A 31 day commentary by Madelyn Christian Peterson
Although fiction, beloved Christian apologetic novel The Screwtape Letters certainly does not lack spiritual truths. Its 31 chapters are a perfect format for a month long commentary series. Join me as we break down CS Lewis’s beloved novel and get insight on the spirit war in a creative and fun new way. Want more? Find a copy & read along as we dissect the letters of Screwtape!
Written in 1941 by atheist-turned-Christian author, theologian and intellectual CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters is a novel about a chief demon advising his demon nephew on securing the soul of one man, a “patient”, to satan, “the father below”.
Composed from the perspective of Screwtape in the form of letters to his nephew Wormwood, the novel provides astonishing insight into the invisible war being waged all around us and within our minds.
The novel launched a unique new style of writing Lewis coined “demonic ventriloquism” and many works have since followed in homage to it. Lewis went on to write the Chronicles of Narnia series from 1950-1956 before he passed away in November of 1963.
Reviews on the back of the book rave Lewis “speaks to people where they are” with “wisdom and wit, style and scholarship” and is “the ideal persuader for the half-convinced”, and I couldn’t agree more. His works force those who read them to confront their own “philosophical presuppositions” and open their eyes to spiritual realities.
Lewis’s impeccable writing makes him one of the most profound literary giants of the 20th century. His class and wisdom reminiscence days of the old with romanticism and pasquinade, yet his works pierce the hearts and minds of those today.
Preface & Chapter 1
Disbelief or obsession?
The preface states, “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.”
I’ve never not believed in the existence of demons. I’ve always known they exist. Yet many meander through life ignorantly bliss to their realness, instead finding it “impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes.”
Demons love this. They love for us to get caught up in “the ordinariness of things” as it cuts down their workload immensely and saves the devil’s precious resources. The worst position you can take in this fight is not believing there is one. If you don’t believe in the fight, you won’t see a need for any weapons. You have no protection. You are living completely defenseless to the attacks of satan. And he loves it. His demons ensure your focus does not teeter “from that invaluable ‘real life’.”
So as the spectrum has it, either we don’t believe or we’re obsessed. I’ve never fallen into the first category, but I am certainly guilty of the latter. Anything of the demonic or occult realm piqued my interest like nothing else. I expressed this unhealthy interest by immersing myself in tv shows, movies, research, stories and lore about demons, witchcraft, and the paranormal.
Even my favorite childhood show was Scooby doo, which may have influenced my interest growing up and was probably orchestrated by the enemy himself. He loves to masquerade as an angel of light.
In my adolescence and early adult years, I could of easily explored my interest and dived in to practicing magic for real, but my better judgement (and the Lord Jesus Himself) prevented me from even dipping a toe. Even though I found it incredibly spellbinding, for better use of a word, I knew messing with the occult for real was certainly inviting demonic activity into my life, so I stayed away. Even in my foolishness the Lord protected me. He held me by my shirt and kept me from running off a ledge. He upheld me with His right hand!
It’s not just the occult— obsession with serial killers, cults, conspiracy theories, or reality shows that ooze sex, materialism and vanity reap spiritual darkness as well. As Lewis says,“ they themselves (demons) are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight”.
Whether ignored or glorified, demons use both positions to their advantage.
The Spiritual Matrix
As my passion for Jesus developed, my desire for the occult fell away, and now I watch maybe one scary movie every few months. I am more interested in defeating the enemy than glorifying him. It’s amazing because I still get to enjoy the supernatural, I’m just on God’s side now; and His side is more magical, mysterious, powerful and awe-inspiring than the falsehood of created things. I find it humorous, with my history, that the Lord’s called me to teach about spiritual warfare. He takes our brokenness and uses it for good and the advancement of His kingdom.
Now I’m not knocking having an interest in certain things, I’m a self-proclaimed-true-crime-junkie, myself. As we know, CS Lewis was no stranger to interesting topics, he was an incredible intellectual who wrote the epic fantasy series Chronicles of Narnia.
The key here is to be aware of the enemy. When I’m in a nasty mood I don’t listen to crime podcasts. When I need to get something done I cut off the reality show for a month. I am hyperaware of the tactics of the enemy so when I feel them coming or notice I’ve succumbed to them, I throw them off with the Word.
In the beginning of chapter 1, Screwtape tells his nephew Wormwood “I note what you say about guiding your patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend.” Right away we are given insight to how the enemy attempts to ‘guide’ what information we do and don’t take in. Screwtape suggests Wormwood incites his patient to believe materialism is “the philosophy of the future.”
