The Screwtape Letters; Done, and Done

Take a moment and head over to Life Before the Bucket to read my guest post! I've never met him personally, but Adrian's an awesome guy. I love that he's open and honest about his life, and his faith in God. I'm very grateful to him for letting me guest post... we'll have to have him do the same here.

Today, I want to share some snippets from the follow-up paper that C.S. Lewis wrote. The Screwtape Letters were first published in 1942. He says that it was a very difficult time for him, being so in touch with evil. He had no desire to write anything more, let alone a sequel, but something urged him, and the paper Screwtape Proposes a Toast was published in 1959.

The intro reads:
The scene is in Hell at the annual dinner of the Tempters’ Training College for young devils. The principal, Dr. Slubgob, has just proposed the health of the guests. Screwtape, who is the guest of honour, rises to reply.

I won't share the entire text, but if you'd like to read it, you can find it here.

Now, some words from Screwtape.

"What I want to fix your attention on is the vast, overall movement towards the discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every kind of human excellence – moral, cultural, social, or intellectual. And is it not pretty to notice how “democracy” (in the incantatory sense) is now doing for us the work that was once done by the most ancient Dictatorships, and by the same methods? You remember how one of the Greek Dictators (they called them “tyrants” then) sent an envoy to another Dictator to ask his advice about the principles of government. The second Dictator led the envoy into a field of grain, and there he snicked off with his cane the top of every stalk that rose an inch or so above the general level. The moral was plain. Allow no preeminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser or better or more famous or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them all down to a level: all slaves, all ciphers, all nobodies. All equals.Thus Tyrants could practise, in a sense, “democracy.” But now “democracy” can do the same work without any tyranny other than her own. No one need now go through the field with a cane. The little stalks will now of themselves bite the tops off the big ones. The big ones are beginning to bite off their own in their desire to Be Like Stalks."

This is very true in society today, as Heather at My Husband Ate All My Ice Cream posted a few weeks ago, (watch out for rough language, she was pretty upset, and I don't blame her) kids are becoming more and more whiny and needy. I'll admit to having been that way myself, heck, I sometimes still am. It's only been through the help of my husband that I've been able to change my ways a little bit at a time.  Now, more from Screwtape on this, and how it effects education... I apologize for the length, but I promise it is all relevant, and reading C.S. Lewis is seriously addictive!

"... the spirit of I’m as good as you has already begun something more than a generally social influence. It begins to work itself into their educational system....  The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be “undemocratic.” These differences between pupils – for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences – must be disguised. This can be done at various levels. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they [wish] to profit by higher education or not. 

At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to do in their spare time. Let, them, for example, make mud pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have – I believe the English already use the phrase – “parity of esteem.” An even more drastic scheme is not possible. Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma — Beelzebub, what a useful word! – by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT.

(I LOVE the way C.S. Lewis writes! His use of the English language amazes me!)

In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers – or should I say, nurses? – will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us.

Of course, this would not follow unless all education became state education. But it will. That is part of the same movement. Penal taxes, designed for that purpose, are liquidating the Middle Class, the class who were prepared to save and spend and make sacrifices in order to have their children privately educated. The removal of this class, besides linking up with the abolition of education, is, fortunately, an inevitable effect of the spirit that says I’m as good as you. This was, after all, the social group which gave to the humans the overwhelming majority of their scientists, physicians, philosophers, theologians, poets, artists, composers, architects, jurists, and administrators. If ever there were a bunch of stalks that needed their tops knocked off, it was surely they. As an English politician remarked not long ago, “A democracy does not want great men.”

We, in Hell, would welcome the disappearance of democracy in the strict sense of that word, the political arrangement so called. Like all forms of government, it often works to our advantage, but on the whole less often than other forms. And what we must realize is that “democracy” in the diabolical sense (I’m as good as you, Being Like Folks, Togetherness) is the fittest instrument we could possibly have for extirpating political democracies from the face of the earth.

For “democracy” or the “democratic spirit” (diabolical sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or whimper at the first sign of criticism. And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be. For when such a nation meets in conflict a nation where children have been made to work at school, where talent is placed in high posts, and where the ignorant mass are allowed no say at all in public affairs, only one result is possible.

(Now listen to this...)

The democracies were surprised lately when they found that Russia had got ahead of them in science. What a delicious specimen of human blindness! If the whole tendency of their society is opposed to every sort of excellence, why did they expect their scientists to excel?"

Screwtape would laugh about this, but it is no laughing matter! Our system of education needs fixing, but it won't happen until we make it happen.

That's all for today, a really long post. Hopefully it gives us something to think about.

Thanks for traveling,

Page Traveler

How did you like school? Were you one who was smarter than others, but made to sit through multiple explanations? Or were you one who felt "not good enough"? Or neither? Did you love school? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts, and feel free to share this post with your friends! If you're new here, travel along with us!

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