J.G. Keely's Reviews > The Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
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May 06, 2008

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If not for the fact that this is a satire in earnest, it would serve as a powerful absurdist invective against humanity itself. If this book improved my view of Christians it was only because it points out that all the faults conspicuous in the rabidly faithful are equally well-represented in the uninformed agnostic, if less readily apparent--Lewis does his best to drag everyone down to a common level.

The sharp weapon of Lewis's rhetoric tears down humanity through all its self-righteous hubris, denial, misdirected hopes, and easy mistakes. However, one begins to develop the impression, slowly at first, that Lewis has nothing to offer in return. There are scarcely words of alternatives, let alone improvements.

Lewis does give us a house which disgusts the devils and redeems the sinful, but this perfect representation of Christian values is just a lack of badness, not a profusion of goodness. It is 'suffused' by some sort of magical glow which infects the cat, but magical glows do not a life philosophy make. I got the impression that Lewis hoped to fill in with the good parts later, but couldn't think of any.

Human beings have a cognitive bias for avoiding punishment, even to the point where we will avoid a small punishment rather than seek a great reward. Perhaps this fear consumed Lewis, as it does so many people. That would explain why his books seem more concerned with avoiding small errors instead of seeking out grand achievements.

But then, Lewis has a similar failing with grand villainy. Sure, he's able to point out all the little, foolish errors we make, but he seems to have no ability to understand actual malice or hatred. His demons, like all his villains, just do bad things because it's required of them. Lewis is unable to develop any motivation for them to do evil, which means that, in the end, his vision of evil is silly, petty, and dismissive. He cannot give us a vision of a truly dangerous devil, like Milton's or Hogg's, just an arbitrary (and easily blamed) antagonist.

Lewis said writing these letters was more unpleasant than any of his other books, and that he could not bring himself to write a sequel. I find little surprise in this, because one can see how, as the book goes on, Lewis more and more recognizes the failures of mankind but when he tries to express what makes him or his faith any different, cannot find anything to say.

The 'suffusing glow' becomes a metaphor for Lewis's own righteousness, but whenever Lewis isn't basking in his own self-righteousness, he is ridiculing someone else's. Lewis' rhetoric is most deficient when he scorns one of man's many faults, then calls it a virtue in the next chapter.

For example, the book begins with the demon advising that humans should be encouraged to think of things as being 'real' without ever questioning what that means. The term 'real life' is meant to act as a self-justification for assumptions, not as an introspective view. This is 'bad' because 'real' has no meaning beyond the opinion of the user, and hence it can be used to justify anything.

Then Lewis begins to talk about how the Christians should make sure to follow what is 'natural', but fails to define what 'natural' is supposed to mean. Like 'real', 'natural' can be used to justify any idea or position, but Lewis does not turn a skeptical eye on himself.

This can hardly surprise, as Lewis maintains a philosophy of Duality. Dualism presents the 'with us/against us' ideal by which any two groups may grow to hate one another despite the fact that they have relatively few differences. As long as one defines the other as bad, there is no need to define the self as good, as in the Dualistic system, there is only good and evil, and you are either one or the other.

Lewis often falls back on this defense, showing how some men are bad, how he is different from them, and then assuming 'different' equals 'better'. He uses rational, skeptical argument to show how flawed his opponent is, but tearing down others is not the same as raising yourself up.

That being said, it would still be refreshing to meet a believer who had put as much thought and work into attempting to understand and explain themselves. It is rare to find thoughtfulness and skepticism, believer or no. Atheists and scientists can be just as troubled, flawed, and deluded as anyone else.

The lesson I will pull from this is that it is important for me to concentrate on myself and my own growth, because worrying about everyone else didn't help Lewis, and it isn't going to help me, either. I must not simply tear down those who are different from me, since this doesn't prove that I am right, any more than a bully proves his superiority by his insults and threats.
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Quotes J.G. Keely Liked

C.S. Lewis
“[M]an has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. 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. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about.”
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

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Skylar Burris A thoughtful review.

