Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis

Today I'm looking at a book from one of the greats of modern fantasy, C.S. Lewis, with his novella The Screwtape Letters. Written during World War II, The Screwtape Letters take the form of correspondence from a senior devil, Screwtape, to his nephew Wormwood who is engaged in tempting a young man into sin and ultimately damnation. There are actually at least two audio editions of this book read by different individuals. The version I listened to was read by Ralph Cosham which is definitely very different from the version read by John Cleese. I have not listened to the entirety of the Cleese reading but from the excerpts I have listened to definitely gives the character of Screwtape a very different perspective.

The book is almost entirely theological, as Screwtape provides advice to Wormwood on his ''Patient'' regarding leading him to sin and the virtues which Wormwood should endeavor to make his patient avoid. Now, I cannot say for certain that this book reveals Lewis's own theological opinions. It could very well be his own, earnestly held beliefs that he decided to communicate in a humorous format. Or it could be a series of doctrines he may agree partially with, or hardly at all, which he is presenting for consideration. I simply do not have enough knowledge of Lewis's own personal theology to say one way or the other. Considering that this falls very heavily into the ''God is Love'' theology and Lewis also wrote a book titled The Four Loves, I think it's reasonable to conclude there's at least a little bit of overlap.

As for the theology presented within the book, there are some parts that I agree with and some parts that I don't. Lewis himself was an atheist who returned to Christianity with renewed vigor so he very strongly rejects atheism, materialism, secular humanism, and a number of other isms as merely distractions of diabolical nature to keep people away from Christianity and God. The only path to redemption for humans is to love and serve God. Being an atheist, I of course disagree with this. And not just from a theological perspective. Leaving aside entirely the question of whether or not deities exist, or even accepting that they do exist within the context of the story, I think it's a little unfair to say that Christianity or even religion is the only way of being a good person. There was a lot of good which came out of the Progressive movements and other liberal movements through the nineteenth and twentieth century, not all of it religious in its origin. And if people are caring for others and doing work to help other people, does their motivation for doing so really matter, as long as they're doing good?

And I really think it comes down to the question over motivation. It seems to me, within The Screwtape Letters, that doing good for God is more important of more value than simply doing good. While I would say the motivation for doing good is largely irrelevant. Whether you do it for god, the warm fuzzy feeling, or out of general compassion, feeding the poor is good regardless of your motives. So I'm not sure Lewis and I would be able to see eye-to-eye on theology, but that's all right.

This book is interesting, if consisting almost entirely of theology and moralism. I can't find myself agreeing with all of its ideas, but there are at least some things I can agree with or at least respect.

- Kalpar

No comments:

Post a Comment