The Most Reluctant Convert: The Untold Story of C.S. Lewis (2021) Movie Script

Hey, they're ready
for you Max.
Oh, good.
- It is black. Extra strong.
- Thank you.
Okay. We're on our way.
Okay, one minute
till we shoot.
Thank you guys. Let's be ready.
There we go.
- Final check-
- Is this my chair?
Let's have a red light
bell, please.
Where's my phone?
Who has my phone?
All right. How's my hair?
How's my hair?
It's looking good.
Looking good.
Nice and quiet, please.
Ready for a take.
Cameras are rolling.
- One take one.
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Stand by and...
When I was an atheist,
if you had asked me,
why do you not believe in God?
I would've answered, look
at the universe we live in.
Mostly empty space,
completely dark.
Unimaginably cold.
Most scientists
think it improbable
that any planet in our
solar system sustains life
and Earth herself existed without
life for millions of years
and may exist millions more
after life has once
again left her.
And what is life?
So arranged that creatures live
only by preying on another.
In the lower forms, this
means only death.
In the higher forms something
called consciousness
enables the living to
experience pain.
Creatures are born in pain,
live by inflicting pain
and mostly die in pain.
In the most complex of
all creatures, man,
another quality appears, reason.
And by reason we can foresee
our own pain.
This we call suffering.
We can foresee our own death
while keenly desiring
to go on living.
Reason enables humans to invent
hundreds of ingenious ways
of inflicting a great
deal more pain
than we could have done
as irrational creatures.
This power we have exploited
to the full.
History's our record of
crime, war, disease, terror,
with just enough happiness
to give us
an agonized fear of losing it.
And when lost, the
poignant misery
of remembering how good it felt.
Every now and then our
condition is improved
by what we call civilization.
But all civilizations pass away.
That our own civilization will
pass away is surely probable,
and even if it should
not pass away,
we're all doomed, the
universe is doomed.
The astronomers hold out no hope
that this planet is
permanently inhabitable.
The physicists hold out
no hope that organic life
is a permanent possibility
in any part
of the material universe.
Not only this earth,
but the whole show.
All the suns of space
are to run down.
Nature is a sinking ship.
So if you asked me to believe
all this I've just described
as the work of an
omnipotent, benevolent God,
I would have laughed and said
the evidence points in
the opposite direction.
Either there's no God
behind the universe,
a God indifferent
to good and evil,
or worse, an evil God,
Never dreamed of raising
the question
if the universe is so
bad, or even half so bad,
how on Earth did humans
ever come to attribute
it to the work of a wise
and good creator?
Oh men are fools!
But not so foolish as that,
to direct inference from
black to white,
from evil flower to
virtuous root,
from senseless work to a
workman infinitely wise.
Staggers belief.
No, I did not believe
God existed.
I was angry at God
for not existing.
Why should creatures have
the burden of existence
forced upon them without
their consent?
I lost my mother to cancer.
Had an estranged
relationship with my father
that I regret even now.
Was in the trenches during
the Great War,
the hell where youth
and laughter go
only to see horribly smashed men
still moving about like
crushed beetles.
A mortar shell that wounded
me, killed the man next to me,
splattering shrapnel,
some of which I carry
my body to this day.
When I returned to Oxford
after the war in 1919,
I read the minutes to my
college's last meeting in 1914,
nothing made me realize
more thoroughly
the absolute waste
of those years.
I was asked "Were you much
frightened in France?"
"All the time," I said,
"but I never sank so
low as to pray."
Some people have got the
impression from my books
that I was raised in a
strict and vivid puritanism.
This is untrue.
Mr. Lewis.
Roger, usual please.
You? Make that two.
I'll get these.
Edel will find us a table.
You can have this one.
There you go. All done.
No, religious experience
did not occur in my family.
Was taught the usual things,
made to say my prayers,
in due time taken to church.
Can't remember feeling
much interest in it.
