My dear Wormwood,
. . . Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating the Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the ‘present state of the question’. To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour—this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important that to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. But thanks be to Our Father and the Historical Point of View, great scholars are now as little nourished by the past as the most ignoble mechanic who holds that ‘history is bunk’,Your affectionate uncle,
Though Lewis’ Screwtape Letters are fictional and rather humorous, there is nothing funny about the bodiless powers’ antagonism to anything good, particularly in relation to humanity, and about their panoply of ways to turn men from God and their only redemption. Rather than depicting such creatures in our imaginations as bumbling and malicious relatives, we must rather understand them as cold, hard, intelligences, unaffected by emotion and bodily drives, but animated by sheer hatred for us. They don’t just want our suffering, they want a dehumanizing humiliation that ends solely in putrefaction, a complete removal of every one us from anything remotely reminiscent of the Image of God. Some of our own kind have been only too willing to cooperate throughout the ages, but it gains them nothing.
Know your enemy.