C. S. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters (5) The Sins of the Flesh

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

The Screwtape Letters Part 3 – Pride throughout the letters

The Screwtape Letters Part 4 – The Rationalization of Evil, Akrasia, or „The Lust of Deceit”

Part 5 –  The Sins of the Flesh

Screwtape, when he writes, especially about the sins of the flesh, and fleshly desire, he writes this in Letter 19, and it’s his key concept to the desires of the flesh. He writes: Separate your patient’s sexuality from all that might humanize him. To humanize the desire is not to deny the desire, but to allow love and justice to guide and direct it. That place where we begin to respect  the humanity of the other person, not be self-referential and utilitarian, using other people for our own ends. Screwtape writes in Letter 7: Once you’ve made the world an end of faith and means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. So we see that Screwtape seeks to hold the patient in a state of confusion over real pleasure. And, artificiality, or the corruption of pleasure.

In letter 9, we are informed that the devil cannot produce pleasures. Screwtape says, „All we can do is to encourage humans to take pleasures which our enemy has produced at times, or in ways, or in degrees He has forbidden. Hence, we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure, to that which is least natural, least redolent of its maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. Screwtape tells Wormwood, „Exploit the troth. Undulation – we have these up and down periods in our life. He says, „Exploit the troth, exploit the down time.” In other words, help your patient move towards pleasure, that is a kind of anesthetizing behavior.

All of us are wounded. Not necessarily all of us are broken. Brokenness is an awareness of our wound, and how it affects us at some level. And, our tendency, because of our woundedness, rather than bringing it to Jesus, to begin the process of healing us, we will gravitate towards anesthetizing behaviors. These behaviors are things like drug addiction, alcohol addictions, eating disorders, sexual addiction, workaholism. Usually, these anesthetizing behaviors get us by, they don’t get us better. And, usually, as time comes, we pick up some convictions along the way, and the anesthetizing behaviors that got us by from our youth, these anesthetizing behaviors begin to operate in contrast to our convictions.

Romans 7 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Who will set me free form these things? Paul says Christ will. Why is it that we keep going back to these things, even though they are contrary to our convictions? I would like to suggest to you that: Our wounds are deeper than our convictions. And, if we’re not finding the grace of God healing us in the places of our life, especially in the troth period, we become particularly susceptible to the sins of the flesh, and Screwtape has his way on us. (10:22)

What is the antidote to lust? It’s reality. To see another person as she or he really is. That is why Screwtape says, „Separate his sexuality from all that might humanize it. Separate it from reality. Separate it from virtue, as a means to pleasure, and lead them towards vice and unrestrained expression that doesn’t take into account the humanity of another person.” In Letter 13 Screwtape warns Wormwood not to allow his patient to experience real pleasure. The characteristic of pains and pleasure, he writes, is that they are unmistakably real, and therefore, as far as they go, give the man who feels them a touchstone of reality. He writes, „How could you have failed to see that a real pleasure  is the last thing you ought to have him meet?” Because a real pleasure would see things as they are, not as he would have them be. In an experiment in criticism, Lewis said: In coming to understand anything, we must accept the facts as they are, not as they are for us.

In Letter 17, he talks about the glutton of delicacy, and we talked about that under pride. But, Lewis finishes his discussion of the gluttony of delicacy by talking about this woman, who talks about- „All I want” state of mind. I want it like this, I want it like that”. She has in her mind what she wants. He says at the end of that particular statement: She doesn’t mind what she eats herself, but does like to have things nice for her boy. In fact, of course, her greed has been one of the chief  sources of the boy’s domestic discomfort for many years. She thinks she’s doing right by the boy, but she’s projecting on the boy what she wants the boy to be like, rather than being concerned to let the boy be what he ought to be. (18:00)

In Letter 20 we see Screwtape say this to Wormwood, „The goal is to produce in every age, a general misdirection of what may be called sexual taste.. (Here, sexual taste is the abuse of another person for my own ends, but, it’s an abuse of another person in a particular way). This they do, by working through the small circle of popular artists, dressmakers, actresses, and advertisers, who determine the fashionable type. As a result, we are more and more directing the desires of men towards something that does not exist, making the role of the ‘I’ in sexuality more and more important. At the same time, making it’s demands more and more impossible.

The use of undulation is a seedbed for temptation. In Letter #8, Screwtape invites Wormwood to exploit troth times. In Letter 25, we see this: There’s the horror of the same old thing. The lust then for novelty. You can’t get a person, then, to be satisfied in their present state, they have to lust for something that’s beyond what’s in their own pasture, or their own world. The God who is immutable created the immutability of time. He even entered it himself. He gives His creatures a love of permanence, as well as a love of change or variety. God seeks to gratify both of these loves via the rhythms of life. To overindulge one side of the permanence-variety struggle is to neglect the other, to play to eternity, while failing at temporal responsibility. This is gnostic. So to, to play to time, while failing at the eternal responsibility, this is damnable. The antidote to the excesses of change is permanence. Permanence is to discover the light in the particular.

Screwtape seeks to exaggerate the pleasures of either, to make an end of it. He seeks to destroy balance, and the struggle to bring about balance. And this results in diminished pleasure and increased desire. So, the pleasure of novelty is subject to the law of diminishing returns. This leads to the susceptibility to fashion or vogues, and so on. Screwtape’s goal is mainly to produce that nonsense in the intellect, which reinforces corruption in the will. Screwtape tells Wormwood, „We want cattle who can finally become food, but God wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. Screwtape will try to make man in his image, where as God will remake us in the image of His Son. All choice moves us one way or another, towards a miserific vision, or the beatific vision.

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