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4 Screwtape Quotes that Explain the World Today

December 9, AD2016

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Remember the commercial where a young woman says ‘I read it on the web so it must be true!’ By now, hopefully, people are becoming a bit more discerning than that.

I don’t go on social media often, but during the last couple of months, because of the election, I found myself on it more frequently than usual. I found people’s reaction to the election both amusing and irritating.  I also found all the fake news circulating on social media to be entertaining, but also a concern considering how gullible and naive people can be when it comes to the media.  Despite the repeated warnings, however, it seems that far too often, far too many people are still far too willing to believe anything on the Internet!

Today many of us are fighting a constant urge to express our opinions and take on the world (and this includes yours truly). Pundits today abound!  Sadly, too many people today seem compelled to make their opinions known in less than legitimate ways.

A Fake Quote

Recently, as I was perusing Facebook, an interesting meme caught my eye that seemed to explain the current state of the world perfectly. It was a quote from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters:

My Dear Wormwood,

Be sure that the patient remains completely fixated on politics. Arguments, political gossip, and obsessing on the faults of people they have never met serves as an excellent distraction from advancing in personal virtue, character, and the things the patient can control. Make sure to keep the patient in a constant state of angst, frustration, and general disdain towards the rest of the human race in order to avoid any kind of charity or inner peace from further developing. Ensure the patient continues to believe that the problem is “out there” in the “broken system” rather than recognizing there is a problem with himself.

Keep up the good work,

Uncle Screwtape

Wow. How perfectly does that tie into the current state of our society? Well, almost too perfectly it turns out.

I hate to burst the bubble of anyone out there who also saw this quote and thought it was just so perfect, but unfortunately it is too good to be true. Believe it or not, this was not written by Lewis and it does not appear anywhere in The Screwtape Letters. It fooled me too, until I realized that Lewis would have never used the phrases “out there” and “broken system.” This realization led me to do some research. I found that my skepticism was correct.

Some Real Quotes

However, rest assured, that what C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape said back in 1942 is just as relevant today as it was back then. Here are some real, actual quotes from The Screwtape Letters that are still meaningful today.

  1. “It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier.”

Ah, yes. It does seem as if good argumentative discourse has completely disappeared today. Instead of arguing we have tantrum throwing.  We have the pulling of hair.  And have a caricature of real thought expressed in public that is more satire than actual reality.

Search for Truth

Instead of searching for the Truth today, we search for sound bites that conveniently confirm our own opinions – brought to you by Google, the press, and Facebook. “But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that [the search for truth].”

Screwtape couldn’t have been more brilliant when he said: “He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false,’ but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical’, ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary’, ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless.’ Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church.”

  1. “It is far better to make them live in the Future…[T]he Future inflames hope and fear…Hence the encouragement we have given to all those schemes of thought such as Creative Evolution, Scientific Humanism, or Communism, which fix men’s affections on the Future, on the very core of temporality.”

This really does explain perfectly what has taken place after the election of President-Elect Trump. The fear being expressed about the future by the “snowflake generation” in their “safe places” instituted on college campuses, the constant protests, the recount movement, and other instances is almost surreal. This is a result of not only a constant focus on the future, but also a misplaced absolute trust and faith in the government.

Where Out Trust Belongs

We are called to put our Faith in God, not human institutions like government. But over the last several decades, there has been a slow and steady secular movement to create in society a belief that the government is the answer to all of our ailments. Unhappy? It’s the government’s fault. Can’t pay the bills? It’s the government’s fault. Dissatisfied with your community? It’s the government’s fault. Bullied at school? It’s the government’s fault.

And since nothing is our fault and everything is the government’s fault, it’s the government’s responsibility to fix it. The government is the cause of all problems.  Yet at the same time, and ironically, it’s also the answer – depending on what side of the aisle you’re on. Just as Obama was the savior of the Left and the Devil to the Right, now Trump is the Savior of the Right and the Devil to the Left.

Focus on Jesus Christ

As Screwtape so accurately told Wormwood, we have fixed our attention “on the very core of temporality.” In so doing we have placed our hope in the world instead of in Jesus Christ.

  1. “Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered.”

This couldn’t be truer today with the “selfie” culture that now exists. It’s all about me –my choice, my body, my life, my money. It’s accurately portrayed in the popular phrase coined by the secular pro-choice movement: “My Body. My Choice.” It’s a constant sense of entitlement that has been sown throughout our society that has driven us far from living lives of virtue – true charity, humility, and understanding.

Skewed Values

So our God given rights have been replaced by entitlements. I’m entitled to my own opinion – no matter how wrong or ill-founded. I’m entitled to more money – no matter how much I don’t contribute to society. I’m entitled to more school – no matter how little I study and actually use my knowledge to advance the common good. I’m entitled to not be offended – no matter if it’s true. I’m entitled to do what I want with my body – even if that means mutilating it or killing a life within it.

Our claim on life has become so extensive that we have left no room for Christ. We are unable to recognize the great gifts that God has given us.  And we have therefore lost the gratitude that we owe to our Father in Heaven.

  1. “He [the Enemy] wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? Is it prudent? Is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking ‘Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?’ they will neglect the relevant questions.”

The Devil wants us to focus on the future and be either full of false hope or intense fear. He wants us to concern ourselves so much with the temporal that we forget where our true home lies. In doing this, we no longer take action based on the glorification of God, but rather glorifying ourselves. Again, we look to ourselves for the answer to all problems, instead of looking to Christ.

Still Meaningful Today

C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters is full of many more powerful quotes that are very telling of our society today, decades after its first publication. Even now, too many are far too willing to place their hope and faith more in humanity to solve world problems than in God. If only we would turn our gaze to Heaven we would be able to go from election to election without needing “safe spaces” and without fear in our future.

If you have not yet read The Screwtape Letters, it might make a nice Christmas present to yourself. It’s also one that you can pass on to your children or loan out to other family members and friends.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Steffani is a wife, a mother, and a devoted Catholic. She has written for various publications, both print and online. Previously, she was an editor and writer for a military history magazine. She holds a B.A. from DeSales University in English and Communications. Steffani has a deep appreciation and love for good rhetoric. Always searching for a deeper understanding of Truth, she has never backed down from a good debate or discussion.

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  • Adrian Johnson

    “Put not your faith in princes. [or presidents]”
    “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and all else will be given you besides.”

  • Julie Machado

    This is great, thanks. I love The Screwtape Letters. I too have been irritated and on facebook a lot more than usual after the election.