Excerpt from The Screwtape Letters


I am delight­ed to hear that your patien­t’s age and pro­fes­sion make it pos­si­ble, but by no means cer­tain, that he will be called up for mil­i­tary service.

We want him to be in the max­i­mum uncer­tain­ty, so that his mind will be filled with con­tra­dic­to­ry pic­tures of the future, every one of which arous­es hope or fear. There is noth­ing like sus­pense and anx­i­ety for bar­ri­cad­ing a human’s mind against the Ene­my. He wants men to be con­cerned with what they do; our busi­ness is to keep them think­ing about what will hap­pen to them.

Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must sub­mit with patience to the Ene­my’s will. What the Ene­my means by this is pri­mar­i­ly that he should accept with patience the tribu­la­tion which has actu­al­ly been dealt out to him — the present anx­i­ety and sus­pense. It is about this that he is to say Thy will be done”, and for the dai­ly task of bear­ing this that the dai­ly bread will be pro­vid­ed. It is your busi­ness to see that the patient nev­er thinks of the present fear as his appoint­ed cross but only of the things he is afraid of.

Let him regard them as his cross­es: let him for­get that, since they are incom­pat­i­ble, they can­not all hap­pen to him, and let him try to prac­tise for­ti­tude and patience to them all in advance. For real res­ig­na­tion, at the same moment, to a dozen dif­fer­ent and hypo­thet­i­cal fates, is almost impos­si­ble, and the Ene­my does not great­ly assist those who are try­ing to attain it: res­ig­na­tion to present and actu­al suf­fer­ing, even where that suf­fer­ing con­sists of fear, is far eas­i­er and is usu­al­ly helped by this direct action.

An impor­tant spir­i­tu­al law is here involved. I have explained that you can weak­en his prayers by divert­ing his atten­tion from the Ene­my Him­self to his own states of mind about the Ene­my. On the oth­er hand fear becomes eas­i­er to mas­ter when the patien­t’s mind is divert­ed from the thing feared to the fear itself, con­sid­ered as a present and unde­sir­able state of his own mind; and when he regards the fear as his appoint­ed cross he will inevitably think of it as a state of mind. One can there­fore for­mu­late the gen­er­al rule; in all activ­i­ties of mind which favour our cause, encour­age the patient to be un-self­con­scious and to con­cen­trate on the object, but in all activ­i­ties favourable to the Ene­my bend his mind back on itself. Let an insult or a wom­an’s body so fix his atten­tion out­ward that he does not reflect I am now enter­ing into the state called Anger-or the state called Lust”. Con­trari­wise let the reflec­tion My feel­ings are now grow­ing more devout, or more char­i­ta­ble” so fix his atten­tion inward that he no longer looks beyond him­self to see our Ene­my or his own neighbours.

As regards his more gen­er­al atti­tude to the war, you must not rely too much on those feel­ings of hatred which the humans are so fond of dis­cussing in Chris­t­ian, or anti-Chris­t­ian, peri­od­i­cals. In his anguish, the patient can, of course, be encour­aged to revenge him­self by some vin­dic­tive feel­ings direct­ed towards the Ger­man lead­ers, and that is good so far as it goes. But it is usu­al­ly a sort of melo­dra­mat­ic or myth­i­cal hatred direct­ed against imag­i­nary scape­goats. He has nev­er met these peo­ple in real life — they are lay fig­ures mod­elled on what he gets from news­pa­pers. The results of such fan­ci­ful hatred are often most dis­ap­point­ing, and of all humans the Eng­lish are in this respect the most deplorable milk­sops. They are crea­tures of that mis­er­able sort who loud­ly pro­claim that tor­ture is too good for their ene­mies and then give tea and cig­a­rettes to the first wound­ed Ger­man pilot who turns up at the back door.

Do what you will, there is going to be some benev­o­lence, as well as some mal­ice, in your patien­t’s soul. The great thing is to direct the mal­ice to his imme­di­ate neigh­bours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benev­o­lence out to the remote cir­cum­fer­ence, to peo­ple he does not know. The mal­ice thus becomes whol­ly real and the benev­o­lence large­ly imag­i­nary. There is no good at all in inflam­ing his hatred of Ger­mans if, at the same time, a per­ni­cious habit of char­i­ty is grow­ing up between him and his moth­er, his employ­er, and the man he meets in the train. Think of your man as a series of con­cen­tric cir­cles, his will being the inner­most, his intel­lect com­ing next, and final­ly his fan­ta­sy. You can hard­ly hope, at once, to exclude from all the cir­cles every­thing that smells of the Ene­my: but you must keep on shov­ing all the virtues out­ward till they are final­ly locat­ed in the cir­cle of fan­ta­sy, and all the desir­able qual­i­ties inward into the Will. It is only in so far as they reach the will and are there embod­ied in habits that the virtues are real­ly fatal to us. (I don’t, of course, mean what the patient mis­takes for his will, the con­scious fume and fret of res­o­lu­tions and clenched teeth, but the real cen­tre, what the Ene­my calls the Heart.) All sorts of virtues paint­ed in the fan­ta­sy or approved by the intel­lect or even, in some mea­sure, loved and admired, will not keep a man from our Father’s house: indeed they may make him more amus­ing when he gets there,

Your affec­tion­ate uncle,

Lewis, C. S. (1942). The Screw­tape Let­ters.

Pho­to by Daniel Cur­ran on Unsplash

Text First Published January 1942 · Last Featured on Renovare.org September 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

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