From the outside, they were just another group of men who would meet regularly at the pub. They met at the same place, most weeks, for a drink and a chat. They talked about all manner of things on their minds: what they were working on, what they were thinking about doing.
This story becomes more interesting when the men in the group are revealed. This little band of friends, mostly writers, were known as ‘The Inklings’, and they counted amongst their ranks men such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.
For years Lewis and co. would spark off each other at the pub. Great literary works such as The Lord of The Rings (Tolkien) and The Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis) would have first been tossed around as emerging ideas here as these men drank their ale and smoked their pipes.
The pub which was the scene for these gatherings of the Inklings was The Eagle and Child, on St. Giles in Oxford. Well, on one particular day the Eagle – affectionately known as ‘The Bird and Baby’ – ran out of beer. And of course a pub without beer is bordering on useless so the Inklings tried other pubs around the city before settling on the Lamb and Flag, directly opposite the Eagle and Child. The Inklings crossed over the road and never looked back.
For C. S. Lewis, one of the chief members of the Inklings, crossing the road in pursuit of a drink marked a fairly insignificant change. However, a much greater “crossing over” was to become the central defining point of his life.
Lewis first arrived in Oxford, as a student in 1917, a committed atheist. But after 10 years or so things began to change. He was challenged by Christian writers and his friends – in particular J. R. R. Tolkien – to reconsider his position. Lewis had originally dismissed Christianity because he failed to see how it could hold together rationally. Yes, Lewis was a man of incredible imagination who could write exotic sci-fi tales and stories of imaginary worlds far away, but he was also endowed with razor-sharp logic. For Lewis, belief in God had to make sense intellectually to hold any merit.
However, when pressed to examine his beliefs he found that perhaps they weren’t as well-founded as he had first thought. He had believed that Christianity wasn’t properly grounded, but had he done enough investigation to fully justify that position? Did he hold that intellectual position for weak reasons, or for strong?
With time Lewis came to see that not only was his lack of belief in God not properly thought through, but that also the intellectual coherence of Christianity started to emerge more clearly after closer inspection.
What followed – after much walking, smoking, drinking, and discussing (naturally) – was a conversion to Christianity at the end of the 1920’s, entirely against the line of his imagined future but totally in keeping with his observations. Of all the people taken by surprise by this, Lewis was perhaps the most astounded. He records that when he finally made the switch he felt that he was indeed the most “reluctant convert in all England”.
Two years ago a plaque was laid for Lewis in Westminster Abbey to commemorate his life. The words chosen to adorn the plaque were taken from an essay Lewis wrote in 1944: “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.” It was Christianity’s explanatory power of the way the world is, the way Lewis was, and a hope for the future that convinced him to cross over from his atheism. After properly examining Christianity Lewis found it to be emotionally and rationally satisfying. His reason and his emotion now pointed to a truth he originally had denied. It took a step of humility, but Lewis followed the evidence to its natural conclusion.
C. S. Lewis has inspired millions of people through his stories, but perhaps the greatest inspiration he left us was his courage to find the truth about God and to commit to what he found.
This article was first published in the July/August edition of Sorted Magazine.