Yea It’s been a while since I wrote anything, but now thanks to some recent happenings in my life I’ve decided to take a look at another reveiw by my friend I responded to in my first post. This one happens to be on of my C. S. Lewis books The Screwtape Letters. The revew I’ll be responding to can be found here(http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/books/screwtape.html) I was kinda surprised to see this one here since its not really an apologetic work per se, but I suppose it does have some things to say about athiesm. This will be a much longer entry since there is more stuff for me to contest. For purposes of making things easier to read Lewis’s words will be in italics the reviewers in bold and my own comments in regular type.
He begins with a summary of the book in the middle of which he writes Though the book may be intended allegorically, on the whole it leaves little doubt that Lewis genuinely believed that evil spirits existed and were constantly assaulting human minds. As he writes in the preface There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
It’s true Lewis does say that, but note that it is part of the fiction. Lewis explaining that he wont tell anybody how he obtained Wormwood’s letters because he is afraid people will misue the skills involved. I honestly dont know what Lewis really believed in regards to deamons(I believe they exist and they can influence us, though not to the extent described in the Screwtape Letters). But it also doesnt really matter whether we read the book as a alagory or a literal description of demonic life what he has to say about God the devil and our spirtual life is pretty much the same.
On Screwtape’s first letter he says this In this book and others (such as The Great Divorce), Lewis inveighs against atheists who allegedly are more concerned with whether atheism is a sufficiently “modern” philosophy than whether it is true or false. But what atheists does he have in mind? He never, as far as I know, presents a single example of an actual atheist who actually holds such a view, and prominent atheists of Lewis’ day, such as Bertrand Russell, were outspoken rationalists. I strongly suspect that this view is entirely Lewis’ invention, an insulting caricature designed to make atheism more susceptible to attack.
I am half inclined to agree wtih him here. I dont personally know of any athiests who’ve rejected religion because it wasnt ‘modern’ enough. However I DO know people who are athiests because they disagree with religious morality, or because they had a bad experence with church when they were young or because they find church services boring and irrevelent, all reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with truth.
next he goes on to say this The implication that any person who reasons too much or too often will convert is likewise an inversion of the truth. In reality, it is atheists who welcome rational argument and challenge, and Christians and other theists who do their utmost to avoid it and shut it out; and it is atheists who promote a view not because it makes us feel good but because it is true,
This statement above is totally false. I grew up an athiest and became a Christian because I found my reason pointed me in that direction. Furthermore my views on a number of subjects have changed over the years. And I can honestly say I’m far from the only Christian who holds these views either.
and it is Christians and other theists who often promote the idea that we should believe something is true because the consequences would be terrible if it were not.
Please, while the idea is not absent from Christianity(ex. Pascels Wager) its hardly commonplace. Even Pascel’s Wager is almost never used by professional Christain apologists.
He then skipps several letters and picks at letter VII where he says this:
Wormwood has asked whether he is to disclose his own existence, and Screwtape answers thusly:
I wonder you should ask me whether it is essential to keep the patient in ignorance of your own existence. That question, at least for the present phase of the struggle, has been answered for us by the High Command. Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves. Of course this has not always been so.
I do wonder what Lewis had in mind with this line. The existence of this book, particularly its preface, makes it clear that he really did believe in demons as consciously malignant spiritual entities working to damn humanity. But this line hints that he believes not only that they exist but that they actively revealed themselves in the past. Is this, perhaps, an apologetic for why supernatural events were recorded so frequently in the more credulous past, when we largely lacked the ability to record or verify them, but now seem to be absent? How remarkable it is that demons choose to remain conveniently undetectable just when we invent tape recorders and video cameras!