"However, one begins to develop the impression, slowly at first, that Lewis has nothing to offer in return." "The problem with this is that if one believes morality more complex than black and white, then it is not enough for him to simply say he is better or different than those who so deeply disappoint him." I think Lewis would be the last to imply that he is "better" than those who disappoint him; I think that idea grossly misses the point of Christianity, which is not that Christians are "better" than anyone else. This understanding I think may be in part why he appears to you to offer nothing "better" in return, because being Christian is not really about BEING "better" at all, it's more about being aware – aware of God, aware of His pleasures, aware of the voice of the conscience, aware of our own sin, aware of forgiveness, aware of the fact that we are NOT "better." I think what Lewis offers in return in Screwtape is real pleasure sincerely and appropriately enjoyed, as opposed to perverted pleasure consumed without filling or feigned pleasures pursued to impress others.

message 46: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm reading this right now, and I agree with your assessment. But, ultimately, Lewis thinks there's some JOY to be had in life. Screwtape breaks down things like humor and happiness and looks at the positive and negative forms of them--positive, in that they lead one down the path to Hell, self-importance, and navel-gazing solipsism ... and negative, in that they lead one to a sense of fullness, humility, and general compassion.

I've just finished one passage in particular that seems so very Buddhist: We find greatest worth as a human being when we release the ego and learn to love others as we love ourselves.

message 45: by J.G. Keely (last edited Jun 26, 2008 02:14PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

J.G. Keely Yeah, there's certainly some great wisdom and insight in there, but there never seems to be any basis for it. I don't sense any fundamental structure beneath Lewis's sense of what is proper and what is not, and when one is a dualist, that line of delineation must be razor-thin in its careful definition.

Then again, that is the same problem the Bible itself has: that one can pick and choose morality from it to such a degree that pacifism and warmongering have both been expressed as central tenets of the faith. Without some ethical basis for behavior, all we really have are some 'pretty good traditions'. This works pretty well on the average, but it is hubristic to think that your own ethics are somehow beyond a doubt if you cannot explain what they are based.

Hubris is defined by one person believing themselves supernaturally special and correct. Even if one is humble, if one is only humble because they think they have some fundamental center of humility, then it is only a humility of self-righteousness.

I'm all for joy and love, but I've watched enough relationships fall apart over differing opinions of what constitutes 'love'. If you can't explain it, than you don't know. Then again, not knowing's fine, too.

Megan I agree, almost wholeheartedly, with your assessment of the book, and I greatly appreciate your well-written review.
I started out delighted with Lewis's humor and observance of human nature, not to mention his prose. However, halfway through the book, he seems
to ... flounder. The logic begins to break down as it becomes clear the foundation of the book is based on assumptions that God with a capital "G" is the way, the truth and the life -- no questions asked, no need for explanation.
That said, I fell in love with Lewis as a small child reading the Chronicles of Narnia again and again and again, and later the Space Trilogy, and later yet his "philosophical" works. Whether or not I agree with him on all accounts, it is so wonderfully refreshing to find Christians who truly think about their faith and study their belief system that I really try not to tear their logic apart too much. After all, she who throws the first stone ...

As Mark Twain said:
"The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also. I would not interfere with any one's religion, either to strengthen it or to weaken it. I am not able to believe one's religion can affect his hereafter one way or the other, no matter what that religion may be. But it may easily be a great comfort to him in this life--hence it is a valuable possession to him."

J.G. Keely It is always refreshing to find someone with a clear mind for thought, someone who is trying earnestly to figure things out, be they Christian or what they will.

What I find sobering or even unsettling in Lewis is that despite the clarity of his mind--despite the ability for his vision to sometimes cut to the heart of matters so succinctly, to lay bare hypocrisy and wasteful self-assurance--he still falls, himself, to the same flaws.

His mind does not save him from being as short-sighted as every 'sinner' he tears down. We can see where he falters, where his words and thoughts fail him, and yet he cannot see it himself. I know that I, too, must be as a blind and ignorant as anyone, sometimes, but I hope that Lewis can remind me to criticize my own method before I criticize anyone else's.

I agree with the Mark Twain quote, religion is a comfort; it is an escape from fear and unsureness. However, I must ask how much of a blessing it truly is.

It would be a comfort for a doctor to tell me I have no cancer, even if he were lying. Is that comfort more important than honesty? Does it take precedence over his responsibility to deal with the hardship of telling me, or my responsibility of dealing with death?

