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Screwtape Letters: Discussion questions, Letters 4-18

Wednesday Oct. 23 – Chapters 4-6

Letter 4 on prayer:
1) Since Screwtape considers the topic “painful,” why did he devote a whole letter to discuss prayer?  Hint: look for some ironic humor by comparing (a) what Screwtape told Wormwood in letter 3 about how to influence the “patient” in his relationship with his mother and (b) the communication between Screwtape and Wormwood.*

2) What is the first “subtler misdirection” to keep “the patient” from attending to “the Enemy Himself”?

Letter 5–war’s impact on the patient’s faith:
1) How is “contented worldliness” such a “good weapon” for Screwtape and Wormwood? Does it work in war the way it does in peacetime?
2) According to Screwtape, what is the “real business” from which Wormwood must not allow any temporary excitement to distract him?

Letter 6–about fear and anxiety
Admitting that there will be some benevolence (kindness) and some malice in the patient’s soul, Screwtape tells Wormwood to use different techniques to make the malice “real” and the kindness “imaginary.”  How so?
*Lewis chose names for the devils by making them nasty “by the sound.”  Thus, he explained, “slob, slobber, slubber, and gob have all gone into slubgob.”  The name Wormwood derives from Old English wormod, the name of a woody shrub having a bitter aromatic taste. It is used in preparing vermouth and absinthe and some medicines. See also:  “The name of the star [falling from heaven] is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter.” [Revelation 8:11].


Wednesday Oct. 30 – Chapters 7-9

Letter 7–do devils exist?
1) How does the patient imaging a devil as wearing red tights help conceal their existence?
2) Keeping the local church small is a goal for Screwtape.  What consequences does he want to come from that?
3) Inducing the patient to become a conscientious objector will “almost certainly” help Screwtape’s cause.  How so? Why only almost?

Letter 8–The law of undulation
1) Although Wormwood has hopes that his patient’s religious phase is dying away, Screwtape has a different and better explanation for what is happening.  What is Screwtape’s explanation?  How does regarding humans as amphibians factor in the explanation?
2) What is the “appalling truth”?  How does it compare to the devil’s “war aim” for the world? What contrasts with the devil’s regarding humans as “cattle”?
3) How does the hiddenness of God become part of the greatest danger to the devil’s cause? What character trait is promoted during the troughs?

Letter 9–exploiting the troughs
1) Why are the troughs more suitable than the peaks for sensual temptations?
2) To directly attack the patient’s faith, Screwtape urges that the patient be kept from being aware of what law? What delusion does he want the patient to believe?


Wednesday Nov. 6 – Chapters 10-12

Letter 10–new acquaintances, vanity & Puritanism
1) Who is the new demon?  What does he have to do with the patient?
2) When the patient realizes that his “faith is in direct opposition to” the viewpoint of his new friends, how is Wormwood to manage the situation?
3) Screwtape mentions a really solid triumph of the last hundred years. What is it?
4) Screwtape also mentions three “old warnings”. What are they?
5) How can the patient live two parallel lives and not feel bad about it?
6) KEEPING THINGS OUT of the patient’s mind is a key devilish tactic. Are there examples in this letter?

Letter 11–four causes of laughter
1) The new friends from letter 10 are part of a larger circle.  What about all of them does Screwtape especially like?
2) What characteristic of the set does not alarm Wormwood but does alarm Screwtape? Why?
3) Why is joy of no use to the devils?
4) Fun is of little use to the devils except in one situation.  What is the exception?
5) The Joke Proper is “a much more promising field” for the devils. But “second-rate tempters” rely too much on a type of humor which does not produce the results Screwtape wants.  How so?
6) What is effective–especially for the English–as a means of destroying shame? What habit builds up “the finest armour-plating” against God?

Letter 12–road to Hell by small sins
1) What might stop Wormwood’s “excellent progress”?
2) Why is the patient’s church going and receiving of communion almost helpful to the cause of the devils?
3) What does Wormwood need to handle carefully?
4) Wormwood will gradually be freed from what “tiresome business”?
5) As the patient is in the process of drifting away from God, what does habit do to his pleasures of vanity, excitement and flippancy?
6) Screwtape hopes for what “invaluable tendency” to occur?
7) As that tendency occurs, what happens to the patient as a practical matter?


Wednesday Nov.  13 – Chapters 13-15

Letter 13–Positive Pleasures
1) Although we don’t see the “great many pages” written by Wormwood, what does Screwtape’s comment tell us about the spiritual condition of the patient?
2) What were Wormwood’s blunders? What was the result?
3) What is “the Enemy’s most barbarous weapon”?
4) What is “the last thing” Wormwood should have let the patient meet?  How is it different from the “vanity, bustle, irony and expensive tedium” Wormwood palmed off?
5) How is Wormwood to deal with the patient’s “deepest likings and impulses”? What is Screwtape’s “rule”?
6) How is Wormwood to recover from his blunders?

Letter 14–Humility
1) At the beginning what is so  “alarming” to  Screwtape?
2) How is Wormwood to deal with the patient having become “humble”?  Why is this supposed to work?
3) Suppose the patient realizes that he is proud of his humility. Is Wormwood doomed?
4) How else can Wormwood battle humility? Which attitude best reflects humility: (1) he think less of himself; or (2) he thinks of himself less often?
5) According to Screwtape, what is God’s aim regarding humility?
6) According to Screwtape, what attitude does God want for humans to have in place of their “animal self-love”?

Letter 15–Time: Present, Past, Future & Eternity
1) What is happening outside the patient’s life that may not mean much but may impact him?
2) Screwtape believes that God wants humans to attend to what two things? Why?
3) What are Screwtape’s two main aims? How does he hope to accomplish his aims?
4) For Screwtape’s perspective why is it far better to make people live in the future?
5) How are vices related to the future?  What vice thought to be an exception really isn’t?
6) What exactly is living in the present?
7) When “living in the present” becomes ambiguous, what is often the process?


Wednesday Nov.  20 – Chapters 16-18

Letter 16–Finding Best Church; Vicar & Fr. Spike
1) In relation to his local church what is the patient doing or not doing? Why is this not necessarily a bad thing?
2) Although God does not encourage His children to be critics in the sense of searching for a suitable church, He does allow for criticism in a different sense. What is that?
3) What attitude of church-goers is “most hostile” to Hell’s policy?
4) What about Fr. Spike’s sermons does Screwtape like? But what is Fr. Spike’s “fatal defect”?
5) Rather than argument about doctrine, Screwtape prefers another technique “for producing malice.” What is it?
6) Which of Paul’s teachings does Screwtape want Christians to forget?**

Letter 17–Two Types of Gluttony
1) What are the two types?  Which type characterizes the patient’s mother?
2) What does she think she is practicing?
3) Why was she so easily pleased in the past?
4) How are males best turned to gluttony?
5) On what virtue is excess food a kind of “artillery preparation” for the attack?
6) What is the “grand lie” told by the school masters at the instigation of the devils?

Letter 18–Abstinence, Monogamy & Marriage
1) Instead of sexual temptation, Screwtape focuses on another theme. Which one? Why forego sexual temptation?
2) Why does Screwtape promote “being in love” as the only acceptable basis for marriage?
3) How does Hell’s “whole philosophy” promote competition between selves?  What is the “contradiction” aimed at by “the Enemy”?
4) How do spiders exemplify Screwtape’s desired approach to sex?
5) How do the family and the organism frustrate the devils?
6) How does a man’s sexual infatuation shield him from the guilt of choosing a fool or promiscuous woman to be his wife?

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