August 1940. The Blitzkrieg—lightning war—has stormed across Europe since September 1939 raising the Nazi flag over every country from Poland through Europe, and, finally, France. Now Hitler turns his attention to the last holdout, the island of Great Britain. The Luftwaffe begins ten months of saturation bombing starting with 57 round-the-clock bombing raids to soften the British up for Hitler’s coming invasion.
While Prime Minister Churchill’s emotional call to the British people for “blood, sweat, and tears” is well known, a brilliant medieval Oxford scholar’s Blitz writings are not. C.S Lewis, as in Finding Mrs. Lewis, writes The Screwtape Letters following Jonathan Swift by using satire to make his point. Swift’s 18th Century Modest Proposal called attention to England’s brutalities in Ireland by suggesting the Irish fatten up their starving babies and sell them as gourmet food to the rich English. C.S. Lewis uses satire to focus on the evil of fascism by creating Screwtape, the master devil in hell, who writes 39 letters to Wormwood, his young apprentice devil on earth, published in The Guardian.
Screwtape coaches Wormwood on how to pull Christians away from God—the “Enemy.” (In his wry humor C.S. notes that he was startled to discover how easy it was for him to think “like the Evil Temptress” and slander every Christian principle!) Screwtape is teaching the younger devil how to tempt one man—called the “patient”—into sin that will set him on the path to hell. But Screwtape bemoans the fact that God doesn’t tempt Christians to virtue “as we do to vice.” Rather God wants them to walk on their own, make their own moral choices, “and if only the will to walk is really there, God is pleased even if they stumble.” Screwtape also fea God’s “long-term policy where Christians learn to love their neighbors.”
In another letter Screwtape tells Wormwood that his chief mission is to “separate the man from the Enemy,” i.e. God. And Wormwood doesn’t have to tempt the ‘patient’ into a major sin like murder “to edge the man away from the Light” and into hell’s darkness. Instead Screwtape describes what we now call the moral ‘slippery slope.’ “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
Had the English not defeated the Luftwaffe and the Germans invaded, Churchill, the better known Blitz spokesman, and Lewis would have both been executed. Churchill for obvious reasons. But Lewis was also on the Nazi’s enemy list for spending weekends during the Blitz encouraging the RAF pilots by discussing faith and hope with them. Indeed, Lewis kept a pistol he intended to use on himself before he’d let the Gestapo arrest him. Who knows what a difference Lewis’s morale boosting talks made in the air war over the island. For history acknowledges that it was the heroic RAF pilots who won the Battle of Britain. As Churchill said of the outmanned and outgunned Royal Air Force fliers whose victory ultimately stopped the Third Reich from taking over the world. As Churchill put it, “Never have so many owed so much to so few.”
And C.S. Lewis was still years away from getting a letter about his Christian conversion written to him by a woman in New York named Joy Davidman.