It seems to me that such comfort is a temporary, short-sighted thing. It does not solve our problems, but merely puts them off for tomorrow. It makes us into grown children, seeking pleasure and simple answers and making us unable to deal with the difficult responsibilities that we must bear.

It would be nice to believe that all the people who wronged us will pay for it in some other life, and that we will be rewarded. However, it seems to me that forsaking the life we live now for an imagined life is suicide, whether we live inside thoughts of heaven, Twilight, The Yankees, magic, or any escapist fantasy.

It shouldn't surprise us that there is so much poverty, war, pollution, and inequality when so many people don't think this world is worth living in. I think we should try to live for the world we know before the ones we imagine.

Is it worth the comfort of being told we have no cancer when the cancer is already destroying us?

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Skylar wrote: "I think Lewis would be the last to imply that he is "better" than those who disappoint him; I think that idea grossly misses the point of Christianity, which is not that Christians are "better" than anyone else."

Oh, really? So the doctrine of non-Christians finding an eternity of unfathomable torture is an expression of Christian and non-Christian equality, eh? Give me a break. Your little paragraph there just reminded me so much of the absurdity of so-called "Christian humility." I'm so sick of listening to people praise themselves for their "humility". The same people that claim to know the existence of a logically impossible supernatural being such as the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent god of the Abrahamic monotheisms, what this Being wants, its basic eschatological plans for human existence, etc, etc, etc. It looks to me like what "humility" means in this context is rather a deeply, deeply self-deceptive arrogance of the highest order.

message 41: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited May 15, 2009 07:17AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio deleted user wrote: "I've just finished one passage in particular that seems so very Buddhist: We find greatest worth as a human being when we release the ego and learn to love others as we love ourselves."

This is a beautiful sentiment but no religion is responsible for its existence. We can see the ethic of reciprocity (The Golden Rule) predating our species and it is enshrined in a variety of ancient writing spanning geography, history and religions (for instance Confucius and various ancient Greek philosophers articulated it long before the Gospels of the New Testament started circulating). It arises naturally in a social species. Luckily we have a type and degree of sapience as humans that allows us to reflect upon and cultivate this impulse to greater and greater efficiency and deeper and deeper levels of emotional resonance.

Shannon "The sharp weapon of Lewis's rhetoric tears down humanity through all its self-righteous hubris, denial, misdirected hopes, and easy mistakes. However, one begins to develop the impression, slowly at first, that Lewis has nothing to offer in return. There are scarcely words of alternatives, let alone improvements."

The idea is that Satan does not know the alternatives. The book is, afterall, written from his standpoint.

J.G. Keely Milton creates a very believable and even sympathetic view of Satan's 'fallen rhetoric', and while it fails to comprehend god, it does recognize his methods. The danger Milton presents is not that Satan is simply ignorant, but that he has created an entire worldview that explains and supports his position, even when he is wrong.

Lewis isn't capable of doing the same. Satan shouldn't have any problem in recognizing the alternatives god grants; his problem should be in realizing their value. Through this, Lewis could have given us a view of what was worthwhile and reasonable about god, even if Satan himself couldn't comprehend why.

Lewis often shows views which the audience is meant to recognize as flawed, and therefore find both humor and insight in the argument's cracks. However this method is notoriously absent regarding the positive aspects of faith. It's not that he doesn't have the tools, it's that he does not or cannot present the arguments.

Instead Lewis simply tears down, and builds up nothing in return. His critique of humanity is amusing and sometimes insightful, but it doesn't work as an argument for anything. Even Satan seems to distinguish between the Pride of Righteousness and simple, everyday Pride, showing that he is capable of recognizing alternative methods, but this difference is never explained.

If Satan recognizes the difference, then we should understand why, and if he doesn't recognize it, then Satan should lambaste the righteous Christians just as much as the 'false believers'; yet he draws a line between the two without explicating it.

Lewis has the same problems in 'Mere Christianity': he is scathing in tearing down others, but never shows why his way is any better than those he criticizes. He mentions that 'Mere Christianity' is for those who are already saved, and so denies any need for explanation.

This is an odd delineation, for Lewis has no compunction with using his biting wit up to this point, but then stops his rhetoric when he reaches it. Either he is creating an argument or he is not: half an argument is not enough.

In the end, Lewis creates a grand ad hominem attack, faulting the character of mankind but failing to refute the main point with his own evidence. The mistake of the ad hominem attack is always the assumption that if someone else has a flaw, then you are superior to him.

