can be met. It engages in projection of self and self interest onto the world around us and thereby becomes utilitarian. Pride results in actual attempts to alter reality. 

Each of us is intolerant of pride when we see it in others, of course. But, a false humility is manifested in our blindness to pride in our own lives, every time it raises its ugly head. Pride transforms prayer into idolatry. The subtle act of one creating their own god, can provide ample reasons for being disappointed at that god, and then projecting the disappointment on the christian God. I wonder sometimes if some of the rejection some of the people have, even some of the new atheism, if some of that rejection is a rejection of a god they made in their own image. We would say, in an informal fallacy it’s a straw man argument. In essence, in pride, things matter if, and only if, they matter to me. This sets me in conflict with the rest of the world. And, if it sets me in conflict with the rest of the world, it has to be rationalized.


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