Father was a solicitor
in Belfast, Ireland.
He was Welsh by blood,
passionate, rhetorical,
laughed and cried a great deal.
Had almost no talent
for happiness.
Mother was of a cooler race.
She was tranquil, affectionate.
She had a talent for happiness.
Went straight for it.
As an experienced traveler
goes for the best
seat on a train.
I lived in a large house
that to a small boy
seemed like a city.
I am a product of
long corridors,
empty sunlit rooms, attics
explored in solitude,
distant noises of gurgling
cisterns and pipes.
The noise of wind
under the tiles
and endless books.
Books readable and unreadable,
books suitable for a child
and books emphatically not.
Nothing was forbidden.
In the seemingly endless
rainy afternoons
I almost literally read
my way through the house.
You'll never guess what I found!
Hey wait for me!
Hey wait!
Catch up.
Hey Jack, now stop!
Don't disturb your father!
Happy days.
My brother Warnie and I
enjoyed them to the full.
Until the great loss
that befell our family.
One night, my father in
tears came into my room
to convey to my terrified mind
things I'd never conceived of.
My mother had cancer.
The doctor
said, we can't-
- I don't
think children suffer
less than their elders,
they suffer differently.
So we have to be strong.
And as our
whole existence changed
into something alien
and menacing.
Your mother loves
you very much.
The house
became full of strange smells,
midnight noises and sinister
whispered conversations.
We need some
fresh bandages quickly.
My brother
Warnie and I
lost our mother gradually
as she was slowly withdrawn
from our life into the
hands of nurses,
delirium and morphea.
Oh Doctor. Thank goodness.
The disease followed
the usual course,
an operation, they operated
in the patient's house
in those days, an apparent
the return at the disease,
increasing pain, death.
When mother died, all
settled happiness
disappeared from our lives.
A great continent had sunk.
It was only sea and islands now.
My father never recovered.
Under the pressure he spoke
wildly, acted unjustly,
as this unfortunate
man was losing his sons
as well as his wife.
My brother Warnie and I had
already begun to lie to him.
We were two frightened urchins,
huddled for warmth
in a bleak world.
Mother's death occasioned, what
some might say at the time,
my first religious experience.
When my mother's case
was pronounced hopeless
I remembered what I
had been taught,
that prayers offered in
faith would be granted.
Accordingly, I set myself
to produce in prayer
a firm belief for her recovery.
When she died, I shifted ground.
I worked myself into belief
that there was to be a miracle.
Oh, I approached God.
Not as savior or as
judge, but as magician.
I simply wanted him to
restore the status quo.
And when he had done
what was required of him,
he would simply go away.
The prayer hadn't worked.
Oh, I was used to things
not working,
thought no more about it.
Mother's death among
other things,
produced in me a deeply
ingrained pessimism.
Oh, I was by no means unhappy,
but I had definitely formed
the opinion that the universe
in the main was a rather
regrettable institution.
Father's melancholy was
a contributing factor.
A prosperous man who by our
present tax-ridden standards
would be described as
incredibly secure.
Expressed adult life as
one unremitting struggle.
Best one could hope for,
according to him,
was to avoid the workhouse.
This only by extreme exertion.
Never thought to check his
highly colored comments
against the obvious fact
that we were living very
uncomfortable lives.
Temperamental widower still
grieving the loss of his wife
must be very wise to raise
two noisy school boys
who reserve their confidence
only for each other.
The same scene, reenacted
time after time.
When he opened
his mouth to reprove us
he no doubt intended a
short well-chosen appeal
to our common sense.
Have you nothing to
say in your defense?
But alas, he had been
a public prosecutor,
long before he had
become a father.
Words came to him and
intoxicated him as they came.
Never in all my born days
have I come across such
recalcitrant behavior.
Deliberate disobedience
and willfulness,
such as would dismay the very
founders of our civilization.