The problem with this assumption is that if you recognize a flaw in someone else, or in humanity itself, this is just an indication that you share that flaw with them. Lewis deals a mighty blow to makind's pride, but never defines why he shouldn't be included in his grand critique.

message 38: by Johnny (new)

Johnny The sharp weapon of Lewis's rhetoric tears down humanity through all its self-righteous hubris, denial, misdirected hopes, and easy mistakes. However, one begins to develop the impression, slowly at first, that Lewis has nothing to offer in return. There are scarcely words of alternatives, let alone improvements.

why would a mentor devil instruct his senior devil on improvements. Actually in the book their are some alternatives that the author of this review apparently ignored. Such as when Screwtape tells his younger devil how God wants his servants to be humble and not proudful, by putting others up and keeping their thoughts focused on God and other and not themselves. So that when their thinking of others they will not be thinking of themselves. Furthermore, Screwtape says how a man should be strict concerning doctrinal issues in churches. Meaning he should reject churches with doctrines which are false. However, he should not be legalistic concerning unisentialls such as candles, different ways to baptize ect. These are just two I kind can think of off hand which shows their are many more (which I have forgotten)others.

J.G. Keely The clever satirist can make conspicuous to the reader that which his farcical characters fail to recognize, and this is often Lewis' intent. We can see the moments where he presents humility and purity as desireable, but Lewis is unable to show why these are desireable in the faithful but are often signs of sinfulness and pride in those Lewis critiques.

Lewis wants to separate himself from the mass of low, sinful humanity he finds it so easy to criticize, but can formulate no good reason that he is better. So, instead of producing humility in him, it deepens his need for separation. While an absurdist says "I see humanity is wretched, and I am a human, so I am wretched", Lewis prefers "I see humanity is wretched, but I am not a wretch, hence something must make me better".

Many philosophers have tried to develop a concrete reason why they should be better than those they critique, and while Lewis certainly makes attempts, his success is questionable. His is usually some version of "I am better than those I critique because of my faith in what I see is true".

But hypocritically, he often finds fault in others for having faith in what they believe is true, so his conclusion is founded merely on pride. There's nothing uncommon about a piercing vision which fails to reach the self, but there is something disappointing in it.

Robert You have not done a just reading or review of this book, multitude of words not withstanding. I suggest you revisit this book and pay more attention to every word and lay your preconceptions aside.

J.G. Keely "Reread the book but next time, read it better"?

Has that argument ever worked? It does have the benefit of not requiring you to make any observations or arguments of your own. I'd suggest if you want to convince people to rethink their positions in the future, you should try to address points they have made and present your own points to give them some idea what further insights they could glean.

As to my preconceptions, I don't think laying them aside would have done much good, since my expectations for this book were rather high. I had come to look forward to it, hoping it would present a complex (and witty) analysis of various Christian and secular philosophies, like a satirical Paradise Lost.

Instead, I found an author who had grown bitter and cynical of humanity, and whose pessimistic worldview had driven him to adopt an undefined and personal escape, which explains why this book is so successful at presenting the flaws of humanity, but unable to see their glories.

If this had merely been the Devil's view of humanity, the book would be defensible, but unlike Milton, Lewis' devils do not have a whole, flawed 'fallen' view, but instead show the nonsensical psychology of a melodrama villain.

Milton created a devil who was frightening not because he was incomprehensibly cruel, but because his evil was tempting and convincing, as long as you don't look at it too closely. Before him, the devil had been a fart-capturing coward capable of being fooled by the average farmer. Milton made him more dangerous.

Lewis has tried to combine the schoolyard-bully psychology of the early devil with the danger of Milton's devil, with mixed results. This, combined with Lewis' habit of damning a man for the same habit he praises another for made this book fall rather short of the high mark it aspired to.

Kaylee D It's altogether too easy to be a cynic. I agree with you in that things rarely live up to the hype- the book was very different than I expected. But I thought the book had many redeeming qualities, no pun intended, such as various foods for thought and little reminders of imperfections. The recognition of human glory was the underlying current, the whole point of the story in that the devils try to hinder the path to full potential. Life is certainly more enjoyable when I'm not distracted by petty faults in myself and others. C. S. Lewis (and myself, and the rest of humanity) is by no means perfect, but he does manage to articulate things that I've felt before but hadn't actually recognized as significant.

