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Screwtape Letter for the High School Senior

Posted by Grace Richardson on Mar 26, 2018 9:50:00 PM


I happened upon this letter, and realized it was the transcription of a missile Lewis must have intercepted. I read it, and found it charming, if a bit morose, and I hope the reader shall find it likewise.

My dearest Wormwood,

So your patient is going to University? Excellent.

It is a Christian university? No need to fear. Such a place is the Enemy’s in name, but so often do our patients rest on that title and let down their guard that this is a field fertile for our planting!

The month before your patient packs his bags, fill his mind with all manner of anticipation: make it seem a Paradise on Earth. Paint a vision of rich learning, admiring friends, beautiful ladies, and weekends of leisure. Remind him that the Enemy claims it, so, naturally, it will be overflowing with all manner of saccharine virtues like love, and graciousness, and faithfulness, with nary a glimpse of our Prince’s work.

Then, when he encounters the first real sinner, he will be shocked. Tell him that fellow is simply an anomaly, perhaps not really a Christian. Prompt him to let the foolish man know, out of concern for his soul, of course. Such we shall isolate the patient from all his fellows. 

When they are alone, Wormwood,

then they are most vulnerable.

Alone in dorm

Once it is clear to him that all the others are quite broken, remind him that they are Christians, too. If you have done your work well, the patient will begin to wonder if any of the Enemy’s promises are real. None of those “Christians” are living a life of real love, after all. Be mindful not to shout this: that would scare him off.

Just suggest doubts. The seeds will grow on their own.

Then show him his sleeplessness, his awful grades, and his aloneness. A morning’s argument with a roommate, a dining hall dinner with no welcoming tables, a C on an evening test, or slow Internet an hour before a paper deadline—they all work marvelously well.

Here we get to one of my favorite little tricks: while reminding him how very un-Christian his roommates are, put a visor over his eyes that makes them at the same time seem so very handsome and smart and successful. Leaving to his mind the only logical conclusion: that he is the real disappointment. Humans are so very gullible, Wormwood; ridiculous as it is, that one could hold by such contradiction, they fall for it nearly every time.

The Christian university is a positive petri-dish for Disillusionment.

Unfulfill every one of his idyllic expectations. If you have not shown too much of your hand, you will send him straight to Despair and Cynicism by the time of his mid-term examinations.

And Wormwood—he must believe he’s “the only one.” Suggest that burdening others with his brokenness is selfish, and asking others of their welfare is intrusive.

Drowning-402125-edited.jpgAnd so he will bear his despairing soul in silence.

But perhaps your patient is not so naïve. If so, do not let him dwell contented, having reconciled the Enemy’s ludicrous idea of “already, but not yet.” Let mystery frustrate him. Give him a thirst for certainty, precision, and proven fact, particularly in the realm of the infinite. Constantly whisper to his ear, “How do you know? Are you sure?”

Feed the great lie of human flesh: not that they are God, but that they deserve to be. 

Moderation, contentment, nuance, and (the idiocy of it!) paradox are the delight of our Enemy. No, keep him always longing for extremes. Black and White are invariably more attractive than Gray.

Or, if he proves resistant, steer him more subtly: let him delight in his own fantastic sense of nuance! Let him see how very sensible he is and exult it as the chieftest of his virtues. Then he is but a hopscotch step from Self-Importance. Oh, Wormwood, how delightful it is to turn the Enemy’s weapons against Him!

Now, my dear boy, do not forget our simpler tricks. Some of my personal favorites are the three little words “only,” “just,” and “really.” Slip them into his thinking: “It’s only once,” “It’s just a word,” “It’s really not that bad.” They are shortcuts to worldliness, Wormwood. Humans aspire for greatness, but never see the little traps that keep them from it.

It’s so easy to turn their minds from a nebulous Eternal to an immediate Deadline.


Never give them Perspective, Wormwood!

Do strive hard in your work, for if the patients perceive nothing but failure—or better yet, believe failures to be successes!—then that school shall produce no soldiers at all. And so from one of their boot camps, we may infiltrate and disable the Enemy.

But Wormwood, do be careful. Our Enemy is very clever.

As soon as any of our patients shows the slightest inclination toward Him, He may rush in with answered prayers, and timely verses, and such a flurry of love and senseless joy that you might lose a year’s work in a night! 

So, do keep me updated about your progress. 

Uncle Screwtape

Your most affectionate uncle,



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(All photos courtesy of unsplash.com and Wikimedia Commons.)