RWN’s Favorite Quotes From “The Screwtape Letters”


I finally got around to reading C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece The Screwtape Letters and it was every bit as good as advertised.

The book, which was written way back in 1942, is supposed to be a series of letters from a devil named Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, about how to woo a Christian away from God (Make sure to keep that in mind as you are reading the quotes, especially if you’re wondering why God is referred to as “The Enemy.”)

“It should be (but it is not) unnecessary to add that a belief in angels, whether good or evil, does not mean a belief in either as they are represented in art and literature. Devils are depicted with bats’ wings and good angels with birds’ wings not because anyone holds that moral deterioration would be likely to turn feathers into membrane, but because most men like birds better than bats. They are given wings at all in order to suggest the swiftness of unimpeded intellectual energy. They are given human form because man is the only rational creature we know. Creatures higher in the natural order than ourselves, either incorporeal or animating bodies of a sort we cannot experience, must be represented symbolically if they are to be represented at all.” — VIII (Preface)

“All you then have to do is keep out of his mind the question ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?’” — P.14

“Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.” — P.16

“In civilised life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things that would appear quite harmless in paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face.” — P.17

“In avoiding this situation — this real nakedness of the soul in prayer — you will be helped by the fact that humans themselves do not desire it as much as they suppose. There’s such a thing as getting more than they bargained for!” — P.23

“How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition!” — P.27

“Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus become wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.” — P.31

“We want the Church to be small not only that fewer men know the Enemy but also that those who do may acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-righteousness of a secret society or a clique.” — P.34

“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made all the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable.” — P.41-42

“Talk to him about ‘moderation in all things.’ If you can once get him to the point of thinking that ‘religion is all very well up to a point,’ you can feel quite happy about his soul.” — P.43

“Humour is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence, it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame. If a man simply lets others pay for him, he is ‘mean,’ but if he boasts of it in a jocular manner and twits his fellows with having been scored off, he is no longer ‘mean’ but a comical fellow. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humourous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can be passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful — unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke. A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man’s damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke.” — P.51-52

“I would make it a rule to eradicate from my patient any strong personal taste which is not actually a sin, even if it is something quite trivial such as a fondness for country cricket or collecting stamps or drinking cocoa. Such things, I grant you, have nothing of virtue in them, but there is a sort of innocence and humility and self-forgetfulness about them which I distrust. The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about it, by that very fact forearmed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the ‘best’ people, the ‘right’ food, the ‘important’ books. I have known a human defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions.” — P.60

“My dear Wormwood, the most alarming thing in your last account of the patient is that he is making none of those confident resolutions which marked his original conversion. No more lavish promises of perpetual virtue, I gather; not even the expectation of an endowment of ‘grace’ for life, but only a hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation! This is very bad.” — P.62

“The two churches nearest to him, I have looked up in the office. Both have certain claims. At the first of these the vicar is a man who has been so long engaged in watering down the faith to make it easier for a supposedly incredulous and hardheaded congregation that is now he who shocks his parishioners with his unbelief, not vice versa. He has undermined many a soul’s Christianity.” — P.74

“The Enemy’s demand on humans takes the form of a dilemma; either complete abstinence or unmitigated monogamy. Every since Our Father’s first great victory, we have rendered the former very difficult to them. The latter, for the last few centuries, we have been closing up as a way of escape. We have done this through the poets and novelists by persuading the humans that a curious, and usually short-lived, experience which they call ‘being in love’ is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding.” — P.81

“For as things are, your man has now discovered the dangerous truth that these attacks don’t last forever; consequently you cannot use again what is, after all, our best weapon — the belief of ignorant humans that there is no hope of getting rid of us except by yielding.” — P.90

“We have engineered a great increase in the license which society allows to the representation of the apparent nude (not the real nude) in art, and its exhibition on the stage or the bathing beach. It is all a fake, of course; the figures in popular art are falsely drawn; the real women in bathing suits or tights are actually pinched in and propped up to make them appear firmer and more slender…than nature allows…” — P.92

“The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged. The humans are always putting up claims to ownership which sound equally funny in Heaven and in Hell, and we must keep them doing so. Much of the modern resistance to chastity comes from men’s belief that they ‘own’ their bodies — those vast and perilous estates, pulsating with the energy that made the worlds, in which they find themselves without their consent and from which they are ejected at the pleasure of Another! It is as if a royal child whom his father has placed, for love’s sake, in titular command of some great province, under the real rule of wise counselors, should come to fancy that he really owns the cities, the forests, and the corn, in the same way as he owns the bricks on the nursery floor.” — P.97-98

“There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least — sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side…” — P.102

“We must first make (Jesus) solely a teacher, and then conceal the very substantial agreement between his teachings and those of all other great moral teachers. For humans must not be allowed to notice that all great moralists are sent by the Enemy, not to inform men, but to remind them, to restate the primeval moral platitudes against our continual concealment of them.” — P.107

“On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means of their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to do anything — even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience.” — P.108-109

“The pleasure of novelty is by its very nature more subject than any other to the law of diminishing returns. And continued novelty costs money, so that the desire for it spells avarice or unhappiness or both. And again, the more rapacious this desire, the sooner it must eat up all the innocent sources of pleasure and pass on to those the Enemy forbids.” — P.117

“The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He 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. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help make.” — P.118

“Anything, even a sin, which has the total effect of moving close up to the Enemy makes against us in the long run.” — P.126

“Don’t forget to use the ‘Heads I win, tails you lose’ argument. If the thing he prays for doesn’t happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don’t work; if it does happen, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and ‘therefore it would have happened anyway,’ and thus a granted prayer becomes just as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective.” — P.127

“Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of really being at home on Earth, which is just what we want. You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.” — P.132

“This, indeed, is probably on the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world — a world in which moral issues really come to the point. He sees as well as you do that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means, at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful until it became risky.” — P.138

“Whatever men expect, they soon come to think they have a right to: the sense of disappointment can, with very little skill on our part, be turned into a sense of injury.” — P.141

“No man who says I’m as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority that the patient refuses to accept. And therefore resents.” — P.163

“Suspicion often creates what it suspects.” — P.164

“You remember how one of the Greek Dictators (they called them ‘tyrants’ then) sent an envoy to another Dictator to ask his advice about the principles of government. The second Dictator led the envoy to a field of grain, and then snicked off with his cane the top of every stalk that rose an inch or so above the general level. The moral was plain. Allow no preeminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser or better or more famous or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them all down to a level: all slaves, all ciphers, all nobodies. All equals. Thus Tyrants could practise, in a sense, ‘democracy.’ But now ‘democracy’ can do the same work without any tyranny other than her own. No one need now go through the field with a cane. The little stalks will now of themselves bite the tops off the big ones.” — P.165