The Halloween Screwtape Letter!?

The following is a revised piece from what I shared last Halloween. It was on this date (10/31) that the 25th letter from Screwtape was published in The Guardian. The following year it came out in the UK in the book The Screwtape Letters (1943 for the US).

While there is no material directly related to Halloween in this letter to Wormwood, Screwtape deals first with the “scary” subject of prayer that was also addressed in the 3rd, 4th and 8th letters. Here Wormwood is advised how to deal with the fact that his patient has made his present issues “the chief subjects of his prayers.”

In the third paragraph Screwtape begins to discuss how “intellectual difficulties” can be raised about petitionary prayers. He notes that if what the patient prayed for doesn’t happen then Wormworm can lead him to think it “proves” prayer doesn’t work and if it does happen then how can he know if wouldn’t have occurred anyway if he didn’t pray!

In the final paragraph the topic of “The Historical Point of View” is addressed. This is different from what was mentioned in the 23rd letter about varying views on the “historical Jesus.” Screwtape describes here a brief definition of “The Historical Point of View” as meaning:

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 goes on to comment:

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.

This idea is described as “chronological snobbery” in chapter 13 of Surprised by Joy and is a phrase Lewis credits Owen Barfield as helping him understand. In that chapter Lewis provides this definition to the expression:

the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.