Book Summary: Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

Book Summary

From this book summary of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, I want to focus on a question that was asked at our Bible study recently:

How do demons manifest themselves today?

I replied:

The book, Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis provides the best description of the strategies used by the demons in a Western world setting.

The apostle Paul has told us that we are not unaware of the enemy’s schemes and tactics. This book certainly exposes a lot of them and it would do us well to become thoroughly familiar with them. Lewis expounds on these in each chapter,  and it would do you well to get the book if this summary is helpful.

The tactics described here are written towards men because the person being tempted is a man. But all tactics apply to men and women. Always remember as you read these quotes that these are the words of a senior demon (Screwtape) instructing a junior demon how to tempt a man.

A suggested use of this summary is to do what I am doing, Take each tactic and spend some time with God asking:

Is this a true tactic of the devil?

AND if so

In what way?

Am I tempted by this strategic tactic?

For example, from chapter 12

Convince him that all of the decisions that are taking him away from God are trivial and revocable.

Father I believe that anything that takes me away from You is non-trivial and will cause serious harm. Are there any decisions I am making this week that are taking me away from You?

Here is my summary of the tactics that Lewis believed are used by demons today against God’s people:

Chapter 1

The client is not yet a Christian.  Only this chapter deals with the ways demons interact with non-Christians. Demons are to get us to:

    • Avoid argument
    • Focus on the immediate senses
    • Be distracted by the ordinary when important things come up
    • Emphasize the ordinariness of things
    • Avoid the hard sciences

Let’s look at what Lewis says about each of these:

Avoid argument:

But are you not being a trifle naïf? [remember – this is the senior demon speaking] It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s [God’s] clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head.

[God – the Enemy of the demon]  can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly the inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?

Clearly Lewis thinks that reason is a dangerous thing for the demons.  It’s hard to believe that Lewis was writing this in the 40’s. I love that he recognized that there is a demonic movement today in our culture to take us away from thinking that things are true and false and away from the importance of universal ideas. What insight!

Focus on the immediate senses: For the demons the “stream of immediate sense experience” is good and “attending to universal issues” is bad.   The demon’s advice to his understudy was that:

Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real”.

Be distracted by the ordinary when important things come up

you don’t realise how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the British Museum. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear What He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line for when I said “Quite. In fact much too important to tackle it the end of a morning”, the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added “Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind”, he was already half way to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of “real life” (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all “that sort of thing” just couldn’t be true. He knew he’d had a narrow escape and in later years was fond of talking about “that inarticulate sense for actuality which is our ultimate safeguard against the aberrations of mere logic”. He is now safe in Our Father’s house.

Have him focus on the familiar and avoid the unfamiliar: 

Thanks to processes which we set at work in them centuries ago, they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes.

Emphasize the ordinariness of things: “Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things.

Avoid the hard sciences:

Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch and see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists. If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don’t let him get away from that invaluable “real life”. But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is “the results of modem investigation”. Do remember you are there to fuddle him.

Chapter 2

In this chapter, client has become a Christian. Lewis clearly believes that one can fall back into the “enemy’s” camp once they have become a Christian. In this chapter, Lewis highlights two tools that the demons use to draw the Christian away from the faith:

    • The Church
    • Emotions

The Church: Lewis says that people in the church are one of the best weapons for drawing one away from the faith.

Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour.

One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans.

Make him dependent upon emotion:  Lewis tells us that when the initial dryness that inevitably comes to all new Christians, if they over come it, “they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.

Chapter 3

The demon instructs the younger demon to work on the relationship between the client (the new Christian) and his mother.  Build up in the house “a good settled habit of mutual annoyance; daily pinpricks.” Remember, the Enemy [God] works from the inside out. “The Enemy will be working from the centre outwards, gradually bringing more and more of the patient’s conduct under the new standard. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious.”

The demon recommends the following tactics for building tension between his mom and himself:

Keep his mind on the inner life: “Don’t let him think that outer changes are necessary.”

At first blush, this may seem contrary to all that I teach and encourage. But I believe strongly in developing the inner life in order to work well in our outer life. Can one keep one’s focus 24/7 on the Holy Spirit and do useful work? Absolutely!

The problem comes when we retreat into our inner life to escape from the problems of this world. This is well exemplified in the Simon and Garfunkel song “I am a Rock”

Paul Simon’s Lyrics

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I believe this is what Lewis is getting at. The demons will encourage us to become rocks and islands while we retreat into our books, poetry, music and ideas.

Prevent him from praying for his mom: “Or if that is not possible, make sure that the prayers are real ‘spiritual.’ He is concerned about the state of her soul; not her rheumatism.”

Accentuate the irritable features of the mother: “When two humans have lived together for many years it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that.”

Work on the ‘way’ things are said: “In civilised life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face.”

Chapter 4

This chapter delves into the way the demons hinder our prayer life.

