This excerpt comes from “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis.
It sounds a bit on the crazy side, but these letters are written from the diabolical point of view of a senior demon, Screwtape and they are addressed to his young nephew, Wormwood. Wormwood has been tasked with being the tempter of an Englishman who is a new follower of Christ.
In the preface (which, by the way, is very well written and explains Lewis’ theology of angels and demons), Lewis writes that his purpose in this writing is “not to speculate about diabolical life but to throw light from a new angle on the life of men.” He also explains that while it was an easy book to write, it was not enjoyable, because “…(it) was all dust, grit, thirst and itch. Every trace of beauty, freshness, and geniality had to be excluded. It almost smothered me before I was done…I had, moreover, a sort of grudge against my book for not being a different book which no one could write. Ideally, Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood should have been balanced by archangelical advice to the patient’s guardian angel. But who could supply the deficiency? Even if a man – and he would have to be a far better man than I – could scale the spiritual heights required, what “answerable style” could he use? For the style would really be part of the content. Mere advice would be no good; every sentence would have to smell of Heaven.”
I will add, before jumping into this excerpt, one final quote from the preface, as a “warning” for readers:
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors…Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle.”
And here is an excerpt, that has been particularly challenging to me, from chapter 21:
“My dear Wormwood,
…but here, as in everything else, the way must be prepared for your moral assault by darkening his intellect.
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…You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption “My time is my own.” Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.
You have here a delicate task. The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defense. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels. He is also, in theory, committed to a total service of the Enemy; and if the Enemy appeared to him in bodily form and demanded that total service for even one day, he would not refuse. He would be greatly relieved if that one day involved nothing harder than listening to the conversation of a foolish woman; and he would be relieved almost to the pitch of disappointment if for one half-hour in that day the Enemy said, “Now you may go and amuse yourself.” Now if he thinks about his assumption for a moment, even he is bound to realise that he is actually in this situation every day…Don’t let his thoughts come anywhere near it. Wrap a darkness about it, and in the centre of that darkness let his sense of ownership-in-Time lie silent, uninspected, and operative.
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!…
And all the time the joke is that the word “mine” in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say “mine” of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong – certainly not to them, whatever happens. At present, the Enemy says “mine” of everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that He made it. Our Father hopes in the end to say “mine” of all things on the more realistic and dynamic ground of conquest.
Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape
I recommend this book highly and have read it twice now! It is one of the shortest of C.S. Lewis’ books and would be a good introduction to his writings.
You can read a portion of this book online here.