What happened was a small
boy who left the bathroom
in a pickle, found himself
attacked like Cicero on Catiline.
Simile on simile, rhetorical
question on rhetorical
question, the flash
of an orator's eye,
the gestures, the cadences...
The pauses.
The pauses were the
chief danger.
One was so long
that my brother, assuming the
denunciation to have ended,
humbly picked up his
book and resumed reading,
a gesture which my
father, who had only made
a rhetorical miscalculation
of about a second and a half
described as-
- Cool, premeditated, insolent!
The disproportion
between the tirades
and what prompted them
was ludicrous.
From the wilderness of words,
emerged ideas I took literally.
Perhaps I should board
up the house.
Keep you both in school
all year round.
And that we should be-
- Sent to the colonies
to end in misery
the career of crime on which
you have both already embarked.
Such was the effect
of my father's rhetoric,
until I began to perceive
him as ridiculous.
At 14, I ceased to
be a Christian.
At that age one barely notices.
At school, all the
teachers and book editors
took it for granted that
religion was some sort of endemic
nonsense into which
humanity tended to blunder.
In the midst of a
thousand false religions,
stood our own, the thousand
and first,
labeled completely true.
On what grounds I asked, why
was it treated so differently?
I was eager not to, if Adonis
could be explained away,
then why not Christ?
So little by little,
I became an apostate
dropping my faith with
no sense of loss
and with the greatest relief.
Oh, there was no faith, hope
or charity in my religion.
I feared not God, but hell,
and heaven was only the lesser
of two intolerable evils.
Oh, I became a vigorous
debunker and argued
there's no proof
for any religion
and that Christianity
is not even the best.
Religion was invented
to explain things
that terrified primitive man,
thunder, pestilence, snakes.
What could be more natural
than to suppose
they were animated by spirits
and that by singing songs
and making sacrifices,
one might appease them.
Great men such as Hercules and
Odin were thought to be gods.
After their death, hence
after the death
of a Hebrew philosopher, Yeshua,
whose name we have corrupted
into Jesus,
a cult sprang up and
Christianity began,
just another mythology
among many.
Oh the superstitions always
held by common people,
but educated thinking was
always stood outside it,
conceding to it only
out of convenience.
And I was not prepared
to believe in a bogey man
who would torture me forever
because I failed to live up
to an impossible standard.
With my deliberate withdrawal
from divine protection,
I underwent a successful
assault of sexual temptation.
Part of it was the
age I had reached.
The electric effect
was a dancing mistress.
She was the first woman
to speak to my blood
whom I looked upon
to lust after.
Good morning, boys.
Good morning Miss.
This was of no fault
of her own.
A gesture, tone of voice
has unpredictable
results in these matters.
As it happened, the school
room was decorated for dance.
She came in and said.
I love the
smell of bunting.
And I was undone.
Now, let us begin.
Follow my every move.
Thank you Elsie.
And down.
And up.
And dainty toes.
Dainty toes, very good.
Dainty toes.
And around sway.
This was not a knight
devoting himself to a lady,
more like a Turk looking
at a Circassian woman
he could not afford.
I knew what I wanted.
You might think this
produced guilt.
Guilt was not a thing I knew.
Well done boys. Well done.
I had been a tender-hearted
but now I labored hard to
become a fop, a cad, a snob.
I was at that time as non-moral
as a human creature could be.
Oh Lewis.
Do enjoy the holidays won't you?
Yes, miss.
Oh, there you are.
Where have you been?
- Sorry Father.
- Come on, come on.
It won't wait you
know. Thank you.
I could
not tell my father
my change of belief.
He was no fool. He even
had a streak of genius.
But for a man who was
formidable in court
and I presume efficient
in his office,
he had more power for
confusing an issue
than any man I have ever known.
Oh, the first barrier
to communication
was having asked the question,
he would not stay
for the answer.
Tell him that a boy called
Churchwood had caught a mouse
and kept it as a pet.
