New on Ebon Musings: The Screwtape Letters

A new essay has been posted on Ebon Musings, a review of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. While Lewis’ attacks on atheism are largely misguided straw men, the book does offer a surprising amount of ammunition for atheists to use against fundamentalist Christianity.

This is an open thread. Comments and discussion are welcome.

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  • Alex Weaver

    Typo: (emphasis mine)

    But what about the heads-I-win, tails-you-lose argument employed by Christians? They likewise say that if the thing prayed for does not happen, this is another proof that petitionary prayers work, and it it does not happen, it must be because God, in his infinite overriding will, chose not to grant it as a way of teaching the petitioner patience, or humility, or some other virtue, and thus a failed prayer becomes just as good a proof as a successful one that prayers are effective.

  • http://tnrin.blogspot.com Tim

    I’m actually quite surprised that not many have reviewed and / or critiqued The Screwtape Letters before, but I’m quite enthralled that you have. I’ll certainly be using this in future “battles”.

  • http://secularplanet.blogspot.com Secular Planet

    Excellent article. It’s difficult to understand how someone who is so respected in the Christian apologetic community could have such glaring contradictions and hypocrisy in his most beloved works. I would have expected them to be less obvious.

    There is another typo in the sentence quoted by Alex Weaver: “it it” >> “if it”

  • http://infophilia.blogspot.com Infophile

    From the article:

    Why in the world would God even bother to create the Earth if “human birth is important chiefly as the qualification for human death”? Why not just create a race of beings that all die in the womb and have their salvation assured?

    I can anticipate the apologetic reply here: That a race of beings who all die in the womb wouldn’t survive another generation to reproduce. Of course, there are still tons of problems with it. For instance, why doesn’t God just change the rules? He can make it so birth isn’t a prerequisite to get into heaven, and all newly-formed souls go straight there. Alternatively, he could arbitrarily raise the “age of accountability” to 200 or so, so that no one will ever meet it. He is infinitely loving, afterall, so why wouldn’t he do this?

    Of course, the apologetic response will be something along the lines of “*grumblegrumble* in His infinite wisdom *grumblegrumble*.”

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Thanks, everyone who pointed out those typos. They’re fixed now.

    I can anticipate the apologetic reply here: That a race of beings who all die in the womb wouldn’t survive another generation to reproduce.

    Ah, but surely an all-powerful god could think of a way around that, couldn’t he? Why not have human beings spontaneously generate, the way flies and mice were once thought to? Or have human embryos grow inside things that are not human beings themselves – for example, create a race of non-souled, non-intelligent animals and then miraculously alter them so that they conceive and grow ensouled human beings inside their wombs, all of whom would then die before birth.

    Of course, I recognize the absurdity of worlds like this. But these ridiculous scenarios only arise from the primary absurdity that is already posited by Christians, a world where death before birth is far preferable to a full and long life.

  • http://rightside.fissure.org Shishberg

    Why in the world would God even bother to create the Earth if “human birth is important chiefly as the qualification for human death”? Why not just create a race of beings that all die in the womb and have their salvation assured?

    There is one possible answer that fits in nicely with the religious zealot’s version of the world: People who have been through life on earth have a privileged place in heaven. Probably in proportion to how much you were persecuted during your life. Lewis kind of hints at that:

    Apparently He wants some — but only a very few — of the human animals with which He is peopling Heaven to have had the experience of resisting us through an earthly life of sixty or seventy years.

    The implication seems to be that those “very few” will be special in some way. It’s sort of the extension of the “you’ll be blessed more when you’re persecuted” way of thinking – you get a merit badge in heaven if you’ve had to go through the indignity of a physical life. It even fits the idea that Jesus went through that indignity for the same reason.

    Driving trucks through the holes in that argument is left as an exercise to the reader.

  • Alex Weaver

    Or have human embryos grow inside things that are not human beings themselves – for example, create a race of non-souled, non-intelligent animals and then miraculously alter them so that they conceive and grow ensouled human beings inside their wombs

    Isn’t this fairly close to what Catholics believe regarding physical evolution and divine ensoulment?

  • http://uncrediblehallq.blogspot.com/ Chris Hallquist

    I’m glad you drew attention to the fact that Lewis really believed demons are constantly influencing our lives, and that this belief is a tad bit batty. It’s something that had never really sunk in with me before. I once had a conversation with a believer where I mentioned this book and his response was “How could you have read that book without realizing the things Satan is doing in your life?” It never really clicked that that attitude is encouraged very much by The Screwtape Letters.

    One criticism: you probably should have given Lewis a pass on his criticisms of anti-rationalism. Sure the big-name unbelievers have always been rationalists, but anti-rationalism has been something of a problem among both believers and the less thoughtful unbelievers, and I’m glad to see Lewis combating it. I greatly prefer his attitude to the one promoted by people like Philip Johnson, Rick Warren, and William Lane Craig.

  • Zach Thomas

    From what I’ve read regarding Lewis’s conversion to Christianity, I think he felt that he was simply following what was modern and fashionable when he turned away from religion in his teens. He probably generalized from his own experience, and decided that his motivation for leaving religion applied to all atheists. I actually read his autobiography “Surprised by Joy” to see what an atheist turned Christian conversion looked like. Basically, he writes about the conversion at the very end and says its the one part of his life that he can’t really remember. He just knew he was overpowered by God. I’m guessing it was some kind of lucid dream/sleep paralysis experience.

  • Steven Carr

    ‘Though the book may be intended allegorically, on the whole it leaves little doubt that Lewis genuinely believed that evil spirits existed and were constantly assaulting human minds.’

    If this is true, how can Christians account for logic and reason?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Apparently, Lewis’ belief is that logic and reason lead straight to God, and that if a person just sits down and thinks about it for, say, five or ten minutes, he will immediately become a Christian. Only the constant mental nudging of the demons keeps this from happening to everyone.

  • JonnyFive

    Shishberg: There is one possible answer that fits in nicely with the religious zealot’s version of the world: People who have been through life on earth have a privileged place in heaven. Probably in proportion to how much you were persecuted during your life.

    It’s like a bet. Double or nothing: either you get a supreme place in HeavenTM for believing the right stuff, or you get burned for all eternity by the all-loving God Satan for asking questions, or believing something wrong, or honestly disbelieving being a horrible, evil person.

  • minilapp

    “but why, if God desires to save souls, would he not simply prevent them from exerting any influence over humans at all?”

    C.S. Lewis addresses this concern in “The Problem of Pain”.


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