In letter 29 Screwtape is lecturing Wormwood on the various options that are available in the process of destroying the patient who is a young Brit caught in the anxiety of a world at war. Screwtape says– “Should we aim at cowardice, courage, pride or even hatred.”
Of course COURAGE is off the table because the devil cannot produce virtue and Screwtape confesses that it is a serious handicap. Courage is recognized universally as a virtue but no culture has any appreciation for a coward. Although the devil cannot produce courage, he can use it in the life of the wicked, “To be greatly effective, even wicked men need courage” like say Attila the Hun, Stalin, or Hitler just to mention a few.
Hatred, we can use says Screwtape, especially when it is linked with fear. Insecure people are haters. Their hate mminates from their fear. The demonic objective is to convince the hater that his/her hate is justified. The people who are being hated, deserve to be hated. Satan will even pervert the scripture in the cause of hate. “Jesus said to love YOUR enemies…he didn’t say love those who hurt your children.”
Now on the subject of pride, Satan does have a great advantage. First of all, men can be proud of their virtue and secondly, pride has a blinding effect. Other people recognize our pride long before we do. As a matter of fact, I usually figure things out after the fall.
As for cowardice, it has both strengths and weaknesses. Cowardice can produce such self-loathing that he can lead to repentance. He may even lead a person to seek God’s grace and help, Satan forbid. No culture on earth appreciates a coward and courage is a universal virtue. The shame of cowardice could drive a man to despair which is of course pleasing to the devil. Screwtape suspects that God created a dangerous world so the humans would turn to Him for help and refuge. Screwtape tells Wormwood that even if a man displays some courage, it does not mean that he is a hopeless case. Pontius Pilate was courageous to a point but then he gave in to his fear. He was afraid that the Jews would riot and that it would get reported to Rome. Pilate had the opportunity to do something noble and virtuous but he failed to do so from lack of courage.
Screwtape discloses the dilemma: should we deceive the humans by covering their cowardice or should we heap shame on them until they break and give in to utter despair. Cowards do all sorts of things to try to convince themselves that they are not cowards. Pilate dismissed his cowardice by washing his hands and saying, “His blood in on you.” The fact is, His blood is on all of us. Cowards hide behind many things: excuses, alibis, duty, imagination and even superstition but they are still cowards. I suppose the last thing that Satan wants is to see a coward converted. There is no greater courage than to confess Christ in a world that is in rebellion against Him. I have to confess that by nature I am a coward but I trust the grace of Christ to make me otherwise.