J.G. Keely Curious, I would have suggested that this book provides an excellent example of how difficult it is to be a cynic. Lewis is highly cynical of humanity and its failings, but in the end, he finds this negativity too harrowing to keep up, hence his optimistic notion of 'human glory', which would balance his cynicism better if it weren't so empty and undefined.

Perhaps you mean that its easier to develop a cynical philosophy than an optimistic philosophy? I'd say both are difficult to do well, and that Lewis is a much stronger cynic than spiritualist.

It's often been said that it's easier to tear down than to build up, but to really tear something down requires work and diligence, not simply raving against it. Lewis is diligent enough when tearing down humanity, but less sure about elevating it.

But then, the development of a philosophy is a highly complex, individual challenge, and it's often what drives a thinker, even as they leave behind them an array of discredited and toppled ideas. Perhaps thinkers shy away from presenting their own philosophies in part because of the impossibility of communicating a lifetime of synthesized concepts and the foundations that underlie them, whereas revealing flaws provides the double benefit of discrediting bad ideas and showing the reader how to apply critical thought.

But even considering the difficulties of trying to communicate the results of a lifetime of searching, I don't think it is reasonable to replace it with an undefined ideal, no matter how uplifting. Not only was Lewis' positive counterpoint to his cynicism poorly constructed, it failed even to overcome the criticisms he had brought up earlier in his own book.

message 32: by Doug (new)

Doug Hmmmm... this review has way too many big words. You either wrote it with a thesaurus next to you or yer a genius. Either way, impressive. Didn't understand a dang thing, but impressive.

message 31: by Doug (new)

Doug Keely wrote: ""Reread the book but next time, read it better"?

Has that argument ever worked? It does have the benefit of not requiring you to make any observations or arguments of your own. I'd suggest if you..."

Sounds like you are just really upset with Lewis. Putting aside your deep hatred for him and Jesus, what did you think of the book? In small words... as explaining to a child.

J.G. Keely "as explaining to a child"

I think that's a great suggestion, and I'm not being sarcastic. Sometimes I use 'big words' so that I can explain things more quickly and precisely, but it doesn't really do any good when the people I'm talking to have a different vocabulary.

It's like talking with a physicist and mentioning f=ma. To him, that would mean a whole lot, but to some people, it wouldn't mean anything. So, you'd have to explain it in more detail for it to make sense, which takes longer. But that's not a problem if both people are willing to put the time in. So let's see what we can figure out.

I wouldn't say I was upset with Lewis, though I was disappointed. I certainly don't hate him, or Jesus, unless you believe Freud when he said you could secretly hate people without knowing it.

I thought Lewis was really good at pointing out what was wrong with how people tend to think. For example, people don't question what they think as often as they should. They grow comfortable with their routine. They let themselves be governed by fears and insecurities. They live in false hope and denial, but their pride prevents them from questioning themselves.

I found these parts of Lewis' writing to be very powerful and insightful, and I asked myself how much I was falling to these same traps. But while he was very good at calling out others for their mistakes, he couldn't seem to see that he was guilty of many of them, himself.

For example, he points out (through Screwtape) that people often use the word 'real' without thinking about what it means. They use it to justify things they do, but without really defining it.

But then, later, Lewis does the same thing with the word 'natural'. He uses it to justify his opinions without defining what it means. He is doing the same thing as all the 'fools' he criticizes, and that is what disappoints me.

He came up with a lot of reasons why everyone else was wrong, but he couldn't come up with reasons why he was right. When he did try to explain why he was right, his arguments were full of the same flaws that he had blamed others for having.

He was an intelligent man with a strong ability to question others, but he did not present a better way for them to think. His noble Christian characters seemed just as self-righteous, prideful, and short-sighted as his ungodly sinners.

He does present them as better than the average person, having an 'inner light' and being happy, but he doesn't show us how this is the result of their Christianity.

It's the same old trick a lot of writers use: they make happy, heroic characters, and then put their personal philosophies in those characters' mouths to show us the superiority of their ideas. But that doesn't actually tell us anything about why those ideas are better.