The enemies goal is to keep you from the spiritual things of God by maintaining your focus on the seen world. If he has you obsessing over serial killers you aren’t thinking about God. If a demon can blind you with materialism your preoccupation lies there and not with God. For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.
Screwtape writes, “Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it ‘real life’ and don’t let him ask what he means by ‘real’.” Humanity is living in the spiritual matrix.
He then elaborates, recalling how he had an atheist ‘patient’s’ thoughts dabble down the ‘wrong’ road one day: “I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way.” Screwtape mentions how the ‘Enemy’ (his enemy, God) appeared right there with the man, beckoning him to continue in his thought. This gives us insight to the truth that God is always with us. He is very involved in the war over us.
However Screwtape successfully wins the battle through the mans stomach. He grabs the man’s focus (distracts from God) and reigns it back to earthly matters. All the while the ‘patient’ knows nothing of God or satan, the war going on for his soul; he just knows he is hungry.
Screwtape ends his recollection of the atheist man with a chilling confirmation, “He is now safe in Our Father’s house”, meaning satan’s home, hell.
This war is no joke people. Souls are in jeopardy. But there is a Way, and His name is Jesus. The war is already won. All who come to Him will have salvation and eternal life with Him. Come and receive rest for your soul. He will arm you with protection and weapons to defeat daily battles with the enemy through His word.
What about Science?
Chapter 1 ends with Screwtape instructing his nephew to not “use science as a defense against Christianity” as this “will positively encourage him (the human) to think about realties he can’t touch and see.” He continues to say, “There have been sad cases among the modern physicists.” Screwtape acknowledges cases where thought led intellectual atheists to the truth of God.
Most intellectuals use science as a defense against Christianity. However the very definition of science is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” Wikipedia states science “organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.”
God is Spirit and invisible. If something must be tested to be confirmed science, then science by definition can never disprove God. It can try to provide explanations of how the universe and life came to be without a God, but it can never provide an answer to why, the meaning or purpose we are here, or where consciousness comes from.
Marcelo Gleiser, Theoretical Physicist and 2019 Templeton Prize Winner, states it like this, “I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. “I don’t believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don’t believe.” Period. It’s a declaration. But in science we don’t really do declarations. We say, “Okay, you can have a hypothesis, you have to have some evidence against or for that.”
This very definition of science also destroys evolution theory, which millions accept as truth. But have we ever observed evolution? Have we ever even found a transitioning species? No, we have not. Evolution cannot be proven by science just as God cannot be proven by science, as science requires they must be observed and tested.
Science writer, mathematician, and author of Why Science Does Not Disprove God Amir D. Aczel puts it wonderfully in an 2014 article from Time Magazine, “Science and religion are two sides of the same deep human impulse to understand the world, to know our place in it, and to marvel at the wonder of life and the infinite cosmos we are surrounded by. Let’s keep them that way, and not let one attempt to usurp the role of the other.”
God is the Creator of everything, including the science and math that is prevalent everywhere in the intelligent design of the universe. We shouldn’t use science or religion to disprove each other because truly, they go together. When your eyes are opened, the Bible reads Iike a science (and of course history) book! It is the smartest and most insightful book that presents neurological and bodily truths as well as spiritual (as they are severely connected!).
One of the greatest tragedies of our time is this impression that has been created that science and religion must be at war.-Francis Collins, geneticist, author, and director of National Institutes of Health since 2009
Not only is the Bible a brilliant piece of literature, it is an intellectual book recorded and preserved with incredible accuracy, an abundance of historical documents, artifacts, and data to support its validity (see or read Case for Christ!), much more than that of the evolution theory. The Bible is the true work of God, and the answers to all of our problems lye within its living pages.
The enemy desires we remain ‘in the stream’, asleep to spiritual realities and the dangers of reason. However there is so much more than this stream of consciousness we live in. Lord give us eyes to see, ears to hear, mouths like swords, and mind’s like Christ.
I thank you that there is more in You. Please open my eyes to spiritual realities, teach me to live and walk by the Spirit all the days of my life. Arm me against the attacks and lies of the evil one and bring Truth in to my heart. I thank you for always being there and never leaving or forsaking me. In Jesus name,
How about you? Where do you land on Lewis’s spectrum? Do you believe demons exist, or are you a little too obsessed with them? Let me know your thoughts in the comments and have a blessed day!
Notable Online Sources:
Time Magazine Article by Amir D. Aczel, https://time.com/77676/why-science-does-not-disprove-god/
Templeton Prize Winner Marcelo Gleiser Interview, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/atheism-is-inconsistent-with-the-scientific-method-prizewinning-physicist-says/