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The Screwtape Letters XVII

Posted by C.S. Lewis on

XVII

My Dear Wormwood,

The contemptuous way in which you spoke of gluttony as a means of catching souls, in your last letter, only shows your ignorance. One of the great achievements of the last hundred years has been to deaden the human conscience on that subject, so that by now you will hardly find a sermon preached or a conscience troubled about it in the whole length and breadth of Europe. This has largely been effected by concentrating all our efforts on gluttony of Delicacy, not gluttony of Excess. Your patient's mother, as I learn from the dossier and you might have learned from Glubose, is a good example. She would be astonished - one day, I hope, will be - to learn that her whole life is enslaved to this kind of sensuality, which is quite concealed from her by the fact that the quantities involved are small. But what do quantities matter, provided we can use human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitable attitude, and self-concern? Glubose has this old woman well in hand. She is a positive terror to hostesses and servants. She is always turning from what has been offered her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile "Oh please, please... all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast". You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may be to others. At the very moment of indulging her appetite she believes that she is practicing temperance. In a crowded restaurant she gives a little scream at the place which some overworked waitress has set before her and says, "Oh, that's far, far too much! Take it away and bring me about a quarter of it". If challenged, she would say she was doing this to avoid waste; in reality she does it because the particular shade of delicacy to which we have enslaved her is offended by the sight of more food than she happens to want.

The real value of the quiet, unobtrusive work which Glubose has been doing for years on the old woman can be gauged by the way in which her belly now dominates her whole life. The woman is in what may be called the "All-I-want" state of mind. All she wants is a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled, or a slice of bread properly toasted. But she never finds any servant or any friend who can do these simple things "properly" - because her "properly" conceals an insatiable demand for the exact, and almost impossible, palatal pleasures which she imagines she remembers from the past; a past described by her as "the days when you could get good servants" but known to us as the days when her sense were more easily pleased and she had pleasures of other kinds which made her less dependent on those of the table. Meanwhile, the daily disappointment produces daily ill temper: cooks give notice and friendships are cooled. If ever the Enemy introduces into her mind a faint suspicion that she is too interested in food, Glubose counters it by suggesting to her that she doesn't in what she eats herself but "does like to have things nice for her boy". In fact, of course, her greed has been one of the chief sources of his domestic discomfort for many years.

Now your patient is his mother's son. While working your hardest, quite rightly, on other fronts, you must not neglect a little quiet infiltration in respect of gluttony. Being a male, he is not so likely to be caught by the "All I want" camouflage. Males are best turned into gluttons with the help of their vanity. They ought to be made to think themselves very knowing about good, to pique themselves on having found the only restaurant in the town where steaks are really "properly" cooked. What begins as vanity can then be gradually turned into habit. But, however you approach it, the great thing is to be gradually turned into habit. But, however you approach it, the great thing is to bring him into the state in which the denial of any one indulgence - it matters not which, champagne or tea, sole colbert or cigarettes - "puts him out", for then charity, justice, and obedience are all at your mercy.

Mere excess in food is much less valuable than delicacy. Its chief use is as a kind of artillery preparation for attacks on chastity. On that, as on every other subject, keep your man in a condition of false spirituality. Never let him notice the medical aspect. Keep him wondering what pride or lack of faith has delivered him into your hands when a simple inquiry into what he has been eating or drinking for the last twenty-four hours would show him whence your ammunition comes and thus enable him by a very little abstinence to imperil your lines of communication. If he must think of the medical side of chastity, feed him the grand lie which we have made the English humans believe, that physical exercise in excess and consequent fatigue are specially favorable to this virtue. How they can believe thus, in face of notorious lustfulness of sailors and soldiers, may well be asked. But we used the school masters to put the story about - men who were really interested in chastity as an excuse for mages and therefore recommended games an as aid to chastity. But this whole business is too large to deal with at the tail-end of a letter.

Your affectionate uncle,
          Screwtape

Scripture

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." ~ Philippians 2:3-4

Discussion Questions

1. What part of this week's reading struck home to you the most? Why?

2. Love is neither rude nor self-seeking. Did the patients mother show love when she didn't get her tea and toast exactly as she wanted? Explain.

3. What unpleasant tendencies in yourself were you reminded of as you read this week's chapter? If none, answer the following questions:
          a. What kinds of things "put you out" when you don't get them?
          b. What would your family members say puts you in a bad mood?
          c. What did you complain about this week?
          d. What wasn't done the way you wanted this week?

4. How do selfishness and pride affect attitude when we don't get our way?

5. How can we apply Philippians 2:3-4 (above) when we feel we deserve better than we're getting?

6. Jesus said, "The greatest among you will be your servant." How can we apply this when things don't go our way?

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