Screwtape and Auschwitz

On this day, seventy years ago, the extermination and concentration camp at Auschwitz was liberated by Allied forces.  As the text states, “the silent footage shown in this video is from film that was taken by a Soviet military film crew over a period of months beginning on January 27, 1945, the day that Auschwitz was liberated.”

How do we make sense of such evil?

CS Lewis provides one answer in The Screwtape Letters.  For readers unfamiliar with the book, it is written as a series of letters from a senior demon named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter.  In a sort of afterword to the letters, Lewis includes a scene where Screwtape proposes a toast to a room full of demons feasting on the souls they have managed to tempt away from the “Enemy” (i.e. God).   Here Screwtape lays out the strategy of their success.  It is a process of gradual choices, each one “hardened” along the way:

In each individual choice of what the Enemy would call the “wrong” turning, such creatures are at first hardly, if at all, in a state of full spiritual responsibility. They do not understand either the source or the real character of the prohibitions they are breaking. Their consciousness hardly exists apart from the social atmosphere that surrounds them. And of course we have contrived that their very language should be all smudge and blur; what would be a bribe in someone else’s profession is a tip or a present in theirs. The job of their Tempters was first, or course, to harden these choices of the Hellward roads into a habit by steady repetition. But then (and this was all-important) to turn the habit into a principle — a principle the creature is prepared to defend. After that, all will go well. Conformity to the social environment, at first merely instinctive or even mechanical — how should a jelly not conform? — now becomes an unacknowledged creed or ideal of Togetherness or Being Like Folks. Mere ignorance of the law they break now turns into a vague theory about it — remember, they know no history — a theory expressed by calling it conventional or Puritan or bourgeois “morality.” Thus gradually there comes to exist at the center of the creature a hard, tight, settled core of resolution to go on being what it is, and even to resist moods that might tend to alter it. It is a very small core; not at all reflective (they are too ignorant) nor defiant (their emotional and imaginative poverty excludes that); almost, in its own way, prim and demure; like a pebble, or a very young cancer. But it will serve our turn. Here at last is a real and deliberate, though not fully articulate, rejection of what the Enemy calls Grace.

– CS Lewis (Screwtape Proposes a Toast)

I encourage you to read the book in its entirety.  It is not only helpful in understanding the evil that threatens to undo the world around us, but also the evil that threatens to undo us from within.



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