There’s nothing ‘remarkable’ about it. As Screwtape explains in Screwtape Proposes a Toast, the stratigey deamons use is determined largely by human society. Humans(at least in the western world) haven’t really accepted ideas like witchcraft, familar spirts ect. since about the turn of the 19th century. And especially in the last 150 or so years Athiesm and the rejection of belief in all gods/deamons/witches and supernatural acts has become the norm even for Christians(not many believe that there are real witches with real power out there).
next he writes this:
Lewis’ next barb, aimed at his fellow Christians, however, is on target. Screwtape advises his colleague that the religious impulse can be subverted by directing it into politics:
Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”… Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours — and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here…
It is not difficult to see this very phenomenon now occurring all over the world, but especially in America. In this country, evangelical Christianity has become effectively merged with a certain set of political aims, chiefly involving continual militarism, economic deregulation, and the creation of a paternalistic state that oversees and controls the private lives of its citizens. The overriding goal of the religious right is to break down the separation of church and state and gain secular power, and the desire to evangelize is considered important only insofar as it can bring more votes for this agenda. A person who has converted to Christianity, but does not share the evangelicals’ political beliefs or march in lockstep with their leaders’ pronouncements, is not just regarded as useless but actively demonized as evil, disloyal, opposed to religion, and a traitor to the cause. Though an atheist would explain the motivations driving this behavior in less ethereal terms, it gives me considerable ironic amusement to observe that Lewis regarded such groups as wholly under the control of demons.
Nothing ironic, or new about Lewis’s statement. Christians have always held that anybody who tries to politisisze their faith is midguided at best and hell-bound at worst. Chaucer(who by all accounts was a Christain, though wtih some unorthadox beliefs) and Dante(a devout Catholic, who despite being excommunicated never renounced his faith) both wrote insulting words against cleargymen(including some Popes) who used their position to further their political aims instead of serve the church. And this was also one of the issues that led Martin Luther to push for a reformation of the Catholic Church. As the Bible itself says “There is nothing new under the sun.”
onto the next letter he has these comments:
In discussing the periodic “dry spells” of decreased religious commitment which most believers experience, Screwtape says the following:
You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless.
Who said anything about overriding? Atheists like myself ask only that God, if he exists and desires our belief, make at least the minimum effort to convey that wish to us himself, in some unambiguous manner, and not leave it up to fallible, conflicting, easily mistaken human beings. This would not have to involve some dramatic supernatural event that would awe and terrify people – it could be something as simple as a voice speaking out of the air. An omnipotent being would, by definition, be capable of this, and it would not override any human being’s will.
Never mind that there is pleanty of antocidal evidence that God does interviene in just taht way from time to time, and it is the athiests who are the quickest to dismiss these claims as lies, hoaxes, overactive imaginations, mental illnesses, anything but divine intervention.
on the next letter he says this:So we are to believe that a demon can control a person’s actions, to the extent of directing that person’s attention to specific biblical passages, and can control a person’s thoughts to the extent of setting them on a particular plan of action toward producing feelings of religious exaltation? Just one chapter before, Lewis was talking about how God values human free will so greatly that he does not override it with supernatural manifestations. Why, then, would he permit the demons to do the very same thing and not interfere with their evil actions? In several places elsewhere in this book, Lewis mentions specific occasions on which God prevents the demons from influencing humans in certain ways – but why, if God desires to save souls, would he not simply prevent them from exerting any influence over humans at all?
And he ignores where Lewis gives just taht answer. God wants humans to grow spirtualy, if God took away all temptation we never develop and always be spirtaual infants.
He skips a few more letters to nuber XV where he has this comment:
In this letter, Screwtape discusses the human perception of time’s passage and how the demons can best use it to their advantage.
In a word, the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time — for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. Hence the encouragement we have given to all those schemes of thought such as Creative Evolution, Scientific Humanism, or Communism, which fix men’s affections on the Future, on the very core of temporality. …we want a man hag-ridden by the Future — haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth…
Though Lewis does not address this fact, he must have known that secular systems of thought are hardly the only ones that focus people’s attention on the future. The most obvious example was staring him in the face: the apocalyptic belief in Jesus’ second coming and the end of the world, which has wholly captured the attention of Christians for nearly two thousand years now. Every generation of Christian believers has obsessed over what they believed to be the imminent return of Christ and the hell on earth that would soon ensue, and as each of those generations grew old and gray and died away, the next one took up the torch of apocalyptic fervor just as readily. And today, despite Jesus’ promises to return now being two millennia overdue, Rapture fever is stronger than ever, with triumphalist Christian fiction like the Left Behind books burning up the bestseller charts. This remarkable pattern, by Lewis’ logic, would seem to suggest that most of evangelical Christianity is in thrall to unseen demonic spirits.
