Religion: Don v. Devil

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Lewis' new-found Christianity also introduced him to Charles Williams, the author he says has influenced his writing more than any other, living or dead. Williams was a scholarly, self-educated, Cockney-accented Londoner who died last year, leaving an astonishing assortment of essays, poetry and fiction that delighted a small circle of Christian intellectuals. His first novel, War in Heaven, told of a cops-&-robbers chase through modern England which followed when somebody turned up with the Holy Grail. The Williams books inspired Lewis to write a trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) dealing with the forces of Good and Evil at war on the planets of the solar system. One element common to all these stories: the villain of the piece is always a scientist.

The consistent identification of scientists with the forces of evil is characteristic of Lewis. To him, scientists seem, most nearly to embody the Christian sin of Pride—setting up the human will against the Divine. For this sin, Adam & Eve were expelled from the Garden and the heroes of Greek tragedy were punished by the gods. Lewis is a bitter academic opponent of Oxford's "progressive element" of scientists and "practical" faculty members who would lay more stress on "useful" courses than on Oxford's traditional concern with the humanities.

The Gentle Slope. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters largely as "a kind of penance," which his friends claim is his attitude toward all his Christian writings. He says he found it the easiest work he has ever done, but that it grew to be "a terrible bore." It was an immediate and phenomenal success on both sides of the Atlantic. Innumerable ministers quoted Screwtape in sermons and urged it on their congregations. Catholics enjoy it as much as Protestants. One clergyman makes a practice of presenting copies to his parishioners with passages marked for their special attention. To date, Screwtape has gone through 20 British and 14 U.S. printings.

The book is a series of admonitory letters from Screwtape, a fiendishly knowing member of Hell's "Lowerarchy," to his nephew Wormwood, a novice tempter who is grappling with the Enemy for one of his first souls. The irony with which Lewis catalogues all the trivia most likely to keep man from God has made Screwtape a modern classic. Samples:

¶"It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."

¶"The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice . . . and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. . . . Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that 'only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilizations.' You see the little rift? 'Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.' That's the game."

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