C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Proposes a Toast, Discussion Questions, Part I

This past winter, I taught a class at my church on some of the writings of C.S. Lewis. Towards the end of the quarter, the class and I read through several short works by Lewis and discussed the content of each of the works in light of contemporary America. The short works were “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” “Meditation in a Toolshed,” “Bulverism” and “Man or Rabbit.” The classes were each one hour long and mainly focused on the questions or concerns that arose from the materials. 

I am posting hereunder my discussion questions prepared for the class for Lewis’ “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”, Part I.  I have posted part II as Screwtape Proposes a Toast, Discussion Questions, Part III am purposely not posting my answers to the questions asked in the discussion questions. I want each person to work out their own answers in light of Scripture and what they may otherwise know of Lewis’ work. I would be happy to answer individual questions as they arise.

I pray that the questions may be used to deepen your understanding of the interaction between our 21st Century world and the Bible. 


Screwtape Proposes a Toast – Part I

“He that falls into sin is a man; that grieves at it, is a saint; that boasts of it, is a devil.” ~ Thomas Fuller
“For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.” ~ C.S. Lewis

1. Screwtape opens with a directive to the demons: “Hell expects and demands that it should be — as mine was — one of unbroken success. If it is not, you know what awaits you”?  Of what does this remind you from The Screwtape Letters?

2. What is the problem with the “banquet” in Screwtape’s eyes? Who was Farinata? Farinata was a 16th Century nobleman who appears in Dante’s Inferno. He was excommunicated as a heretic and believed in the superiority of noblemen.

3. Screwtape mentions three people who were feasted on as part of the banquet:

a.    The municipal authority with graft sauce – the man barely realizing he was corrupt but who did it because everyone else did,

b.    The adulterers – people who fall into unfaithfulness with spouses in response to sexy advertisements or to make themselves feel “modern or emancipated”, or to feel virile or sexy or normal, and

c.    The trade unionists garnished in claptrap – Not quite unknowingly he had worked for bloodshed, famine and the extinction of liberty. He didn’t think of the consequences of his actions, but self-importance and towing the party line were what was important to him.

Why do you suppose that Screwtape singles these people out? They are not particularly bad people, but they ended up in hell. Why?

4. What is the hope that Screwtape sees in the tepid feast? If it lacks quality, it, at least, has quantity. And most important, despite the mundane nature of the sins, they were lost – these people who “the Enemy thought them worth trying to save.” Does God find everyone worthy of saving? See John 3:16.

5. What is mortal sin?  Screwtape believes that the demons exercise skill that raises their awareness a little but not too much. He expresses a view that people who are raised too much may become aware of their sin and hence repent. People who are raised too little, don’t become sufficiently aware of what they do that they fall into a state of sub-humanity destined for limbo. Is there a Biblical justification for Limbo? Lewis believed in Limbo. It is part of his book The Great Divorce, There, he describes limbo:

“I SEEMED to be standing in a bus queue by the side of a long, mean street. Evening was just closing in and it was raining. I had been wandering for hours in similar mean streets, always in the rain and always in evening twilight. Time seemed to have paused on that dismal moment when only a few shops have lit up and it is not yet dark enough for their windows to look cheering. And just as the evening never advanced to night, so my walking had never brought me to the better parts of the town. However far I went I found only dingy lodging houses, small tobacconists, hoardings from which posters hung in rags, windowless warehouses, goods stations without trains, and bookshops of the sort that sell The Works of Aristotle. I never met anyone. But for the little crowd at the bus stop, the whole town seemed to be empty. I think that was why I attached myself to the queue.”

6. One does not have to believe that people go to limbo to understand what he is talking about. However, instead of people going to limbo, these same people would go to hell – people who do not seem to care about God or what they do. They walk through this life asleep to God and the spiritual world and morality. The do not “either the source or the real character of the prohibitions they are breaking. Their consciousness hardly exists apart from the social atomosphere that surrounds them.” Do you know any of these people?

7. Notice the work of the philological arm of hell again: a bribe becomes a tip. Discuss.

8. The road laid out by Screwtape: harden the wrong turns into becoming a habit by repetition. Next, turn the habit into a principle to defend. This then settles into a mood of “going on and being what it is” resisting moods that might alter that behavior. Screwtape calls this a rejection of grace. How?

9. The lukewarm sinner is the result of the loss of the saint. Screwtape point out that great sinners are made of the same material as the great saints. If the great sinners are petering out, aren’t the great saints, too?

10. Are people losing their individuality? Are they following the great sinners who remain? Can you think of an example of this in real life?

11. What does Screwtape have to say about Christian Socialism? How did it impact the plans of Satan? Do we need this today? What were the two attacks the lowerarchy made on Christian Socialism?

12. What does Screwtape mean when he says that there was a deep hatred of personal freedom?

13. How has the lowerarchy perverted the meaning of Democracy? How does this help hell?


Mariie said…
I'm really sorry to say that, in all of your argument, there is one thing I just can't ignore, that is the figure of Farinata.
I don't know if it was a typo or anything, but he certainly didn't live in the 16th Century. He was born and lived in the 13th Century, dying even before Dante could actually walk or speak.
It would have been quite prophetic of Dante to write about a man who was yet to be born, don't you think?
Moreover, I don't think you can just say "He was excommunicated as a heretic and believed in the superiority of noblemen" without even mentioning the conflict between Ghibellines and Guelphs (both white and black ones).
BK said…
Hello Marlie,

I didn't even notice your post until just now - a year and a half later. Sorry. I don't remember where I got the information on Farinata. I will look it up and revise. Thank you for pointing it out.


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