Lewis was raised in a religious family that attended the Church of Ireland. He became an atheist at age 15, though he later described his young self as being paradoxically “angry with God for not existing”. His early separation from Christianity began when he started to view his religion as a chore and a duty; around this time, he also gained an interest in the occult, as his studies expanded to include such topics. Lewis quoted Lucretius (De rerum natura, 5.198–9) as having one of the strongest arguments for atheism, which he translated poetically as follows:
Had God designed the world, it would not be
A world so frail and faulty as we see.
Lewis’s interest in the works of George MacDonald was part of what turned him from atheism.
He eventually returned to Christianity, having been influenced by arguments with his Oxford colleague and Christian friend J. R. R. Tolkien, and the book The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton. Lewis vigorously resisted conversion, noting that he was brought into Christianity like a prodigal, “kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape”.
The lone surviving reel of audio with Lewis’s voice on it. A series of talks given on a BBC radio broadcast during World War II.
He described his last struggle in Surprised by Joy:
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen [College, Oxford], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the Lewises took child evacuees from London and other cities into The Kilns. Lewis was only 40 when the war started, and he tried to re-enter military service, offering to instruct cadets; but his offer was not accepted. He rejected the recruiting office’s suggestion of writing columns for the Ministry of Information in the press, as he did not want to “write lies” to deceive the enemy. He later served in the local Home Guard in Oxford.
From 1941 to 1943, Lewis spoke on religious programmes broadcast by the BBC from London while the city was under periodic air raids. These broadcasts were appreciated by civilians and servicemen at that stage. For example, Air Chief Marshal Sir Donald Hardman wrote:
“The war, the whole of life, everything tended to seem pointless. We needed, many of us, a key to the meaning of the universe. Lewis provided just that.”
The broadcasts were anthologised in Mere Christianity. From 1941, he was occupied at his summer holiday weekends visiting R.A.F. stations to speak on his faith, invited by the R.A.F.’s Chaplain-in-Chief Maurice Edwards.
Lewis continues to attract a wide readership. In 2008, The Times ranked him eleventh on their list of “the 50 greatest British writers since 1945”. Readers of his fiction are often unaware of what Lewis considered the Christian themes of his works. His Christian apologetics are read and quoted by members of many Christian denominations. In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis joined some of Britain’s greatest writers recognised at Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. The dedication service, at noon on 22 November 2013, included a reading from The Last Battle by Douglas Gresham, younger stepson of Lewis. Flowers were laid by Walter Hooper, trustee and literary advisor to the Lewis Estate. An address was delivered by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The floor stone inscription is a quotation from an address by Lewis:
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.
C.S. Lewis Books
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