And I would agree, that the obsession over the ‘rapture’ and the apoclypse and that distracts us from the more important issues in Christianity. And it’s certainly not out of the relalm of possibility that the deamons are using it to do just that. As a preterist I dont believe in a rapture, or a future tribulation and all that. But I’ve known Christains who do and still think the whole idea gets blown way out of proportion.
He skipps a few more letters to get to XXIII and provides these comments:
Wormwood’s “patient” is drifting dangerously deeper into Christian belief, and Screwtape advises his protege to forsake fleshly temptations and try to corrupt his spirituality. He mentions that the various interpretations of Jesus that exist in society (other than the orthodox one, of course) are devilish inventions:
The advantages of these constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifold. In the first place they all tend to direct men’s devotion to something which does not exist, for each “historical Jesus” is unhistorical. The documents say what they say and cannot be added to; each new “historical Jesus” therefore has to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another…
Naturally, Lewis takes it for granted that his version of Jesus is the true and proper interpretation and is free from such distortions, as do most Christians. But Screwtape’s schemes could be applied to the orthodox picture equally well. How many Christians today follow Jesus’ very clear advice that being a true Christian means forsaking their family, selling everything they own and giving the proceeds to the poor, taking no thought for the morrow or where they will find food or rest? On the contrary, this bizarre instruction is near-universally suppressed by Christians. On the other hand, Jesus’ teachings about matters like Hell and the apocalypse has been exaggerated wildly out of proportion by many believers, to the point that it forms virtually the whole of their theology. Even within the ranks of faithful, believing Christians, there are numerous hugely divergent interpretations of Jesus’ wishes and desires. Even the Bible itself presents a conflicting picture, with Mark’s gospel depicting Jesus as downright secretive about his divinity, instructing his followers to tell no one of his acts, whereas John’s gospel depicts him as repeatedly announcing his identity loudly and in public.
His misunderstanding of the Bible passages aside, I’m again inclined to agree wtih him that there are Christains who ignore or downplay parts of the Bible they dont like. Whether this is because of a demonic plot or due to more mundane influences is perhaps open to debate.
He then goes on to letter XXV where he notes that Lewis dislikes Christians who politsize their beliefs and compalins that the Christain Right is doing just taht. I’m not going to comment since I’v already agreed that Christians using their faith as a political end is bad, and Lewis was hardly the first to realize it.
For the next letter he has this rather bizzarre comment:
Screwtape’s next letter concerns how to use human beings’ feelings of love for each other to undermine religious belief. There is not much I want to comment on here, but one passage merits a mention:
The enchantment of unsatisfied desire produces results which the humans can be made to mistake for the results of charity. Avail yourself of the ambiguity in the word “Love”: let them think they have solved by Love problems they have in fact only waived or postponed under the influence of the enchantment. While it lasts you have your chance to foment the problems in secret and render them chronic.
Though Lewis did not intend it this way, this sly argument would be a good fit to right-wing Christian notions of sex, marriage and abstinence. By angrily opposing programs that aim to educate people in the use of contraception and other sensible precautions, conservative Christians insist on “abstinence-only” sex ed, which the overwhelming majority of well-designed studies find actually increases teen pregnancy rates, STD rates, and other consequences of irresponsible sexual contact. This is no surprise. When people are treated like adults, they will act like adults; when they are treated like children and subjected to pious, belittling lectures, it is to be expected that few will listen, and then when they do choose to have sex they are ill-equipped to protect themselves. In general, there are many theists who think that “marriage” and “abstinence” are magical catchwords solving all problems, when in reality they merely sweep these problems under the rug and render them far worse than they otherwise would have been.