It's like a commercial, you make people look happy when they drink coke to make coke look good. A real discussion about whether or not to drink coke should involve its nutritional qualities and its taste, not smiling models.

And that's what I wanted from Lewis: a discussion of the qualities of his philosophy that made it good. I know this wasn't an in-depth theological work, but he was making arguments about philosophy and theology. Unfortunately, these arguments were not as well-thought-out or convincing as his critiques.

That's basically it. I hope that helps to explain some of my position. Please let me know if there's anything confusing in there and I'll try to make it more clear.

message 29: by Doug (new)

Doug Keely wrote: ""as explaining to a child"

I think that's a great suggestion, and I'm not being sarcastic. Sometimes I use 'big words' so that I can explain things more quickly and precisely, but it doesn't reall..."

Clear as mud. That made perfect sense to me. I'll read it and see what I think. I mainly wanted to read it because the idea of the book sounds really interesting. I just figure all writers/celebs/politicians etc are full of crap so I just try to enjoy what is being presented. Example--my wife hates Big Ben of the Mighty Steelers cus of his past, ahem, transgressions, and now can't watch Steeler games. I simply ask, "Are you not entertained?"

I appreciate your explanation. Thanks again.

J.G. Keely Ah, the question of entertainment, also an important one. I did find much of Lewis' book to be clever and interesting, which was why I gave it three stars. However, I felt his lack of self-awareness hurt his writing somewhat.

To carry on your metaphor, it's like watching a good quarterback throw into coverage all night. Sure, you still appreciate his talent, but it can be frustrating to watch him take a lot of stupid risks, especially if they aren't getting him anywhere.

I'm not going after Lewis like your wife does after Ben, concentrating on what he does off the field. I'm concerned with what Lewis is doing in his game, writing. Thanks for your comment.

Michael Keely,
You seem to be one the few who, without much surprise -- and with much self-confidence -- see right through that old Oxford don and best him with your sure-footed analysis (and, to be sure, Screwtape as well).

J.G. Keely I have to say, based on his reputation, I was expecting a lot more. Quite a few people have named him to me as their chosen 'defender of the faith', but his books have so many assumptions and so few actual arguments for faith; I suppose whenever I come to a book hoping to find something impressive, it's easier to see all the ways the book just doesn't measure up.

Of course, if you're being sarcastic and attacking me for over-confidence, then I could hardly be surprised that you rate Lewis highly, since he also prefers to condemn others rather than actually provide an argument in favor of his own views.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Keely wrote: "prefers to condemn others rather than actually provide an argument in favor of his own views."

Yeah, Keely -- Lewis is from Oxford, therefore Christian doctrine is true.

J.G. Keely Well, I think you can only speak ex academia if you're officially speaking 'from the lectern'--though, of course, this does not signify an actual lectern, but the symbolic lectern conferred by the highest didactic authorities. The exalted position of professor does not prevent Lewis from being personally wrong, it merely allows him to be officially correct despite any errors, fallacies, or inaccuracies incurred incidental to being correct.

message 23: by Michael (last edited Aug 23, 2011 06:46PM) (new)

Michael Strode I really appreciate this review. My father has talked this book along with "Mere Christianity" up to me in the context of one of our religious discussions. Perhaps more accurately described as he talked and I hummed in acquiescence until he was done. I happened to come along to glance at the reviews since I saw the book on a friend's shelf and your view being as measured and "thoughtful" as you wished most freethinkers could be has convinced me that there is merit to be extracted from this text in an exegetical analysis upon completion. Great show! I must come back and finish reading the discussion, but for now I must blog.

J.G. Keely Then blog on.

I've had Lewis suggested to me in a number of religious discussions as a thoughtful and convincing proponent of faith, but unfortunately, I've found him very short of what I was hoping for. He spends a lot of time and thought villifying those who don't agree with him, but is unable to provide any better alternative.

I found this true for both his fiction and non-fiction: even in the Narnia books, we get antagonists who are pointlessly villainous. They have no clear motivations or psychology, they are simply bad people. Lewis seems to be good at criticizing the outward actions of his 'bad people', but not at understanding why they act that way.

Likewise, his alternative to their way, his ideal, is represented by Aslan, who has no character or personality: he is merely a placeholder for 'good things'. In this book, I find Lewis' god as flavorless and convenient as his Jesus-Lion.