He would ask-
- Whatever became of
young Chickweed
who was so afraid of rats?
Who sir?
Oh, I think you
mean Churchwood.
It was a mouse, not a rat.
And he wasn't afraid
of it, at all.
Attempts to correct his
version produced an incredulous.
That's not the story
you used to tell, my boy.
All this explains,
though does not excuse,
one of the worst
acts of my life.
I allowed myself to
prepare for confirmation.
To be confirmed, make
my first communion,
all in total disbelief,
acting a part, eating and
drinking my own condemnation.
I knew I was acting a lie.
I simply could not tell
my father my real views.
Not that he would have stopped.
Let's talk the whole thing
over, he would have said.
But the thread would
have been lost at once.
His arguments.
I would not have valued a straw,
the beauty of the authorized
the Christian tradition.
Oh, it was all sentiment.
And if I tried to make
by exact points clear,
there would have been
thunder from him
and a thin peevish
rattle from me,
Nor could the subject
ever have been dropped.
All this I ought to have dared
rather than the thing I did.
It seemed impossible
at the time,
cowardice drove me to hypocrisy
and hypocrisy to blasphemy.
The years passed, then the
most fortunate thing happened.
A bit more to the
right, please.
My father
had declared
that he would send my
brother to a tutor
in Surrey, south of London.
That's it. Thank you.
In a
surprisingly short time,
this tutor had so rebuilt the
ruins of Warnie's education,
that he passed into Sandhurst
and received a prize
army cadetship.
For some time, my own schooling
had been going nowhere.
It had neither engaged
my mind nor my heart,
but seeing my brothers progress,
I finally plucked up
the courage to ask.
Jack! Jack! Are you up there?
Come on boy. Well get your coat.
We're 10 minutes late already.
Papa, you know, when
you send Warnie off to Surrey
to your old tutor
Mr. Kirkpatrick.
The Great Knock we
used to call him.
Warnie seemed to
benefit from him greatly.
He did.
He did. He's a fine teacher.
I've been thinking.
Might it not be good to
send me to Surrey too?
Well, there'll be
no other boys.
You won't be able to
play your games.
I tried to look grave,
no other boys.
Never to play games.
I was transported.
Ah yes, this is the day
the rest of my life
really began to happen.
I was still in my teens when
I made my way over to England
and down to Surrey to
meet my new tutor.
I wasn't sure what to expect.
At first sight he seemed
decent enough.
Hello, lovely to meet you.
William T. Kirkpatrick.
The Great Knock.
His grip was like
iron pincers.
Follow me!
I remember feeling the
need to make conversation
in the deplorable manner
I felt necessary to
use with my father.
I was quite surprised by
the scenery of Surrey, sir.
It's really much wilder
than I expected.
Stop! What do you
mean by wildness?
And on what grounds have
you based your expectations?
On the flora and geology
of Surrey?
Was it maps, photographs, books?
Sorry, sir.
As answer after answer
was torn to shreds
Kirk concluded that my
comment was meaningless
and that I had no right to have
any opinion whatsoever
on the subject.
It never occurred to
me that my thoughts
needed to be based on anything.
That conversation lasted
three minutes
and set the tone for
my two years in Surrey.
Kirk's ruthless dialectic
was the only way he spoke.
It was an astonishment to Kirk
that you should not want
to be corrected.
Kirk lived with his wife
in a comfortable
and secluded cottage on
the edge of the village.
It was all rather wonderful.
Welcome! Welcome!
Now you put your
case down there.
I felt welcomed
as soon as I stepped inside,
the whole place was
stuffed with books.
I had come home.
And this is my wife, Louisa.
Pleased to meet you
Mrs. Kirkpatrick.
Pleasure's ours entirely.
We'll show you
up to your room.
I have it all prepared.
You come down when
you're ready,
and we'll start knocking that
mind of yours into shape.
There you are. I
hope you like it.
