C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters: War Is A Better Teacher Than Jesus


02.14.06 (Photo credit: Urthstripe)

In the blogosphere, it has been noted that Clives Stapes Lewis had some really bad arguments against pacifism (are there any others, really?): check out Stanley Hauerwas’ take as well as T.C. Moore’s. In the past, I have managed to name Lewis’ views on war as “misguided.” After reading his The Screwtape Letters, I have changed my mind. C.S. Lewis sees war as salvific, and I will not qualify this statement.

C S Lewis makes some good points about humility and Christians making politics an idol in TSL, but there are some disturbing passages in this text that I would like to look at. The story is one of a demon named Screwtape writer letters to his nephew Wormwood on how the underworld works to make a Christian fall in her journey. In chapter 5, Screwtape tells Wormwood that he can deal with his “patient” either through persuading him to become an “extreme patriot” or “extreme pacifist.” At this warning (which we are to gather from the contrary, that the middle position is always right), I must scoff at Lewis’ being disingenuous here. Here’s a man, a war veteran, who has wholesale written long essays and speeches against pacifism, warning Christians about being extreme patriots or pacifists? Puuuhleeeze! When it comes to issues of war versus peace, Lewis is NO NEUTRAL observer in the least, he’s gung-ho Just War theory all the way. But the good that war brings, in Chapter 5, “we shall see thousands turning in this tribulation to the Enemy, while tens of thousands who do not go so far as that will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self.” Of course, Jesus [The Enemy in Screwtape’s words] “disapproves of these causes” and “often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives to causes He thinks bad.” Screwtape continues to argue that Christianity is a religion where faith is strengthened by long-suffering, and there is no other human institution other than war means death, suffering, and pain!

I think this theodicy is quite wrong; there would be a number of persons in the Southern United States who would argue that the Civil War was not God testing their long-suffering, for example. Lewis has taken the element of human choice out of the equation when it comes to the choice of going to war, and placed it on the hands of Necessity. War is NOT a necessary evil, it is a moral evil that comes by way of human choices, human weapons, and human actions.

Of course, for those social justice advocates in the world, Screwtape (along with the rest of the underworld) just delights in Christians who do 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 the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy [Jesus] will not be used as a convenience.”(Chapter 23). So it’s okay to go to war in Jesus’ name, but feed the hungry? Ummmm no…wrong….

Lewis continues that it is in times of war that men must see the face of good and evil (a privileged perspective to be sure) (Chapter 26). Lewis continues that just when humanity is living in comfort, right where the underworld wants them, it’s Christ that permits a natural disaster or war to occur, and then the work of the underworld is undone (Lewis’ term). At this point, I have to wonder whether Lewis’ view of suffering and evil (theodicy) overcomes any notion of Christology, to the point that Christ’s words become irrelevant? I think this is exactly the case. Christ’s demand to love our enemies as well as our friends are dismissed by Lewis; pacifism, to Lewis meant marginality and awkwardness, an outsider status his own politics could not bear. No, he was not an extreme patriot, but Lewis was a different creature all together, an ardent Just Warrior, which is still an extremist like that other two groups Lewis pointed out.

Of course, I see nothing wrong with being an extremist in favor of life and peace and justice, so long as Christ is the center.Obedience to Christ not only means following the way of the Cross in suffering, but understanding what suffering meant ultimately, which in the Resurrection it meant the conquest and colonization of Death, and freedom from sin and oppression.

“We [the underworld] want cattle who can become food; He [Jesus] wants servants who can finally become Sons.” (The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 8).

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7 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters: War Is A Better Teacher Than Jesus

  1. lilliana

    That’s true,this man is taking advantage of other people.He’s got no respect of other people’s lives.He behaves like he’s the one that created the mankind.I have heared other christians saying,if you are undergoing some difficulties,God is testing your faith Also that you are supposed to suffer
    1) because Jesus suffered and died on the cross(we all must be like Jesus),
    2)Job was also tested(my mother/father would say so
    -when my mother suffered from cardiac problems.My mother went on to say God doesn’t take people away,but rescues the body that has been abused by the devil-This I still don’t understand,as I ask myself why he didn’t protect her).After she passed away.I still received a great deal of emotional abuse from the fellow christians,as if it was my mother’s fault she suffered.Up to now I’m still very unhappy that God failed to protect/heal my devoted family.
    Some people would use the scriptures in-order to carry on performing evil,sothat we continue blaming ourselves,thinking it’s God’s punishment.What surprises me is that we always suffer at the hands of the other sinners,who think God has given them rights to punish us.It makes me wonder if the faithful God could allow something like that to happen.
    NB:That proves the point that the devil knows the scriptures very well that he can manipulate these to perform his evil deeds,and make us act like zombies/robots

    1. RodtRDH Post author

      I would say that the cross means that God is with you in your suffering, that God does give humanity her freedom and there is great risk in that, but not just for evil., but for good too. Yes,I do believe God takes risks, but war and suffering are not things that God condones, they are what God rescues us from.

      As for your loss, my condolences. God can heal you from the emotional abuse, and sometimes that may mean separating yourself from unhealthy relationships into healthier ones.

  2. lilliana

    Are we litterally saying,” All right devil,you are in control,go punish kill the people because they don’t want to believe in God”Many are justifying killing in the name of Christanity/Allah.Does this mean God works hand in hand with the devil,that if you disobeyed,he would hand you over to his co-worker,the devil?I feel,we humans,have gone too far,that we are again equaling ourselves to God ,Himself like lucifer did.We are no better than vicious wild animals.This war thing is like hell.How could God permit this to happen,when he,Himself, forbade taking another human’s life(ref Noah,after the floods)How could He put your life into the hands of the other sinners,I fail to understand?

    1. RodtRDH Post author

      I don’t think Lewis is saying the Devil has any kind of control, what he is saying is that human beings do this on their own, by their own free will, and God has to use courageous people to get humanity out her mess. of course, this ignores God’s Son condemning war itself altogether rather than just the causes of war.

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