Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Reflections on The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

·On page 70, Wormwood is told by Screwtape that his patient’s humility and self-hatred/self-denial “may even do us good if they keep the man concerned with himself, and, above all, if self-contempt can be made the starting-point for contempt of other selves, and thus for gloom, cynicism, and cruelty.” What does Screwtape mean and how is this the case?

On page 70, when Screwtape discusses the humility of Wormwood's patient, he is basically trying to get the patient to equate humility with low self-esteem and self-hatred. Screwtape advises Wormwood to distort his patient's view of humility to mean self-disparagement rather than considering others better than ourselves and looking not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others as Philippians 2 describes. If Wormwood’s patient adopts this ideal of humility, his cynical attitude will inevitably cause depression and trap him in a state of perpetual disconsolation. After identifying his own faults as a false fulfillment of humility, his patient will turn to the mistakes of others and judge other people harshly as well. As a result of focusing on negativity and all the wrongs of this world and innumerable faults of folks around him, he will fall into a deep hole of darkness and despair, which will gradually take on an aura of normality for him, dragging him deeper and deeper into the pits of Satan and farther away from God. Screwtape also wants the patient to see humility as belittlement of one’s achievements, which will “introduce an element of dishonesty and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue.” If Wormwood’s patient does indeed start to believe that humility is simply a matter of self-disillusionment, he will not accept the virtue for what is actually is because of the false appearance of self-deceit he has assigned it. This mindset will draw the patient away from the Enemy because God’s virtues will no longer hold the quality of being pure, earnest, true qualities due to his misconstrued impressions.

· In what ways have you experienced in your own life the uneasiness and distraction which is described in this chapter?

