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C.S. Lewis: From Spirits to God

from Program One


But how to worship? Lewis the reluctant convert gradually discovers faith in Jesus Christ.

Narrator: God was not an illusion to C.S. Lewis.

In 1931, he had converted to belief in God. He was a commanding presence in tutorials and in the lecture halls of Magdalen College. But beneath the outward mask of confidence and professional success, he still struggled with his faith.

Lewis: I am appalled to see how much of the change I had thought I had undergone lately was only imaginary. For the first time I examined myself with a serious practical purpose, and there I found a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions.

Gilbert Bond: Lewis still was very much aware of his own flaws, his shortcomings, his short temper, his impatience, you know, with ignorance, uh, his lack of charity toward other human beings, but he was aware that he was called to be differently with them.

Lewis: Depth under depth of self-love and self-admiration. Pride! It was through Pride that the Devil became the Devil; it is the complete anti-God state of mind. Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not. Pride is a spiritual cancer. It is my besetting sin.

... The real work seems still to be done.

Peter Kreeft: When Lewis first converted, he wasn't happy because the first thing that happened to him was the realization that God was God and that he was not his own God. God was a transcendental interferer, barging into Lewis's life and saying, "You're not God, I am God."

Lewis: It must be understood that my conversion at that point was only to theism pure and simple. I knew nothing yet about the incarnation. The God to whom I surrendered was sheerly non-human.

Narrator: Lewis believed there was a God — but he did not yet have a specific way to worship him. He was attracted to Hinduism and Christianity.

Kreeft: I think Lewis made the conventional objection to Christianity that it's so much like other religions, dying and rising gods, and redemption from sin, and the triumph of life over death. These seem to be common patterns so they could be explained psychologically instead of historically. And then one of his friends who was an atheist, who looked at the life of Christ and said, "Rum thing. Seems to have really happened once." And that shocked Lewis.

Lewis: If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of toughs, were not — as I would still have put it — safe, where could I turn? Was there then no escape?

James Como: He was reading G.K. Chesterton because Chesterton tells, in effect, the history of the world and how it was leading up to the incarnation.

Lewis: [Reading from Chesterton] A great man knows he is not God and the greater he is, the better he knows it. The gospels declare that this mysterious maker of the world has visited his world in person. The most that any religious prophet has said was that he was the true servant of such a being. But if the creator was present in the daily life of the Roman empire, that is something unlike anything else in nature. It is the one great startling statement that man has made since he spoke his first articulate word. It makes dust and nonsense of comparative religion.

Bond: He begins to read the New Testament in Greek, he begins to understand that the New Testament is not just a set of stories, but actually a witness to the presence of a historical human being who embodied the spirit of God. That this person did not sin. And so this was only possible if this person truly was God in human form. The claims that Christians believe actually came from Jesus, are either absolutely true, and this argument stems from Chesterton, or Jesus needs to be confined to the lunatic fringe.

Kreeft: To believe in some sort of a God is fairly comfortable. It's more inconvenient to believe in a God who is so specific and so particular that you can say, "There he is in history, there are his words, there are my responsibilities, I can't make it up.

Lewis: As I drew near to Christianity, I felt a resistance almost as strong as my previous resistance to theism. As strong but shorter lived for I understood it better. But each step, one had less chance to call one's soul one's own.

Hooper: Lewis simply did not understand what Christ fitted into it. Until finally that night in 1931, he had invited Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, two of his closest friends, to Magdalen College. It was a windy night, they went along before dinner, they walked along Addison's Walk talking about mythology. They stayed up till 4:00 AM and Tolkien did his work well.

Lewis: What Tolkien showed me was this — that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a pagan story I didn't mind it at all — I was mysteriously moved by it. The reason was that in pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound. Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth.

Colin Duriez: His imaginative questionings and his imaginative longings came together by focusing upon the Christian gospels, as outlined by Tolkien and Dyson.

Como: He was a literary critic. And as such, he said, "I know myth when I see it, I know legend when I see it and I know an eye-witness account when I see it. I recognize metaphor when it's there. All of this is in the Bible. All of it is inspired. But far from all of it is literal history." Well Dyson and Tolkien pointed out that the only difference was we don't know that Osiris walked the earth. But Jesus left footprints. People saw him and talked about it.

Lewis: As we continued walking, we were interrupted by a rush of wind which came so suddenly on the still warm evening and sent so many leaves pattering down that we thought it was raining. We all held our breath, appreciating the ecstasy of such a moment.

Como: I think it would be a mistake to think that argument converted C.S. Lewis. Because he thinks that we have to be oblique. We can't look at things directly. They escape us. This is what his attempt at introspection taught him. When you're thinking and now you start to think about your thinking — you're not thinking about the original object anymore, you know. I'm thinking about baseball, now I'm thinking about how I'm thinking about baseball, so now I'm not thinking about baseball, you see. Very elusive. So Lewis understood that we had to have an oblique approach, as he put it, you have to sneak past the watchful dragons of self-consciousness.

Lewis: I know very well when but hardly how the final step was taken. I went with my brother to have a picnic at Whipsnade Zoo. We started in fog, but by the end of our journey the sun was shining. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did. I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. It was more like when a man, after a long sleep, becomes aware that he is now awake. But what of Joy? To tell you the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer.