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C.S. Lewis: School Days

from Program One

The loneliness of boarding school and the brutality of war eventually drive Lewis to atheism.

Narrator: When he went to boarding school, C.S. Lewis reacted against what he felt was a disappointing and dull religious faith.

Lewis: The fussy, time wasting botheration of it all. Hymns were extremely disagreeable to me. Of all musical instruments, I like the organ least. Christianity was mainly associated, for me, with ugly architecture, ugly music, and bad poetry.

School life was almost wholly dominated by the social struggle, to get on, to arrive. The rivalry was fierce, the prizes glittering, the hell of failure severe. I came to hate school, I never ceased by letter or by word of mouth to beg my father that I might be taken away.

Narrator: At last, when Jack turned sixteen, Albert, his father agreed to take him out of school to study with a private tutor. His name was William Kirkpatrick, called The Great Knock by his students.

Lewis: If ever a man came close to being a purely logical entity, that man was The Great Knock. He had been a Presbyterian and was now an atheist.

James Como: The Great Knock had been Albert Lewis' tutor, had been Warren Lewis' tutor. Was a very severe logician. You know, Lewis records his first meeting with The Great Knock. And in attempt to make small talk so he said something like it's a nice day and The Great Knock said, "What do you mean by nice and on what grounds do you attribute those qualities to this day?" And Lewis realized that this is not a man to make small talk with.

Lewis: He was the very man who taught me to think. A hard, satirical atheist. A man as honest as daylight. His attitude to Christianity was for me the beginning of adult thinking. The impression I got was that religion in general, though utterly false, was a natural growth, a kind of endemic nonsense into which humanity tended to blunder.

Narrator: In 1914, the first World War engulfed Europe. Three years later, at the age of seventeen, Lewis won a coveted scholarship to Oxford University. But before his freshman year was over, he decided to enlist in the British army. Among his classmates going to the battlefront was his friend Paddy Moore.

Como: Lewis was a visitor to the Moore home and was received like a member of the family. And so they swore to each other if one of them died and the other lived in the war, the survivor would take care of the dead comrade's family.

Narrator: The war was a kind of crusade to the youth of Europe. All were convinced that the enemy were demons. All were convinced that theirs was a cause worth dying for. And nine million did.

Lewis: I have gone to sleep marching and woken again and found myself still marching. The frights, the cold, the smell of high explosive, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass, the horribly smashed men still moving like half crushed beetles.

Como: Lewis was on intimate terms with pain. He was wounded in World War I. He saw the Sergeant who had saved his life blown up next to him. In other words, he knew as that generation did, the horrors of the Great War.

Walter Hooper: He thought God was at fault for causing the suffering he saw in the first World War. That was God's fault, he shouldn't have allowed that to happen. He thought he was a blackguard. That is the way he described God in his own poetry.

Lewis: 14th of May, 1918. Paddy has been missing for over a month and is almost certainly dead. Of all my own particular set at Oxford, he has been the first to go and it is a bitter irony to remember that he was always certain that he would come through.

Narrator: After the war, Lewis returned to Oxford. Good to his word he set up house with his dead comrade's mother and sister, Janie and Maureen Moore.

Como: She was a mother surrogate. She was a companion and of course, she was a comfort to him, as well. I mean, there was this household, it was home for Lewis. Home. This idea of home. This matters very much.

Lewis: The early loss of my mother, great unhappiness at school, and the shadow of the last war and presently the experience of it, had given me a very pessimistic view of existence. My atheism was based on it.