Monday, January 9, 2012

Fan-Boy Icon #59: CS Lewis

While most famous for the Narnia works, CS Lewis is also an achieved theologian with a host of other titles to his credit. The one I want to talk about here is his work The Screwtape Letters, a series of letters from a bureaucratic devil, Screwtape, to his nephew, a young tempter named Wormwood.

This is primarily a religious text, so you may wonder at my interest. Why would an Atheist be interested in a discussion of religious behavior? Well, in truth I believe religion has had much to offer over the years, despite my disbelief in the various deities. Early religions in particular were a method of relating wisdom to the uninformed and/or ignorant. Take something as seemingly odd as the Kosher taboo of pork. This is not just silliness on the part of Judaism. Pork is one of the more dangerous meats civilized humans eat. Improper cooking, slaughtering, and preservation can have drastic effects on those who partake, and coming from a warm climate without refrigeration it is only sensible that an observant Rabbi would deem the food unhealthy. The Screwtape Letters is a similar work. Not only is it full of lessons for the faithful which points out potential hypocrisies, but is also an insightful look into human nature and the pitfalls that would cause either spiritual or emotional discomfort.

Written from the diabolical point-of-view, Lewis is able to pick apart both sin and virtue (or their secular counterparts) to see how either might be twisted to cause a negative impact on a person. False humility is an example he discusses, but my favorite is gluttony of delicacy. Screwtape informs his nephew that gluttony in the classic sense is a thing of the past, as well it may have been in 1940s Britain, but gluttony of delicacy is similar if not better. He tell Wormwood of how his patient's (the soul he is charged with tempting) mother is a slave to sensuality of the delicate kind. She is a terror to waiters and hostesses, always demanding that what is provided is too much or too good, "so please bring me something else properly made." From a religious sense, she is sinful in the pleasures of the flesh area, and in the secular sense she is a major pain in the ass.

While the book deals with hypocrisy of both the church and lay-people, it is not cynical. Certainly Screwtape is cynical, but he is the villain. Lewis is able to make you question your own behaviors by relating them to the intent of the devil (or your inner voice) that has not your best interest at heart. Sin and virtue, either religious or secular, are fairly universal, and while I do not judge people for their tastes, it is plain that many of the traditional sins are thing that can make life hard on you. Anything that enslaves your senses can be problematic, be it drink, sex or sport.

I am not currently reading The Screwtape Letters but rather having them read to me by John Cleese. In the 1990s an audio edition (now, it seems, out-of-print) was released read by Cleese. I had it on cassette, but was able to locate it on the interwebs. The sound quality is not great by any means, but it listenable. I do not know if it is legally shared, but frankly am not concerned. If you are not concerned and would like to listen, go to Radio MickDanger here.


Religious Food said...

I cannot wait to see how this goes!! I've been intrigues by this forever!

T. Roger Thomas said...

Sounds like Cleese chose a good work to record

T. Roger Thomas said...

Sounds like Cleese chose a good work to record

Darius Whiteplume said...

@TRT - It certainly lets him stretch his legs.

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