Oh, and by the way, don't
worry about my husband.
He likes to argue, a lot.
Most boys would have
cowered at all this.
I loved the treat, but it
was red beef and strong beer.
After a few knockdowns,
I began to put on some
intellectual muscle
and became a bit of a sparring
partner to my new tutor.
If I could please myself, I'd
always live as I lived here.
breakfast at eight,
at my desk by nine
to read and write to
precisely one, then lunch.
That was absolutely delicious.
Thank you, Mrs. Kirkpatrick.
Oh yes. I was encouraged
to eat, as well as to think.
Off for a walk by two,
not with a friend.
Walking and talking are
two great pleasures,
but it is a mistake
to combine them.
Our noise blocks out
the sounds and silences
of the outer world.
Thank you.
My return and the
arrival of tea
would coincide at exactly
four, taken in solitude.
Eating and reading
are two pleasures
that combine admirably.
Work till seven, deep
into the classics,
not sparing the horses.
Good talk all evening,
all challenging,
brain-rattling stuff.
In bed by 11, unless
you're making a night of it
at the pub with your cronies.
Passable. You're still a
little shaky on accuracy.
And I fear you've
missed my point
about the classics entirely.
He that neither knoweth
nor will be taught
by the instruction of the wise,
this man is not Herodotus.
He knew a thing or two.
That's not Herodotus.
It's Hesiod.
Prove it.
It's from his poem
"Days in work."
I have it somewhere.
Good lad!
My work was mostly
Latin and Greek.
Homer first. Oh still relish
the brightness and music of it.
Then the two great bores,
Cicero and Demosthenes
could not be avoided.
Followed by Lucretius.
Oh, the glory!
Herodotus, Aeschylus, Euripides.
Had no taste for Virgil.
In the evening we mastered
French, Italian and German
plunging into the likes of
Voltaire, Faust in the inferno.
Kirk was my
great teacher.
My debt remains to this day.
As for religion, he was
a Presbyterian atheist.
On Sundays, he gardened
in nicer clothes.
Among the poets I was
reading at the time,
one stood apart, William
Butler Yeats.
He believed that there
was a world
beyond the material curtain
and that contact with
that world was possible.
Oh, I regarded Yeats as a
learned responsible writer.
Later when I met him, I
was awed by his personality
and he rejected the whole
materialist philosophy
out of hand.
If Yeats had been a Christian,
I would have discounted him.
I had Christians placed,
disposed of for ever.
Yeats offered something
else, a perhaps.
And through this perhaps,
a drop of disturbing doubt
fell into my materialism
and introduced me to something
I've had trouble
with ever since,
a ravenous desire for
the supernatural.
Or to put it bluntly,
the occult.
I once tried to describe
it in a novel.
It's a spiritual lust and
like the lust of the flesh
has the fatal power of
making everything else
seem uninteresting
while it lasts.
Oh I loved the vagueness of it.
Circles, pentangles,
Ouija boards, seances,
all seemed able to
raise a spirit.
Oh, this magic!
No connection of my atheism
swayed me in different moods.
And that it was scorned by both
Christians and rationalists
appealed to the rebel in me.
My descent was from
eccentricity to perversity.
The world and the flesh
had made their appearance.
Now came the devil.
Had there been an elder
in the neighborhood
who dabbled in dirt,
oh they have a nose for
potential disciples,
I might now be a Satanist
or a maniac.
Then, in the super abundance
of mercy,
came that event which
I have attempted
to describe in many of my books.
I was in the habit of
walking a few miles
to Leatherhead Station and
taking the train back to Kirk's.
While waiting for the
train I rummaged in
the second hand bookstore
and picked out
an unusual title, "Phantastes"
by George MacDonald.
It looked a little unusual.
I hadn't the faintest notion
of what I'd let myself in for.
This one please.
A tuppence, please sir.
Thank you very much sir.
