The Logic of Human Morality: Connections Between The Screwtape Letters and “Bulverism”
Throughout the book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis addresses the topics of Christian morality with a twist: it’s written from the perspective of devils. The Screwtape Letters is narrated by Screwtape, an elder devil who is teaching the ropes to his nephew, Wormwood. Screwtape mulls on topics such as human nature and human virtue among other things, and by doing so, he talks about things that are good along with things that are evil. If a reader is to look closely into some of C.S. Lewis’ works, they would find that many similar themes and motifs show up in his works. In his short essay “Bulverism,”Lewis generally speaks about the logical misconception of assuming that a person is wrong without discussion and then explaining how that person became silly based on their background. Within The Screwtape Letters, Letter 19, Wormwood has certain questions for Screwtape and these questions waver from whether love is a good thing or if God really loves humanity. The Screwtape Letters and “Bulverism” bring about many comparable topics, but the most significant theme that occurs within both works is the act of moving the patient away from the “enemy” or God. Within The Screwtape Letters, the example would be Screwtape guiding Wormwood and telling him how he should go about seducing his patients to move them more towards the Devil. Looking closely at “Bulverism,” a person basically fails to address the primary tasks or questions at hand and instead they deal with the secondary questions, thus avoiding the main question and evading basic reasoning. And in turn, this fulfills our lives with artificial truths which moves us further away from logical thinking and from the grasp of the “enemy” or God. In most of Lewis’ works, he is critiquing a worldview that is prevalent in our world and addressing an issue that is counter-productive to our society. The Screwtape Letters is a compilation of life tips and advice on how to move a patient more towards the Devil and away from God. All throughout Letter 19, Screwtape is adamant by saying it is heresy to believe in the existence of love, but love should not really matter to the patient because both God and Satan will try to pull the patient towards their respective grasps, no matter their view on love. Screwtape also insists that all beings are in competition with each other, by nature, so how do we know if God really loves us? Screwtape supports his claim by stating, “The truth is I slipped by mere carelessness into saying that the Enemy really loves the humans. That, of course, is an impossibility.”(Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 239) And this reiterates the point that God is a being just like us and his love is a pretext for an unknown desire. This excerpt connects to “Bulverism” in the way that, Screwtape only thinks this way about God because he is a devil and his worldview makes him believe that God follows his selfish impulses and only cares about himself. Screwtape remains contradictory in his thinking and once again states, “You complain that my last letter does not make it clear whether I regard being in love as a desirable state for a human or not.”(Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 240) In order to connect this quote back to “Bulverism”, we have to know that Screwtape is not reasoning or even clearly stating his view on love to Wormwood. By not thinking pure thoughts, Screwtape himself is a victim of bulverism and becomes closer with the Devil.
To help illuminate on what Lewis is saying in Screwtape Letters about conditioning the patient and bringing him further away from God’s light, a reader can look back on his work about “Bulverism” and can gather some knowledge from that work. Lewis states, “Until Bulverism is crushed, reason can play no effective part in human affairs.”(Lewis, Bulverism, 486) To explain this quote, Lewis is basically saying that when we bulverize someone, we are essentially attacking their identity in an argument and saying they are wrong because of who they are as a person which leads to illogical and ridiculous arguments that never solve the main issue. Essentially, the reasons and motives as to why people act the way they do formulates into their beliefs, ideals and what they believe to be true, according to Lewis. Lewis once again makes a good point by saying, “So we see there is justification for holding on to our belief in Reason. But can this be done without Theism? Does ‘I know’ involve that God exists?”(Lewis, Bulverism, 486) This piece still holds true to today’s society in the fact that all of our minds are influenced by physical events and our thoughts and values are all conditioned by what we have encountered. Bulverism is so frequent in conversations that when we disagree with someone, it is the first methodology we use, and we end up using fallacious arguments instead of discussing the topic and thinking about it logically. Bulverism basically means that one patient is assuming the other patient is completely wrong and they go out of their way to explain their thoughts around the one patient being wrong while never addressing the argument itself. As “Bulverism” reiterates, all of our immediate experiences depend on our inferences but if these experiences “condition” the patient to think lesser of God and higher of Satan then this point correlates with what C.S. Lewis said in The Screwtape Letters and everything comes full circle.
Taking a closer look into Letter 19 within The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape revises his opinion on God and figures God doesn’t care about people because he is a being himself and all beings are in competition. Even though the bulk of the letter focuses on Love, Screwtape thinks it depends on the situation and Screwtape explains, “In the mean-time, get it quite clear in your own mind that this state of falling in love is not, in itself, necessarily favorable either to us or to the other side.”(Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 241) Screwtape is talking about how falling in love would not be good for either God or Satan and it seems he is encouraging Wormwood to stay in a sort of grey area so he does not have to deal with the whole aspect of loving another person and everything it comes with. On the other hand, in “Bulverism” Lewis makes an interesting point by saying that the theory of knowledge would have to be assumed to be valid based off the previous inferences.
In order to know someone as well as possible, you have to know their reasons and motives and this coincides with the earlier topics in The Screwtape Letters in that the patient will act in a certain way based off their reasons and motives from old experiences. Most that look deeper into C.S. Lewis will find more overlay within his works and being able to analyze his work helps you understand his thinking about Christian values and gives you a glimpse into his mind.
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Throughout the book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis addresses the topics of Christian morality with a twist: it’s written from the perspective of devils. The Screwtape Letters is narrated by […]