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The Screwtape Letters

         The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis deserves to be on any Christian reading book list. This is because it touches on almost every aspect of the Christian life: the Church, virtues and vices, and families.

         Even before Wormwood’s “patient” becomes a Christian, the letters center around the difference between temporal life and eternal life. Since the narrator, Screwtape, is looking to send the “patient” to eternal death, it makes sense that a main focus of the book would be faith and the Church. In Chapters 2 and 16, Screwtape tells his nephew to attack the church on Earth by making his “patient” into “a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil”. Chapters 4 and 9 center on faith and prayer. And the theme of true life reappears throughout the book, such as in chapter 5, which discusses how war reveals to men their mortality, climaxing in the final chapter.

         The next focus, virtues and vices, appears in nearly every chapter in one form or another. Some of the virtues include submission, which is discussed in chapters 6 and 14, joy and pleasure, which are mentioned in chapter 11, and courage, which is debated against cowardice in chapter 29. On the other hand, the vice of pride, secular and spiritual, is mentioned in chapters 7, 10, 14, and 24, and Screwtape discusses turning fatigue into despair in chapter 30. Linked to these vices are confusion and distraction, which in chapter 1 Screwtape claims to be his “best ally in keeping him from the Church.”

         Another focus that appears frequently in The Screwtape Letters is the family. The function of families is to uphold one another in the faith, so this is what Screwtape tells his nephew to break down. The relationship between the “patient” and his mother is discussed chiefly in chapter 3, although it is also mentioned in chapter 10 as being damaged by the secular company the “patient” keeps. Later, marriage is discussed in coordination with worldly love and God’s love. The way in which Screwtape puzzled over what God could truly mean by so loving the world reminded me of John 1:5: “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

         In my opinion, The Screwtape Letters was written for Christians, since the premise that there are such things as Heaven and hell, which unbelievers might deny, is essential to the book. Even though I didn’t agree with some of the ideas in the book, such as Limbo, I was still able to appreciate Lewis’s underlying themes and style. For example, his discussion of gluttony in chapter 17 made me think deeper about what really makes a vice a vice. In this case, gluttony is a vice based not on the quantity of food eaten, but on the underlying selfishness and unconcern for others. The Screwtape Letters still continues to hold relevance today, even for people who do not live in the midst of war, since its underlying themes are ongoing struggles of the sinful flesh. Although the nature of some topics may have changed, such as the status of the family or the way people look at certain virtues and vices, it is still an insightful read.