C.S. Lewis’s Toxic Christian Family
C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters tell us a lot about Heaven from a hellish point of view. With Valentine’s Day coming up I thought it might be fun to feature some of Lewis’s diabolical thoughts about love and family from “Letter 22,” in which Screwtape, a senior demon, berates his understudy. Hell is outraged at the selfless love of a particular Christian couple to whom the junior demon is assigned.
The letter begins with, “So! Your man is in love – and in the worst kind he could possibly have fallen into.” The patient to whom Wormwood, the junior demon, is concerned, is in a relationship with a kind young lady from a caring Christian family. “I have looked up this girl’s dossier and am horrified at what I find,” Screwtape writes, “Not only a Christian but such a Christian – a vile, sneaking, simpering, demure, monosyllabic, mouse-like, watery, insignificant, virginal, bread-and-butter miss. The little brute. She makes me vomit.”
There’s a paragraph in the letter I think every Christian parent should take to heart. Lewis shows the toxic nature of a loving family from the demon’s point of view. Their bond has a corrosive effect on their hellish efforts. The young man is being infected by this family’s faith. Through ravenous teeth, Screwtape bemoaningly compares their home to heaven:
Then, of course, he gets to know this woman’s family and whole circle. Could you not see that the very house she lives in is one that he ought never to have entered? The whole place reeks of that deadly odour. The very gardener, though he has only been there five years, is beginning to acquire it. Even guests, after a week-end visit, carry some of the smell away with them. The dog and the cat are tainted with it. And a house full of the impenetrable mystery. We are certain (it is a matter of first principles) that each member of the family must in some way be making capital out of the others – but we can’t find out how. They guard as jealously as the Enemy Himself the secret of what really lies behind this pretense of disinterested love. The whole house and garden is one vast obscenity. It bears a sickening resemblance to the description one human writer made of Heaven; “the regions where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence”
My wife and I have four kids, and I can honestly say our household of six people, six sinners, doesn’t always feel, look, or— with three sons—even smell very much like Heaven. But this reminder from Lewis’s devils is a good one. When we care, when we serve, when put ourselves on the back burner to support one another, we add light and fragrance to a world looking for love. It affects everyone who walks in and out of our doors. Whatever your home situation is like, or has been like, take today to make it a little more like Heaven by expressing love in words of affirmation and acts of service.
I talk about this letter from The Screwtape Letters in my recent episode of Mere Caffeination.