I've expanded on my arguments in my reviews of his other books, if that interests you:

Mere Christianity,
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wordrobe, and
The Magician's Nephew.

Brian This seems like a fair-minded review to me. I think Lewis convincingly illustrates why some habits of thought and action are wrong (including, painfully, some I recognized in myself); but you can't just present that, however eloquently, and add "therefore Jesus" at the end as though it were self-evident.

I want to correct one factual error in your review. You said, "Lewis said writing these letters was more difficult than any of his other books." In fact, what he said was: "Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment." This is quite the opposite of what you wrote in your review and does not support your point. Lewis goes on, however, to say that part of the reason he disliked writing the book was that he could not include the archangel's advice alongside Screwtape's -- which I think speaks directly to your point.

J.G. Keely "In fact, what he said was: "Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment."

Ah, yes, that was the line I was referencing, I'll have to alter my review to reflect that.

Thanks for the comment, glad you found something interesting in my review.

Bathsheba With regard to Lewis' lack of explanation of what is 'natural' and 'real' for example, I believe that this information is to be found in several of his other theological writings. If he had gone off on tangents to explain them more fully in this book then it would lose the flow of 'natural' conversation... ah but do I have to fully explain what I think that is? ;)

J.G. Keely I've read a few of his other books and never found a good explanation for this, but you could be right. In any case, it seemed hypocritical to use it this way, without explanation--or at least it undermined the point he seemed intent on making. I mean, why include the concept at all if he's going to leave it unexplained?

message 17: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Wow, that was a very well-written and thoughtful analysis.

J.G. Keely Thanks, I'm glad you liked it. Sorry I missed your comment, it must have slipped through the cracks somehow.

message 15: by Patrick (new)

Patrick No problem, I was a bit surprised too because my comment was written a long time ago. Anyways, I had to read this for my religion class (Angels and Demons) and while I was looking forward to reading it, I didn't end up finishing it because I honestly found it to be rather dull. But your view really dissects what the book is trying to say. I can't say I have the same analytical skills.

J.G. Keely Yeah, I was looking through old reviews and happened to notice it. As for analytical skills, it just takes time and practice to develop them, like anything else. Thanks for the kind comments.

message 13: by Anna (new)

Anna From athiesm to zen, I don't think that any world view is really solid, they can all be skewed, picked apart and made to serve some evil end. Individual perspective, creativity, thoughtfulness and interpretation of the world seem to be some of our best and worst features!

J.G. Keely Indeed so, there is no philosophy which cannot be made into an empty, self-serving shell, but one hopes that by constant testing and questioning of those ideas we hold most dear, we may avoid or at least reduce many of our delusions.

message 11: by Jedidiah (new) - added it

Jedidiah Esposito Holy crap you're full of yourself.

message 10: by Kelly (new) - added it

Kelly Keely, honey, if you ever publish a book of reviews, I will be one of the first to pull it from the shelves, curl up with that book with a quilt and cup of tea.

message 9: by Aynge (new) - added it

Aynge Does your low opinion of Christians also extend to Jews and Muslims? All religious people in general? Or just Christians? I'm curious.

message 8: by Obed (new) - added it

Obed Bagona Nobody likes Judgementalism.

Andrew I think you are treating this book, and all other books by CS Lewis, as self-help books

Andrew I think you are treating this book, and all other books by CS Lewis, as self-help books. They are not meant to make you a better person in 1-2-3. And since it is from the demons point of view, they would not talk of how to save humans, but to condemn them. How could he work that in? 'Oh, by the way, don't let them do this cause that is how they become Christians. It is not about being good, it is being with god that counts

David Sarkies I really appreciated your review of this book. As a long time fan of C.S. Lewis and a Christian, it is good to read a well reasoned and thought out argument such as yours.

Frederick As an atheist I can't help but laugh at your absurd pseudo intellectualism. You fall prey to the same thing you are babbling on about.

Andrew Please explain. I am 13 years old and might need some help with such big words. It makes sense to me, and I don't need to prove it with big words. Keely, I am sorry. I respect your arguments and apologize for
This post.

Andrew The prior post was for Fred. Not anyone else

Philip I liked this review more than I liked the book itself. I'm glad I finished the book if for no other reason than that I got to read this. Nice job.

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