Keep him from praying altogether

Have him despise rote prayer: “encouraging him to remember, or to think he remembers, the parrot-like nature of his prayers in childhood. In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularised; and what this will actually mean to a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part.” One of their poets, Coleridge, has recorded that he did not pray ‘with moving lips and bended knees’ but merely ‘composed his spirit to love’ and indulged ‘a sense of supplication.’ That is exactly the sort of prayer we want; and since it bears a superficial resemblance to the prayer of silence as practised by those who are very far advanced in the Enemy’s service, clever and lazy patients can be taken in by it for quite a long time.

Convince the man that bodily position doesn’t matter: Lewis obviously believed that body position matters in prayer.  For Screwtape says:

At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers;

The best tactic to prevent real prayer is to keep real prayer thoughts out of his mind:

It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.


keep the focus away from God and focus on themselves.  For example instead of praying for courage, let them imagine themselves as brave.

Chapter 5

In this chapter, World War II has begun. In this we learn that one of the objectives of demons today is to keep Christians in “anguish and bewilderment.” This is achieved by:

    • Providing pictures of terror for his future
    • Providing self-pitying glances to his happy past
    • Undermining faith
    • Preventing the formation of virtues
    • Working so that all humans die in costly nursing homes where no-one cares and doctors lie

Chapter 6

Create maximum uncertainty about all affairs of life.

Keep him focused on what will happen to him – not what he does

Keep him in suspense and anxiety about the future

Chapter 7

In this age, keep him from knowing demons exist. Screwtape answers the question: Do we let the believer know we exist? Screwtape says that it depends on the current climate of the culture. For now he says, it is best that believers are ignorant of demonic presence. “If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.”

Encourage him to commit to extreme views and causes (except extreme devotion towards God).

Encourage the followers of Jesus to “acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-rightousness of a secret society or a clique.”

Encourage sectarian beliefs like Patriotism or Pacifism to be part of his religion

Prevent him from seeing that temporal affairs are primarily material for obedience

Chapter 8

Use periods of dryness or dullness towards the opposite end of what God wants – In other words, God uses the law of undulation (where we have highs and lows – motivated and demotivated ) in different ways at different times. The demons are to move the man in the exact opposite direction that God is moving him. Lewis also reveals his view of time in this chapter. Humans were created as both spirit (outside of time) and animal (inside of time). “while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change”

Have the man focus on God as irresistible and the truth about Him indisputable Lewis does not believe in “irresistible grace.” “Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use.” In other words, God would never reveal Himself in ways that are irresistible or indisputable. Therefore demons are to convince men that God should reveal himself in those ways.

Chapter 9

Trough periods are the best time to exploit all sensual temptations – especially sex – This certainly is reflected in the hit musical “Hamilton” as well in the lives of many I know.

Keep the man away from the knowledge of the law of undulation – This is Lewis’ concept that God places us in a world where everything ebbs and flows – there are ups and downs.  Both are used by God for different but equally useful purposes.

Keep his mind off the antithesis between true and false – use “Nice shadowy expressions—’It was a phase’—’I’ve been through all that'”

Direct his thoughts towards thinking his faith was just a phase

Chapter 10

Have him become friends with rich, smart, intellectually superficial, and brightly skeptical people

Postpone as long as possible the realization that his friends don’t hold his same core beliefs

Chapter 11

In this chapter, Lewis helps us understand the proper role of humor and laughter.

Encourage Flippancy The tactic emphasized in this chapter is “Flippancy.” Flippancy builds up an armor against the truths of God

Chapter 12

Convince him that all of the decisions that are taking him away from God are trivial and revocable.

The end goal of all of the strategies is to separate the man from God

Chapter 13

Don’t allow him to enjoy a book just for the sake of reading it

Don’t allow him to indulge in simple pleasures (like a walk) just for the simple pleasure of it. Encourage everything to have a purpose.

 Don’t allow the man to convert his repentance to true action

 Chapter 14

Keep him making “lavish promises” concerning his behavior. Not “hope for the daily and hourly pittance to meet the daily and hourly temptation!

If the patient is humble, make sure he notices it

At all costs, exclude from the conscious, God’s idea that man should have no opinion of his own talents.

Chapter 15

Encourage either of these states of mind: tortured fear or stupid confidence in the state of the world

Since God wants His people attentive to eternity AND the present moment, encourage all of his thoughts to be about the past and the future (and preferably the future).

Chapter 16

Send the believer all over looking for the church that “suits” him.

Attach the patient to a church that sees itself as set apart and different from all of the other churches

Chapter 17

Encourage the sin of gluttony – not of excess but of delicacy. Endless food shows certainly bear witness to the success of this tactic today.

Chapter 18

Make love the object of all marriage “persuading the humans that a curious, and usually short-lived, experience which they call “being in love” is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding.”

Chapter 19

Keep working the patient into a state of mind that moves him closer to us and further from God – no matter what it takes.

