In the seventh letter of his 1942 epistolary novel The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis nicely captures our benignly modern view of the devil. While giving tactical advice to his apprentice devil, Wormwood, concerning the spiritual seduction of a man referred to as “the Patient,” mentor devil Screwtape writes that “our policy for the moment, is to conceal ourselves,” and notes that “the fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you.”
“If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind,” Screwtape continues, “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 way of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.” Though Lewis’s goal was to set evil within the terms of Christian apologetics, by portraying the demonic realm in such individualistic and anthropomorphic terms, he unfortunately perpetuated the modern caricature of evil. Lewis’s Screwtape is oddly attractive, his correspondence downright cozy. As a friend of mine recently observed, “Who doesn’t like Screwtape?”
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Luke Timothy Johnson, a frequent contributor, is the R.W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Candler School of Theology, Emory University. Two of his most recent books are Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity (Yale) and Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church (Eerdmans).