While I have loved going back through my highlights for The Screwtape Letters, I want to wrap up this series with just a few more thoughts. I will be reading Surprised By Joy in January and February and am anxious to switch mental gears and focus on this book.
I am constantly amazed at how contemporary Lewis’ writing seem. If it were not for the few mentions of the war taking place (World War 2), it would be difficult to “date” this work.
Letter 20 finds Screwtape discussing the patient’s chastity. I had to chuckle when I read this letter, because it sounds like it could have been written recently in response to all the uproar concerning Photoshopping of women’s bodies.
“It is the business of these great masters to produce in every age a general misdirection of what may be called ‘sexual taste.’ This they do by working through the small circle of popular artists, dressmakers, actresses and advertisers who determine the fashionable type. The aim is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely.”
“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 the 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 and more boyish than nature allows a full-grown woman to be.”
“As a result we are more and more directing the desires of men to something which does not exist – making the role of the eye in sexuality more and more important and at the same time making its demands more and more impossible. What follows you can easily forecast!”
This letter, in my opinion, could have be written to address the unrealistic image that women have to compete with thanks to Photoshop, and all the damage that is done. Damage done to women and their self-image and their expectations of themselves. Damage done to men who are bombarded with images of what men should be find desirable, but that are not realistic and often serve to lead men away from potential mates that could actually be suitable and complementary.
Letter 21 follows up on the assault on man’s chastity by suggesting fostering attacks on man’s sense of self-ownership. These claims on his life can lead to a sense of injury and result in man feeling ill-tempered.
“They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. 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.”
“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!”
“We teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun – the finely graded difference that run from ‘my boots’ through ‘my dog,’ ‘my servant,’ ‘my wife,’ ‘my father,’ ‘my master,’ and ‘my God.’ They can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of ‘my boots,’ the ‘my’ of ownership.”
“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.”
This was a powerful letter. This ‘Mine’ mentality is epidemic at this point, in my opinion. We really do take injury to so many things and it sours everything around us. My time, my opinion, my feelings, my body, my right. We take this ‘mine’ thinking so far to want to claim things that cannot be claimed, or not in the sense we think.
I could go through and comment on some much more – The Screwtape Letters are just so rich in content. I do want to wrap up for now and move into Surprised By Joy, but I will reread later this year and comment on some of the other letters I didn’t get to this round. I hope you will continue to follow my progress through several of the works of C.S. Lewis.