As I began to read my new
book, I was electrified.
I felt like a miner who
had struck gold.
In those pages I met
all that had charmed me
in Yeats and others.
Yet, everything was changed.
The bright shadow coming
out of this book,
transformed everything
and it would affect my
own writing forever.
It was as if I had died
in the old country
and come alive in the new,
all my occult and erotic
fantasies began to feel sordid.
Disarmed, what I really
wanted was just out of reach.
Not because of something
I could not do,
but because of something
I could not stop doing.
Oh, if I could only let
go, unmake myself.
I did not know the name
of this new quality.
Oh I do now. Holiness.
That night as I read
my imagination was baptized.
The rest of me took
a little longer.
I first met it as a memory
that would arise suddenly
without warning from the depth
of not years, but centuries.
The memory was from childhood
when my brother brought
the lid of a biscuit tin
garnished with twigs and
flowers to make a toy garden.
It was the first beauty
I had ever known,
a sensation of desire.
But before I knew what I
desired, the desire was gone,
withdrawn, the world
turned common again.
Since then my constant
endeavor was to get it again,
in reading every book,
going on every walk,
listening to every
piece of music.
Occasionally the sky would turn.
Far more often, I frightened
it away by my greed to have it.
I call this desire, joy,
which must be distinguished
very sharply
from happiness or pleasure,
except that anyone who
has ever experienced joy
will want it again.
Apart from that, it
might be called
a particular kind of grief,
but then it's the kind we want.
It is the scent of a
flower we have not found,
the echo of a tune
we've not heard.
News from a country we
have not yet visited.
Oh, I doubt that anyone
who has ever tasted joy
would exchange it for all
the pleasures in the world.
But joy is never in our
path. And pleasure is.
At 18, I arrived at Oxford,
the fabled cluster of
towers and dreaming spires
had never looked more beautiful.
Less than a term later,
like most of my generation,
I enlisted in the army,
was sent to the front
lines in France,
on my 19th birthday to be exact.
First bullet I heard
brought not fear,
but the thought, this is war.
This is what Homer wrote about.
Five months later, I was
wounded and sent home.
In between, I had the good luck
to fall sick with trench fever.
Compared to the trenches,
a hospital bed and a
book were heaven itself.
And how are you
tonight Lieutenant Lewis?
Fine. Thank you nurse.
Well Stanley. Time for
your inspection, I think.
Yes nurse.
Except that the night nurse
was conducting a furious
affair with my roommate.
I was too sick to
be embarrassed,
but the sound of two lovers
whispering in the nighttime
is a tedious noise.
It was here I first read G.K
Chesterton. Never heard of him.
Had no idea what he stood for,
nor could I understand why it
made such a conquest of me.
His humor was the kind I like.
No, not jokes, still
less a tone of flippancy.
Oh that I cannot endure.
Rather his humor was the
bloom of his argument.
Strange as it seems I
liked him for his goodness.
Oh not that it had anything
to do with being good myself.
I did not have the cynics nose
for hypocrisy and smugness
so common among my peers.
In Chesterton, as in
MacDonald, I did not know
what I was letting
myself in for.
A young man who wishes
to remain a sound atheist
cannot be too careful
of his reading.
After my convalescence, I
returned to the front lines.
Turn off the light!
The moment I was hit and
found that I was not breathing
I concluded this is death.
I felt no fear, no
courage, just the thought,
here lies a man who died.
It wasn't even interesting.
The fruit of this experience
is there appeared a
fully conscious I,
whose connection with
me was coming to an end.
And I, whoever that may be,
cared not two farthings.
Oh, it was more than
an abstraction.
I tasted it.
As for the rest of the war,
the cold, the fear, the fright.
The corpses.
It was a ghastly interruption
to rational life.
Now it feels like it
happened to someone else.
Except for the recurring
When I returned to Oxford,
I put on a new look,
which meant to act with
the greatest good sense,
and to have no more flirtations
with the supernatural.