I dont know where he gets this from. I dont think proponits of abstiance only programs think that ‘abstiance’ and ‘marriage’ are magical catch words, rather they seem to think telling(and sometimes exagerating) the risks of irresponsible sex will scare them into not wanting to have sex. It doesnt work, but I digress.
Next letter on the issue of prayer:
Screwtape suggests how Wormwood can manipulate his patient
Don’t forget to use the “heads I win, tails you lose” argument. If the thing he prays for doesn’t happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don’t work; if it does happen, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and “therefore it would have happened anyway”, and thus a granted prayer becomes just as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective….
But what about the heads-I-win, tails-you-lose argument employed by Christians? They likewise say that if the thing prayed for does happen, this is another proof that petitionary prayers work, and if it does not happen, it must be because God, in his infinite overriding will, chose not to grant it as a way of teaching the petitioner patience, or humility, or some other virtue, and thus a failed prayer becomes just as good a proof as a successful one that prayers are effective.
How to decide between these conflicting viewpoints? The key point which Lewis overlooks is that it is impossible to judge the efficacy of prayer, or any other method of enacting one’s will, through isolated, anecdotal cases. It is always the case that a usually successful method may fail, or a usually failed method may succeed, due to occasional coincidence, but that is not the point. The issue is whether events that are prayed for occur more often than events that are not prayed for. This is a scientific question that can, under suitably controlled circumstances, be studied. And on this point, the evidence is unequivocal: prayer is ineffective as a means of supernaturally influencing the course of events. Studies of faith healing repeatedly show that prayer does not increase the chance of a desired outcome beyond what we would expect from chance.
The problem here is that he’s treating prayer like a magic spell that should always give whatever it’s asked for. It’s not its asking God for something, it cant be helped if God says no.
he goes on:
Screwtape also tackles the problem of how prayer could really affect anything if God is in control anyway:
If you tried to explain to him that men’s prayers today are one of the innumerable coordinates with which the Enemy harmonises the weather of tomorrow, he would reply that then the Enemy always knew men were going to make those prayers and, if so, they did not pray freely but were predestined to do so… What he ought to say, of course, is obvious to us; that the problem of adapting the particular weather to the particular prayers is merely the appearance, at two points in his temporal mode of perception, of the total problem of adapting the whole spiritual universe to the whole corporeal universe; that creation in its entirety operates at every point of space and time, or rather that their kind of consciousness forces them to encounter the whole, self-consistent creative act as a series of successive events.
In this paragraph, Lewis takes quite a long time to say very little at all. Under this blizzard of mostly meaningless verbiage, the point seems to be that human prayers are taken into account by God as one of the “innumerable” factors which affect his decisions. But as I have pointed out before, could prayers possibly change God’s mind? Could a human, by asking, ever convince an omniscient being to do something he was not going to do anyway, or convince him not to do something he was going to do? Of course not: an omniscient being would know, without having to bother with the input of prayer, what actions would best achieve his goals and would already have been taking those actions.
That is kind of Lewis’s point, though he adds that God would already know that person was going to pray a give prayer, and planned his answer around that(among other things). thank you for agreeing with Lewis.
Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating The Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood… and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the “present state of the question”.
But, again, do Christians not have their own analogue of the Historical Point of View? In the Christian version, whenever a person is presented with any statement by an author ancient or modern, they are far less likely to ask whether it is true than whether the person is a believer or a heretic, whether it accords with what the church teaches, whether it has been condemned as heretical, whether it agrees with the dogmas they already believe.
I dont know of any Christains who hold these views. Perhaps you could name some for me.
The next letter contains a truly incredible admission:
How valuable time is to us may be gauged by the fact that the Enemy allows us so little of it. The majority of the human race dies in infancy; of the survivors, a good many die in youth. It is obvious that to Him human birth is important chiefly as the qualification for human death, and death solely as the gate to that other kind of life. We are allowed to work only on a selected minority of the race, for what humans call a “normal life” is the exception. Apparently He wants some — but only a very few — of the human animals with which He is peopling Heaven to have had the experience of resisting us through an earthly life of sixty or seventy years.
