(Editor’s note: These posts on the Screwtape Letters are the result of the high-school Sunday school class that my wife and I teach at Trinity Baptist church, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Our goal is to use this classic fiction by C. S. Lewis is to excite the imaginations of our students to help them see the reality of the spiritual warfare that exists in the Christian walk described in Ephesians 6:12. If any of this material would be useful to anyone for a similar purpose, please feel free to use it, modifying it in any way you feel necessary. If you have any suggestions, comments, or observations, I invite you to please post them here. This is a work in progress, looking for any honest and sincere help you might offer.)
Flippancy: not showing a serious or respectful attitude.
pretext: a reason given to justify a course of action that is not the real reason.
witticisms: a witty remark, sometimes involving a play on words or some type of humor.
opaque: not able to be seen through, not transparent, but not without some light coming through.
austerity: extreme plainness and simplicity of style or appearance.
incongruity: not in harmony or keeping with the surroundings or other aspects of something.
lasciviousness: a feeling or revealing of an overt and offensive sexual desire.
tedium: a dry, dreary routine, or a state of dull uniformity.
twits: silly or foolish persons.
All these, as I find from the record office, are thoroughly reliable people; steady, consistent scoffers and worldlings who without any spectacular crimes are progressing quietly and comfortably towards Our Father’s house.
This is how Screwtape describes “the patient’s” new-found friends in the opening lines to letter eleven. Consider how very much this description describes the people in your neighborhood, those you work with, go to school with, and perhaps this describes your friends. In this letter, as in a number of the others previously studied, we see this same allusion to people progressing quietly and comfortably towards hell. As Christians we need to wake up and be aware of what is going on around us. We need to realize that decent though they be, with out the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ, there are multitudes around us on this same quiet, comfortable journey to hell. We need to have the attitude of our Lord:
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. (John 9:4, ESV)
“I divide the causes of human laughter into Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy.” Beginning in the second paragraph Screwtape analyzes laughter, declaring the first two pretty much harmless, for his purposes, that is. The last two he delves into with more interest finding usefulness in the cause of keeping people at a safe distance from knowing and serving the true and living God. In the second paragraph, Screwtape confesses an ignorance as to the source of true joy.
What that real cause is we do not know. Something like it is expressed in much of that detestable art which the humans call Music, and something like it occurs in Heaven – a meaningless acceleration in the rhythm of celestial experience, quite opaque to us. Laughter of this kind does us no good and should always be discouraged. Besides, the phenomenon is of itself disgusting and a direct insult to the realism, dignity, and austerity of Hell.
In discussing the Joke Proper – which he explains works as it “turns on sudden perception of incongruity” – Screwtape differentiates between two uses of Jokes or Humour. There is that use which is indecent or bawdy, and then there is that use which is operates as “the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame.” What Screwtape is saying is that one of the ways we excuse our sin is to make light of it. We try to laugh it away, by not treating it and viewing it as God views it. The word of God is full of references to the seriousness of sin, the fact that sin earns death for us all (Romans 6:23), but none should fill the lost with dread like passages that refer to God’s anger with the unrighteous:
God is a righteous judge,and a God who feels indignation every day. (Psalm 7:11, ESV) In the King James: “…angry with the wicked every day.”
Flippancy is regarded by Screwtape as the most useful of all causes of human laughter. Look at how Lewis concludes this letter:
Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.
The Bible speaks often and harshly in regards to the flippant, which God calls scoffers or the scornful, and is closely associated in scripture with the simple, or uneducated:
â€œScofferâ€ is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride (Proverbs 21:24, ESV). See also Prverbs 1:22, Proverbs 3:34, Proverbs 21:24, and Psalm 1.