The Screwtape Letters Chapter 16: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In chapter sixteen of 'The Screwtape Letters' by C.S. Lewis, Uncle Screwtape teaches Wormwood about redirecting his patient's loyalty away from his church.


'Surely you know that if a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that 'suits' him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches,' Uncle Screwtape writes in chapter sixteen of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

Screwtape is concerned that unless the patient's devotion to his church is due to indifference, it is going to be a problem. In this chapter we will learn how tempters attack the issues related to church membership.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Book Cover

The Problem

According to Screwtape, there are two issues with church membership:

  1. It makes the patient feel as if he belongs to something. Membership in a sort of club will keep him attending church.
  2. As long as the patient is attending the same church regularly, he will actually learn what the Enemy is trying to teach him.

If Wormwood had done a better job of getting his patient to hop from church to church, the patient would approach church as a critic instead of as a student. Screwtape writes, 'The search for a 'suitable' church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil.'


There are two nearby churches that Wormwood could potentially lure his patient into trying. The first has a vicar , or preacher, who has significantly watered down the Bible into just a few scriptures and lessons that will not offend any of his congregation. It is safe to say that the patient would not learn anything from attending this church. Screwtape concludes, 'We are thus safe from the danger that any truth not already familiar to him and to his flock should over reach them through Scripture.'

The other church has a preacher that pushes his ever-changing political views which seem to have no rhyme or reason except to spread hate. Screwtape writes, 'The man cannot bring himself to teach anything which is not calculated to mock, grieve, puzzle, or humiliate his parents and their friends.'

Both of these churches tend to be party churches meaning that they arrogantly argue non-essential church traditions in ways that promote division and hatred among the larger Church body. 'The real fun,' Screwtape says, 'is working up hatred between those who say 'mass' and those who say 'holy communion' when neither party could possibly state the difference.' This makes party churches ideal places for Wormwood's patient.

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