Atheists have often made the point that the Christian system of salvation gives people a perverse incentive to die while young. After all, a person who dies before the “age of accountability” is guaranteed an eternity of bliss in Heaven, while a person who lives past that age has a better than even chance of ending up eternally damned (given that the majority of the world’s population is not Christian).
Actually the majority of the world is Christian, and dont forget that those who’ve never heard the Gospel can acheieve salvation by honestly seeking God the best way they know how.
The bizarre, ludicrous illogic of this system turns notions of morality on their head. The logical conclusion from these beliefs would be that it is a morally praiseworthy act to kill children, thereby guaranteeing their salvation.
And it has been used to justify it before, though it should be very well noted that God explecitly condems murder and child-sacrafice. I’m sure anybody who goes around killing children to ensure their entrance to heaven wont get there themselves.
Why in the world would God even bother to create the Earth if “human birth is important chiefly as the qualification for human death”? Why not just create a race of beings that all die in the womb and have their salvation assured? Lewis mentions these glaring facts, but never addresses their implications for Christianity.
Ignore his very question. God wants some humans who’ve freely chosen to folow him and have a chance to grow spirtualy. Personally I think God expects those of us who’ve had this chance to grow to act as teachers and mentors to those who never did.
The next letters deals with much the same.
The next letter seems to represent an attempt to explain the theological discrepancies raised in the last one, as Lewis has Screwtape discuss how a mortal world of dangers and threats will inevitably produce virtue:
This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world — a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.
This is similar to Lewis’ argument in The Problem of Pain, where he writes that suffering is God’s “megaphone to rouse a deaf world”. As such, it suffers from many of the same problems. One of the most important is one that perenially comes up to topple Christian theodicies: if what you say is true, then how do you account for the existence of Heaven? Presumably, there will be no dangers or threats in Paradise. Does this mean that virtue will fade away there as well? Will people become cowardly and lazy because there is no evil to exercise their moral muscles? And whatever answer a Christian proposes to explain this dilemma, why is the same exact answer not applicable to Earth?
Again Lewis already provides the answer to this question(though this one was several letters earlier). Earth is where we develop the virtues that we will have in heaven. This is also why he allows deamons to tempt and try us, withouth those temptations we wont develope those traits. Also in the last letter(and some Lewis’s other works) he explains that he doesnt believe Heaven will be free of work, challanges and perhaps even pain, but these will not be something to be avoided and shuned, but something to be embraced and overcome. It may sound a little silly but think of it like a video game, it can be an immensley frusterating experence to play one, but we enjoy the experence, and we when we finish the game(or even get past a really frusterating part) it feels good to have accomplished something.
Finally goes on to the next to last letter(he has no comments for his last letter) he tries to answer Lewis in how the word ‘real’ can be used in different ways to mean different things, but ends up agreeing with him. he then to this part of the letter
…The general rule which we have now pretty well established among them is that in all experiences which can make them happier or better only the physical facts are “Real” while the spiritual elements are “subjective”; in all experiences which can discourage or corrupt them the spiritual elements are the main reality and to ignore them is to be an escapist… Your patient, properly handled, will have no difficulty in regarding his emotion at the sight of human entrails as a revelation of Reality and his emotion at the sight of happy children or fair weather as mere sentiment.
and says I know of no atheist who believes that happiness is less real than hurt and suffering,
No and I dont think that is what Lewis is going for. Rather I think he’s trying to explain how people can(and often do) hold two contradictory opinions without realizing they are contradictory. Screwtapes description remindes me of athiests I personally know who think that morals are subjective, or at best that they have no existance outside of human minds, but taht the ‘reality’ of evil proves God does not exist. This is why I think the problem of evil fails before it even gets out the gate, because in order for it work one has to admit that objective morals exist, which leads back to the question of what their source for morality is.
Overall I think our reviewer missed the point on most of what Lewis was trying to say in the Screwtape Letters. Although he does point out some places where his arguments can be used against Christians, I dont think Lewis would have objected to them being used that way. I still think the Screwtape Letters has a lot to say about God, the Devil and humanity, and while our reveiwers words have provided some food for thought theres really nothing that takes that away from this work.