I can relate to the discussion of distraction and uneasiness in chapter 12. Screwtape wants the patient to transform his uneasiness into distancing himself from God instead of seeking true repentance. Eventually, this desire to avoid God for fear of confrontation will lead to unproductivity, giving life a demeanor of nothingness and transforming purpose into meaninglessness like the book of Ecclesiastes. Over time, this feeling of lethargy will become harder to shake off the longer the nourishment of this feeling is prolonged. Oftentimes, when we’re really stressed or under a lot of pressure or just incredibly ill, this feeling of stagnancy can start to evolve into a disconcerting reality. I’m kind of experiencing this uneasiness right now because I’ve been sick for a few weeks and missed school today to go to the doctor, and sometimes the whole situation seems hopeless because I’m afraid of getting behind in school and wondering when I’ll get better and this illness will pass. I’m also concerned about my relationships with other people because I was supposed to make up a test after school today and since I was not able to, I’m fearful of the repercussions from my teachers. I think everything I’m dealing with is pretty minor but it seems to loom larger when you’re sick and weak. I don’t really like to dwell on personal struggles though because the world is a million times bigger than me, and I don’t want contemplation to ever turn into self-pity, which I absolutely despise. I think my problem is similar to Wormwood’s patient in that I need to learn to put my faith in God completely and trust him with all my heart as Peter did when he said, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom,” as recounted in 2 Timothy 4:18. I need to have that same faith in God that he will help me through difficulties. Peter did not say that God “might” save him; he said God “will” save him, and that to me exemplifies ultimate trust in God’s word, which can serve as our defense against notions of nihility.
  • Why is a persistent focus on the FUTURE part of the Enemy's (Satan's) overall plan for our undoing? To what degree do you believe the culture of the United States to be focused or fixated on the FUTURE?
A persistent focus on the future is part of Satan’s overall plan for our undoing because constant focus on the future instills in us a fear of either hope or anxiety and can even fill us with dread if our expectations do not come to full fruition. Satan is pleased if one is calm and tranquil regarding prospects of the future due to a false sense of security, complacency, or too high a regard for his own abilities. Several sources of wisdom have warned us against this kind of nonchalant disposition. Phillips Brooks once said, “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men!” When one, as described in the novel, prays for virtues wherewith to meet the difficulties and struggles in store for him and focuses on the present where all consciousness dwells, he is out of Satan’s grasp. We must also be wary to not adopt a sense of complacency about the future because of trust in our own abilities. Proverbs 3:5 reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Leaning on our own understanding and justifying contentment about the future with this reasoning is dangerous, because as humans, we are fallible and can easily be lead astray if we do not look to the right sources for inspiration, which only God can provide indefinitely and unlimitedly. I think the culture of the United States is often too fixated on the future. We are consistently thinking about future plans, future goals and ambitions, future dreams, which is fine in moderation but we often muse over the future in excess. Oftentimes, we mull over the colleges we plan to attend, the work we have scheduled, or even the plans we have for next summer to a degree where our aspirations almost become imperious in their control over us. At the point where we are consumed by thoughts of the future, our thoughts take on the form of a stronghold and can actually separate us from God. Sometimes, we need to take things one step at a time and remember the prayer asking God to give us our daily bread.
  • On page 81, Screwtape tells Wormwood, "Surely you know that if a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that 'suits' him." Why would Satan and his ambassadors want us to do this?
In Chapter 16, Screwtape advises Wormwood to instill in his patient a desire to go church hopping.  Satan and his ambassadors would likely want us to do this because this kind of desire arises from a mindset that implies self-superiority and nurtures the idea of a position of judgment rather than the role of a student and pupil who engages in worship with his fellow Christians. This reasoning reminds me of a chapel we once had where the speakers were stressing our collective role of worshipping God and fulfilling his service together. They reminded us that the people who speak and perform in chapel are not to be judged by us on their performance; that role is reserved for God alone, but rather we are ALL performing for God through listening attentively and receiving his word with open hearts. Satan desires to reverse this role and wants us to adopt an attitude of a critic rather than a pupil. Screwtape describes how God is the exact opposite and “wants of the layman in church an attitude which may be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise-does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going.” Satan would discourage adopting his kind of humble servitude, because in this condition, we are able to allow God’s Holy Spirit to engulf us and fill our lives, and Satan does not want us to be fulfilled. By allowing his patient to go church seeking, Wormwood’s patient would take on the false, misleading role of a teacher or rabbi and become blind to his true, actual role as God’s son.
  • In essence, Screwtape tells Wormwood that the whole principle by which Hell functions and operates is COMPETITION: "My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses." Do you think there is truth in this? Why or why not? Is it possible for life to operate by the "win/win" principle in which everyone wins and no one loses? How have you seen competition to be healthy? Unhealthy?
  • In his concluding remarks to Wormword in this letter, Screwtape says: “They [humans] regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life, as something lower than a storm of emotion.” In your own words, describe what Screwtape is saying here.
Ø  I don’t think Screwtape’s comment about the good of individuals being non-mutual is valid. The statement “my good is my good and your good is yours” completely contradicts the concept of community, which we rely upon and draw strength from, and for this reason cannot be true. This view is the polar opposite of that expressed in Countee Cullen’s poem “Any Human to Another” which states “your grief and mine must intertwine, like sea and river, be fused and mingle, diverse yet single, forever and forever.” Cullen presents her idea of community through the meaning of empathy, which is nonexistent in Satan’s world. Screwtape in his letter states that God aims to show how “things are to be many, yet somehow also one.” I think it is very possible, even essential, for life to operate by the “win/win” principle. Often collaboration and cooperation rather than competition offer the best solutions to everyday problems. By reaching a consensus, all people will benefit leading to further progress rather than the gain of some at the expense of others. Competition does have its arena, however, and can be healthy if serving as a source of motivation to be the best we can be. Competition has proved to be a good thing when it drives people to strive to produce the best results possible, but can be harmful when one fails to see the bigger picture and places the individual interests above those of the community. Competition becomes unhealthy when one decides to extract all possible benefits from a community without remembering to give back to it.

Ø  When Screwtape says that humans “regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life, as something lower than a storm of emotion,” he is referring to people’s tendency to place emotionalism on a higher shelf than commitment. Screwtape means that often we tend to yield to the unpredictable, randomly chaotic, inconsistent emotions that we experience as a result of change in circumstance rather than embracing a consistent attitude of temperance and patience. Because long-term commitment and loyalty sharply contrast with this often accepted indulgence in emotions rather than paradigms, Screwtape suggests that our view of marriage and fidelity is flawed in a way that benefits his corrupt intentions.