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C.S. Lewis: Defender of the Faith

from Program Two


Lewis gains fame through his wartime radio sermons and works of spiritual fiction.

Narrator: Lewis did not accept Freud's view that morality evolved from the harsh lessons of human experience. To him, morality came from God.

It was a message he brought to a mass audience in the years of the second World War. Even as soldiers fought overseas, German planes attacked the cities and shipyards of Britain. ... Military and civilians alike were constantly in danger. The simple security of everyday life was gone.

Parents feared for safety of their children — and the government organized massive evacuations of the youngest, the most vulnerable, to the countryside. Four of these evacuees were sent to Lewis's home in Oxfordshire.

Colin Duriez: This had an enormous impact on Lewis. He had been living with Mrs. Moore and they'd been joined by his brother. It was a relatively small household. He was very attracted to these young children, enjoying their zest as they explored the ground of the Kilns and discovered the pond in the distance, and found the chickens. And to them, it was almost like coming to a farm. This inspired him to start writing a story, about four children who came as evacuees to a house in the country.

Narrator: One of the children had asked Lewis whether there was anything behind the big old wardrobe, and if she could open it. The question sparked his imagination.

Duriez: Several years later, he was able to pick the story up, and it became "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," the first of The Chronicles of Narnia, which, of course, was about four evacuees who come to the house of an old professor in the countryside.

Narrator: The Narnia stories, like Lewis's early science fiction, were allegories of the Christian faith. They told the tale of children who visited a magic land where good fought evil for power over the world. On this journey, the children encountered Aslan the lion, who has returned to redeem humankind.

Duriez: He has a mediator between God and human beings in the form of Aslan, who's very approachable, and yet also is quite frightening. And it's a beautiful picture of a Christian view of faith.

Narrator: But outside the oasis of the countryside, the war was still raging. Every night people who were huddled in shelters or confined to their homes tuned to the radio for news of the battlefront. In the face of the chaos, uncertainty, and cruelty of war, many questioned the existence of a loving God.

Duriez: People in the cities, with the bombs falling on them, were facing issues of life and death, and people losing their loved ones and war. And it's a huge issue.

Narrator: The director of religious programming at the BBC asked C.S. Lewis to give some broadcast talks about faith.

Duriez: Lewis, at first, was a bit uncertain. He didn't like traveling to London, and he didn't like the radio, but he felt a sense of duty to oblige, and he prepared the first of his series of talks to do with the moral law.

Narrator: It started as an experiment — just five broadcasts, 15 minutes each. Lewis was told to write as if he were speaking to the average citizen.

Lewis: [Reading on radio] The next step is from being mere creatures to being sons of God. We Christians don't call it evolution because we believe it isn't something coming up out of blind nature but something coming down from the world of light and power and knowledge beyond all nature.

Walter Hooper: It was so successful, the BBC couldn't get enough — they had so many replies begging them to get Lewis back.

Narrator: The first five talks were followed by another five, and then another.

Lewis: [Reading on radio] History isn't just the story of bad people doing bad things. It's quite as much a story of people trying to do good things but somehow something goes wrong.

Narrator: These radio broadcasts were collected in the best-selling book Mere Christianity. The 1940s were Lewis's most prolific years. He wrote The Screwtape Letters, in which a senior devil teaches a young apprentice the tools of the trade, and The Problem of Pain, a treatise on suffering.

Hooper: Lewis picked up his pen in 1939 and by the time he put it down, when the war was won in 1945, he had given Britain and the United States its major apologetics for Christianity.

Lewis: If there was a controlling power outside the universe, the only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And that is just what we find in ourselves.

Narrator: The existence of an indisputable moral law was central to Lewis's beliefs. For him, the fact that we have a conscience points undeniably to a Creator.

Duriez: You might be in a dilemma, where you need to rescue somebody who's drowning, and you're risking your own life in the process, but the moral law puts that obligation above your own instinct for self-survival.

Peter Kreeft: There has never been a society in history which thought that courage, and justice, and charity, and honesty were vices, and that lying, and cheating, and stealing, and raping, and betraying were virtues.

Lewis: This Rule of Right and Wrong ... must somehow be a real thing ... not made up by ourselves.

Kreeft: If all of humanity is subject to moral obligation, what's the source of that moral obligation? How could it be something less than humanity? How could it be just our genes, or our past history, or our influences, or our biology? So from the moral law to a moral lawgiver.

Francis Collins: Lewis argues that if you are looking for evidence of a God who cares about us as individuals, where could you more likely look than within your own heart at this very central concept of what's right and what's wrong. And there it is. In the one place where you think you might most learn something about God, that's exactly where you find it. And not only does it tell you something about the fact that there is a spiritual nature that is somehow written within our hearts, but it also tells you something about the nature of God Himself, which is that He is a good and holy God. That what we have there is a glimpse of what He stands for.