The Screwtape Letters

by: C.S. Lewis

Letters 4-6

Summary Letters 4-6

Summary: Letter 4

This letter is on the topic of prayer. Screwtape writes that it is best to keep the Patient from praying at all. But, if the Patient does pray, Wormwood should see to it that he invents his own prayers. His prayers should be more like a general mood than an act of concentrated meditation. Wormwood should make the Patient focus on his own feeling instead of God. He should make the Patient want to feel better. Rather than praying for forgiveness or courage, then, the Patient will try to feel forgiven or feel brave. Humans do not know the Enemy’s full power, Screwtape writes, and so they can be tricked into thinking about and worshipping only images. They pray to the crucifix on their wall, not to the Enemy. Furthermore, people think that they want to feel fully exposed to the Enemy’s divine presence, but they are, in reality, afraid to feel it.

Summary: Letter 5

Screwtape chides Wormwood for being too joyful about the start of World War II. In the end, the war might not help him in his project to undermine the Patient’s faith and win his soul. War is entertaining because of the immense human suffering involved, Screwtape writes, but it is just as likely to turn humans to the Enemy as it is to lead them into Hell. In wartime, also, men are prepared to die. They are conscious of their mortality and so, if they are Christians, they often prepare their souls in advance. It would be much better for devils if all humans died in hospitals and nursing homes where they are coddled and misinformed about their coming deaths. Suffering is an important part of what the Enemy calls redemption. The suffering of war, Screwtape warns, often leads men to redemption and into the Enemy’s clutches.

Summary: Letter 6

Because of his age, the Patient is uncertain whether he will be drafted Screwtape counsels Wormwood to keep the Patient in a state of maximum uncertainty. He should keep the Patient from thinking of his fear as a test from the Enemy and make him think only of the things he fears. Screwtape offers a general rule: encourage the Patient to focus only on objects and to keep him from being self-aware. If the Patient is praying, however, he should be kept from thinking of the Enemy and, instead, encouraged to think about himself. No matter what, Screwtape acknowledges, the Patient will be part bad and part good. War encourages people to hate unknown, invisible enemies. Wormwood, however, should direct the Patient’s hatred toward his neighbors and his good intentions toward people far remote. That way, the Patient’s virtues will be pushed out too, into the realm of fantasy.

Analysis

In the fourth letter, Lewis continues to challenge trendy Christian thinking. Though the letters first appeared in the early 1940s, many of the Christian trends Lewis criticizes in them are familiar to contemporary Christians. For example, the idea that it is best to pray spontaneously, to invent one’s own prayers. Lewis questions this truism. Reciting received prayers, such as the “Our Father,” he argues through Screwtape, may be more beneficial for a praying person’s concentration and for genuine spiritual reflection. Lewis challenges received ideas about his given topic at the same time as he gives more particular advice to his readers. His advice is often straightforward and derived from the teachings of Jesus in the gospels. He warns the reader to avoid idolatry. It is easy to replace God with an object used to represent Him. At the same time, he encourages the reader to make genuine petitions during prayer. His thoughts should be on God, not on his own emotions.

Most of Screwtape’s letters have a particular theme. In the course of elaborating each theme, Screwtape reveals, as if by accident, more traditional details of the plot. In the fifth letter, however, the outbreak of World War II takes center stage. Though World War II is the main subject of the letter, Screwtape argues that it shouldn’t be. And, in keeping with Screwtape’s feeling, from here out “the War” is mentioned mostly in passing. Wormwood’s ideas about the Patient, and about human affairs more generally, are a stand-in for popular opinion. Lewis uses Screwtapeto make small arguments against popular opinion. Like Wormwood, most people think that war is evil, that it is a bad thing for humanity. Though this may be true broadly speaking, in regard to human societies, it is not necessarily true for individuals. Individuals can see the war as an opportunity to become better people, which, for Lewis, means becoming better Christian. This argument is part of Lewis’s general effort to boost his reader’s morale during wartime. War may be evil, but, for believers, it can be God’s way of challenging them and, potentially, of bringing them into Heaven.

In the sixth letter, Screwtape advises Wormwood to prevent the Patient from thinking of the war and its difficulties as a test sent from God. Instead, the Patient should have no concrete, reasonable thoughts, only vague fears and mixed feelings. Here, without realizing it, Screwtape acknowledges the limited power and influence devils have over human lives. No matter what devils do, they cannot make a person completely evil. Therefore, devils, in the world of The Screwtape Letters, have little, if any, power of their own. They do not take action against humans so much as they encourage people to take action against themselves. Screwtape often argues that this inaction is Hell’s “policy,” but Lewis hints it may be God’s intervention. For devilish misguidance to work, Screwtape often reminds Wormwood, people must never realize that their present actions are harming their future selves. Humans can be made terrible hypocrites, especially if they never understand they are behaving hypocritically.