Chapter 20

Convince him that there is no way of getting rid of us except by giving in to us.

Steer his choice of a mate away from one who would be good for him.

The aim [of working with a small group of designers and artists] is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely

Chapter 21

Work hard to convince him that his time is his own and anything that takes away from time he feels is rightfully his, will create a peevishness in him.

“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. … 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”

Chapter 22

Twist every pleasure God has created and make it useful to our purposes – “He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us.”

Try to eliminate music and silence from his life

Music and silence—how I detest them both! How thankful we should be that ever since our Father entered Hell—though longer ago than humans, reckoning in light years, could express—no square inch of infernal space and no moment of infernal time has been surrendered to either of those abominable forces, but all has been occupied by Noise—Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end.

Chapter 23

If you cannot eliminate spirituality from his life -corrupt it. Encourage pursuit of “the historical Jesus”

Destroy his devotional life. “For the real presence of the Enemy, otherwise experienced by men in prayer and sacrament, we substitute a merely probable, remote, shadowy, and uncouth figure, one who spoke a strange language and died a long time ago. Such an object cannot in fact be worshipped”

Have him treat the gospels as biographies of Jesus.

No nation, and few individuals, are really brought into the Enemy’s camp by the historical study of the biography of Jesus, simply as biography. The “Gospels” come later and were written not to make Christians but to edify Christians already made.

Have him make God’s directives about how to walk with Him into a “Thing.” “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 to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice.”

Chapter 24

Get him to imitate a defect in a Christian they admire  “Can you get him to imitate this defect in his mistress and to exaggerate it until what was venial in her becomes in him the strongest and most beautiful of the vices—Spiritual Pride?”

Get him to think how grand and right it is to be a Christian

so much better than those other people “you must make him feel that he is finding his own level—that these people are “his sort” and that, coming among them, he has come home. When he turns from them to other society he will find it dull; partly because almost any society within his reach is, in fact, much less entertaining, but still more because he will miss the enchantment of the young woman. You must teach him to mistake his contrast between the circle that delights and the circle that bores him for the contrast between Christians and unbelievers. He must be made to feel (he’d better not put it into words) “how different we Christians are”; and by “we Christians” he must really, but unknowingly, mean “my set”; and by “my set” he must mean not “The people who, in their charity and humility, have accepted me”, but “The people with whom I associate by right”.”

Chapter 25

Get him to see his beliefs, not as mere Christianity, but Christianity plus something else. The real trouble about the set your patient is living in is that it is merely Christian. They all have individual interests, of course, but the bond remains mere Christianity. What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And”. You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference.

Twist man’s natural enjoyment of change into a demand for ever changing novelty

Get him to ask the unanswerable questions rather than the relevant questions. 

The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking “Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?” they will neglect the relevant questions

Chapter 26

Sow seeds of discontent during courtship “that will grow into domestic hatred. … let them think they have solved by Love problems they have in fact only waived or postponed under the influence of the enchantment”

Cultivate unselfishness rather than charity – “teach a man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them but that he may be unselfish in forgoing them.” “If people knew how much ill-feeling unselfishness occasions, it would not be so often recommended from the pulpit

Chapter 27

Encourage him to fight distractions in prayer through sheer will power.

When distractions come in prayer, “you ought to encourage him to thrust it away by sheer will power and to try to continue the normal prayer as if nothing had happened;”

Steer him away from petitionary prayer 

On the seemingly pious ground that “praise and communion with God is the true prayer”, humans can often be lured into direct disobedience to the Enemy who (in His usual flat, commonplace, uninteresting way) has definitely told them to pray for their daily bread and the recovery of their sick. You will, of course, conceal from him the fact that the prayer for daily bread, interpreted in a “spiritual sense”, is really just as crudely petitionary as it is in any other sense.

Encourage the thought that petitionary prayer is a waste of time

worry him with the haunting suspicion that the practice is absurd and can have no objective result. Don’t forget to use the “heads I win, tails you lose” argument. If the thing he prays for doesn’t happen, then that is one more proof that petitionary prayers don’t work; if it does happen, he will, of course, be able to see some of the physical causes which led up to it, and “therefore it would have happened anyway”, and thus a granted prayer becomes just as good a proof as a denied one that prayers are ineffective.

Keep him away from old books

Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating The Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the “present state of the question”. To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour—this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded.

Chapter 28

Teach him to “regard death as the prime evil and survival as the greatest good.”

Encourage a focus on prosperity – “Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is “finding his place in it”, while really it is finding its place in him.”

Chapter 29

Defeat his courage, cultivate hatred combined with fear  – “The more he fears, the more he will hate. And Hatred is also a great anodyne for shame. To make a deep wound in his charity, you should therefore first defeat his courage.

Chapter 30

Use fatigue to lead them “into anger, malice and impatience.” “Fatigue makes women talk more and men talk less. Much secret resentment, even between lovers, can be raised from this.”

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