Screwtape Letter #28 – Discussion Guide

Screwtape Letter #28 – Discussion Guide is article #58 in the series: Screwtape Letters. Click button to view titles for entire series

Letter #28

The Screwtape Letters Study Guide

Screwtape wants the patient to live?



My dear Wormwood,

When I told you not to fill your letters with rubbish about the war, I meant, of course, that I did not want to have your rather infantile rhapsodies about the death of men and the destruction of cities. … Do you not know that bombs kill men? Or do you not realise that the patient’s death, at this moment, is precisely what we want to avoid? … This is so obvious that I am ashamed to write it.


28.1) Why does Screwtape want the patient to live?

The answer to the previous question may be obvious to Screwtape – but is it possible that Screwtape is also shortsighted on this? Consider that maybe God’s in control and the patient is meant to be a light. Where does that fit in with free will – both of the patient and of Screwtape & Wormwood?



Could it be that God and Screwtape both want the same thing?

The catch here is that God is likely on the same path –
keep the patient alive –
also knowing that He’s close to accepting Jesus –
and wanting to give him the opportunity to do just that.

They are both depending on the patient to exercise his free will to follow them.

Wormwood doesn’t really have much – if any – free will. He pretty much does what Screwtape tells him to do – and suffers the consequences either way.

We don’t know what kind of free will Screwtape has – but from the writings it appears to be more than Wormwood – but still restricted to a small playbook of temptations.

We have the interesting case of God and Screwtape both wanting the same thing –
but for totally different reasons.

It would seem dangerous ground for Screwtape –
setting up the patient to be on the same path that God wants for him –
and then seeing which direction his free will goes.



I sometimes wonder if you young fiends are not kept out on temptation-duty too long at a time—if you are not in some danger of becoming infected by the sentiments and values of the humans among whom you work. … If he survives the war, there is always hope. … You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.


28.2) Is Screwtape treating Wormwood like a “patient”?

It’s been said that if you tell a lie often enough, you start to believe it. Think about what Screwtape has said in previous letters about not letting “the patient” see the truth. What does the line below really mean?

Do not let us be infected by our own propaganda.




What is 'truth'?

It’s very telling that Screwtape warns Wormwood about not being affected by their own propaganda.

Propaganda is defined as –

information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.

Since Screwtape is telling Wormwood not to be infected (read influenced / start to believe) by their own ideas – what does that mean about Screwtape’s own beliefs concerning those ideas?

In essence – it appears that Screwtape is keeping the truth (as he knows it) away from Wormwood as well.



The truth is that the Enemy, having oddly destined these mere animals to life in His own eternal world, has guarded them pretty effectively from the danger of feeling at home anywhere else. … A great human philosopher nearly let our secret out when he said that where Virtue is concerned ‘Experience is the mother of illusion’; but thanks to a change in Fashion, and also, of course, to the Historical Point of View, we have largely rendered his book innocuous.


28.3) The great human philosopher that Screwtape speaks of is Immanuel Kant, who lived from 1724 to 1804, but is still a central figure in modern philosophy. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says this about him –

The fundamental idea of Kant’s “critical philosophy” —especially in his three Critiques: the Critique of Pure Reason (1781, 1787), the Critique of Practical Reason (1788), and the Critique of the Power of Judgment (1790) — is human autonomy. He argues that the human understanding is the source of the general laws of nature that structure all our experience; and that human reason gives itself the moral law, which is our basis for belief in God, freedom, and immortality. Therefore, scientific knowledge, morality, and religious belief are mutually consistent and secure because they all rest on the same foundation of human autonomy, which is also the final end of nature according to the teleological worldview of reflecting judgment that Kant introduces to unify the theoretical and practical parts of his philosophical system.

The problem is that to some it seemed unclear whether progress would in fact ensue if reason enjoyed full sovereignty over traditional authorities; or whether unaided reasoning would instead lead straight to materialism, fatalism, atheism, skepticism (Bxxxiv), or even libertinism and authoritarianism (8:146). The Enlightenment commitment to the sovereignty of reason was tied to the expectation that it would not lead to any of these consequences but instead would support certain key beliefs that tradition had always sanctioned. Crucially, these included belief in God, the soul, freedom, and the compatibility of science with morality and religion.

The question in his time was whether “Enlightenment” – thinking for oneself rather than letting others think for you – would lead to further “belief in God, the soul, freedom, and the compatibility of science with morality and religion” or if it “would instead lead straight to materialism, fatalism, atheism, skepticism”.

The encyclopedia goes on to say –

The Critique of Pure Reason is Kant’s response to this crisis. Its main topic is metaphysics because, for Kant, metaphysics is the domain of reason – it is “the inventory of all we possess through pure reason, ordered systematically” — and the authority of reason was in question. Kant’s main goal is to show that a critique of reason by reason itself, unaided and unrestrained by traditional authorities, establishes a secure and consistent basis for both Newtonian science and traditional morality and religion. In other words, free rational inquiry adequately supports all of these essential human interests and shows them to be mutually consistent. So reason deserves the sovereignty attributed to it by the Enlightenment.

Against this backdrop, the full Kant quote is –

“For whereas, so far as nature is concerned, experience supplies the rules and is the source of truth, in respect of the moral laws it is, alas, the mother of illusion!”

How does all of this fit in with what Screwtape has said about our view of time (past, present, and future) and with the constant talk of keeping us from realizing the truth?




At what point in time can we be with God?

Consider this paragraph from above –

The question in his time was whether “Enlightenment” – thinking for oneself rather than letting others think for you – would lead to further “belief in God, the soul, freedom, and the compatibility of science with morality and religion” or if it “would instead lead straight to materialism, fatalism, atheism, skepticism”.

If we come to a point to believe that our past experience can lead us to a better future –
all on it’s own –
then we miss each of the “present” moments where we can have the “presence” of God –
and we don’t even think about His part in both the past and the present either.

Screwtape seems to be thinking that this will afford the devils a better opportunity to influence the future – and get more of us under his influence.



How valuable time is to us may be gauged by the fact that the Enemy allows us so little of it. … Whatever you do, keep your patient as safe as you possibly can,

Your affectionate uncle


28.4) Screwtape’s got some harsh words related to what our lives are about.

The purpose of being born is to die – and the purpose of dying is to get to that other kind of life – therefore, work quickly Wormwood.

This is a rather dark view of life. Does he have this right?




Yes. And No. Depending on ...

One could maybe come to Screwtape’s conclusion, if taking this by itself.

However – he misses everything else.

Talk about what he has missed – such as love – even the exercise of free will – Etc.

Were it not for the experience of being a human – going through what we go through –
there would be no love / feeling / emotion of any kind.

And – creating an army of pre-programmed robots brings no love or glory to God.

That Screwtape has this point of view says a lot about where he is –
and also a lot about how to combat the devils.





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