What Screwtape Actually Said About Politics

C.S. Lewis

If there is anything evangelicals love more than a C.S. Lewis quote, it’s a fake C.S. Lewis quote.

With this election, it’s no surprise that a fake Lewis quote began circulating to voice dissatisfaction with the candidates and call Christians to keep politics in perspectives.

Someone created a supposed piece from The Screwtape Letters and it began quickly circulating on social media. Here’s the fake letter:

fake Screwtape Letters election 2016

There are some “Screwtape-ian” thoughts in here, but this isn’t an actual “letter” from Lewis’ fictional work of demonic correspondences.

It’s much too short to be an actual chapter in the book and it’s a little too “on the nose” for this current season.

But that doesn’t mean Lewis had nothing to say about politics through Screwtape’s pen. Here are some of the demon’s reverse perspective on politics from both The Screwtape Letters and the essay “Screwtape Proposes a Toast.”

Screwtape wanted Wormwood to direct his patient (the human being tempted) to a church with a pastor who cannot make up his mind about the proper place of politics—obsessed with it one day and then cynical about every political situation the next.

Many of us have that same temptation. And we can be equally fueled by hatred to cause us to swing wildly between opposite extremes.

At the other church we have Fr Spike. The humans are often puzzled to understand the range of his opinions—why he is one day almost a Communist and the next not far from some kind of theocratic Fascism—one day a scholastic, and the next prepared to deny human reason altogether—one day immersed in politics, and, the day after, declaring that all states of this world are equally “under judgement.” We, of course, see the connecting link, which is Hatred.

Screwtape advises Wormwood to direct the patient’s desire for heaven to trying to create it on earth through various means like politics.

All of us can lose perspective on the proper place of theology. We may think it is a way to bring about a social utopia through government policies or we could view it as the means through which God will bring “revival” to our nation.

Both of those miss the truth about politics and, more importantly, the truth about heaven.

So inveterate is their appetite for Heaven that our best method, at this stage, of attaching them to earth is to make them believe that earth can be turned into Heaven at some future date by politics or eugenics or “science” or psychology, or what not.

If the Christian is going to apply their faith to their political preferences, the demons want him to use Christianity as a means to another end—like politics.

You can see this all across the spectrum this election. People are leveraging Bible verses and biblical sounding arguments to attack those who say they plan to vote differently.

Quite subtly, we shift from our Christianity informing our politics to altering our morals and beliefs to better serve our politics.

Looking round your patient’s new friends I find that the best point of attack would be the borderline between theology and politics. Several of his new friends are very much alive to the social implications of their religion. That, in itself, is a bad thing; but good can be made out of it.

About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to 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 to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner.

This quote from “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” might be the most apt for our current political environment. People use the word “democracy” to defend their own behavior or those with whom they agree.

As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings. You can get him to practice, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided.

The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I’m as good as you.

The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid, resounding lie. I don’t mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says I’m as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.

And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority. No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food: “Here is someone who speaks English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I — it must be a vile, upstage, la-di-da affectation. Here’s a fellow who says he doesn’t like hot dogs — thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here’s a man who hasn’t turned on the jukebox — he’s one of those highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were honest-to-God all-right Joes they’d be like me. They’ve no business to be different. It’s undemocratic.”

I take back my previous statement. This quote from “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” is probably the most apt for our current political environment.

We are a nation, across both parties and throughout various third parties and independents, of arrogant, but ignorant individuals.

We are sure of our being right, but obsessed with demonstrating otherwise by our actions and words. We are quick to fight, but refuse to fight anything other than strawman arguments.

We have become the democracy hell wishes us to be.

We, in Hell, would welcome the disappearance of democracy in the strict sense of that word, the political arrangement so called. Like all forms of government, it often works to our advantage, but on the whole less often than other forms. And what we must realize is that “democracy” in the diabolical sense (I’m as good as you, Being Like Folks, Togetherness) is the fittest instrument we could possibly have for extirpating political democracies from the face of the earth.

For “democracy” or the “democratic spirit” (diabolical sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or whimper at the first sign of criticism. And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be.

In other words, Lewis said lots of important, insightful things about politics, including in The Screwtape Letters. There’s no need to create fake quotes. And there definitely isn’t any reason to share them.

13 Comments

  1. Sherry

    Yes. I’ve already seen it shared on FB.. funny.

  2. Renee

    “Be sure you distract them from the truth of these words by drawing their attentions to the invalid authorship of the quote. As long as they are wholly focused on these deliberations, they will abandon this dangerous self-examination into their own hearts that came treacherously close to revealing your attack. It is very important, my dear Wormwood, to perpetrate these offences with stealth, as revealing them would surely send these insufferable vermin back into the hands of the Enemy. Your affectionate uncle, Screwtape”

    Sorry, I could not resist 😛

  3. Doug sims

    Thank you Sir
    It would never be my intention to post inaccurate information
    I stand corrected

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.