Some of my church girlfriends and I have a book club of sorts, meaning we all read a book and get together and eat and talk about what we liked (or didn’t) about that month’s selection. It’s all rather relaxed and laid back and we have a great time discussing a wide variety of books across different genres.
This past Monday we discussed C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. I was the only one who had finished the book but that didn’t limit our discussion, and, besides, one of the main tenets of our club is that there’s book club grace.
Like a lot of people, The Screwtape Letters is a book I’d started various times over the years but never actually completed, at least not until I was responsible for facilitating the aforementioned book club discussion! It turns out it wasn’t at all what I’d expected.
The Screwtape Letters is, as its title suggests, an epistolary novel comprised of letters from the demon Screwtape to his protege, his nephew Wormwood. Remembering the popularity of Frank Peretti’s novels in the 80’s and the fascination that emerged regarding angelic and demonic activity, I expected something of the same. And, yes, of course, demons are the main characters in Lewis’ story; Wormwood’s “patient”, the human he is attempting to influence for evil, isn’t even named. What struck me most, however, was not demonic method and influence but rather human weakness–specifically my weakness. This is, I suspect, Lewis’s intent: to expose our human frailty by imagining how a couple of demons might exploit it.
As a work of fiction The Screwtape Letters didn’t exactly draw me in. But as a commentary on my susceptibility to doubt and distraction, it moved me to both encouragement and conviction. I marked several passages to highlight during our book club discussion, including the following (Keep in mind that in Screwtape’s world the “Enemy” is God.) :
Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
On obedience and the will…
The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert it into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilising the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will. As one of the humans has said, active habits are strengthened by repetition but passive ones are weakened. The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.
On “Christianity And”…
If they must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.
On the middle years…
The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives, and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it–all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.
C.S. Lewis is, of course, a master. The angry fit Screwtape throws in Chapter 22 upon the news that Wormwood’s patient has a girlfriend who is “such” a Christian is hilarious. I think we all enjoyed (what we read of) this book and would recommend it to any other book club looking for good discussion and a dose of conviction.
Are you part of a book club? What books have you read? Speaking of book club selections, we are currently choosing titles for next year’s list. What books would you recommend? Non-fiction, fiction, biography, theology–we like it all!