Directly after the war,
I spent a fortnight
with a man I'd dearly
loved, who was going mad.
I held him as he wallowed
on the floor
and screamed "Devils are
tearing me apart.
I'm falling into hell."
I knew this man had flirted
with all sorts of occult
ideas as I had.
Oh, perhaps there was
no connection,
but I took it as a warning
to stay on the beaten track,
the approved material center
of the road with the lights on.
The early days of my new
look were quite happy,
busy engaged in my studies
of classics, philosophy.
At that time we were all
swept up by Freud
and his new psychology.
By my mid 20s, I was elected
a fellow at Magdalen College,
hence my career as a
scholar and tutor began.
After you dear boy.
The answer of course,
is that.
They even provided
rooms for me here,
to read, to write
for my tutorials.
I had arrived.
I felt like I'd found a home
with some of the finest
scholars I would ever meet.
We were young, clear-headed,
Then one day, my very dear
friend, Owen Barfield,
who satisfied my hunger for
debate and rational opposition
announced that he had
changed his views.
He was no longer a materialist
and had become a theist.
I was shocked. I thought
Barfield was safe.
He came from such a free-thinkig
He'd barely even heard
of Christianity.
Barfield bought up all
the abominations:
God, spirit, afterlife.
I said, "Dammit Owen,
it's medieval."
Dammit Owen,
it's medieval.
You may say that
Jack, but the medieval world
has a lot to teach us.
You mean that
the world is flat.
Oh come on Jack, be
serious. Open your mind.
I have.
And as a wise man once said to
me, he that neither knoweth-
- This started our great war,
our philosophic disputation
that lasted for years.
I remember Barfield asking:
Jack, do you believe
that logic and reason
bring forth indisputable truth?
I do.
And are your moral
and aesthetic judgments
valid and meaningful?
They are.
Well then materialism
must be abandoned.
There is a hopeless discord
between what our minds
claim to be and what
they really must be
if materialism is true.
We claim our minds to
be reason-perceiving
universal intellectual
principles, moral laws,
and possessing free will.
But if materialism is true,
our minds must in reality,
be merely chance arrangements
of atoms in skulls.
I of course, argued back.
We are to accept reality
as it is revealed to us
by our senses and the findings
of science have concluded
that human reason is merely
cognitive maps
resulting from natural
with random mutations
over millions of years
to confer on humans a
reproductive advantage
over other species.
I had to say something.
I'd been defending materialism
for years.
If my clearest reasoning
tells me
that my mind is nothing more
than the accidental result
of atoms colliding in skulls,
there must be some mistake.
How should I trust my
mind when it tells me
that my most profound thoughts
are merely mental patterns
resulting from heredity
and physics?
Barfield's notion that
if materialism is true
my conscious mind
is nothing more
than atoms colliding in skulls.
This was simply unbelievable
to me.
I could not force my
thought into that shape
any more than I could scratch
my ear with my big toe.
It was as final as a
physical impossibility.
Mind, reason, imagination,
must be more than mere
It must be a real participation.
Something further
up, further in.
Rock-bottom reality had
to be intelligent.
It's astonishing I've
not seen this before.
Willful blindness, I suppose.
And I was careful not to attach
rock-bottom reality to God,
my skepticism would not
allow me to go that far.
Rather I attached it
to the universe itself.
Still it had immense potency.
Behind the material curtain
lay the hidden glory.
Barfield and I began to talk
religiously about an absolute.
Of course, this was a
religion that cost nothing.
It wasn't personal.
It wouldn't do anything.
It wouldn't lead to dark
places where men scream
they're being dragged into hell.
It was there.
Never come here. Make
a nuisance of itself.
Within the faculty, I
befriended Hugo Dyson
and J.R.R. Tolkien,
both Christians.
Oh these queer people were
popping up on every side.
There was a wider disturbance.
All my books were turning
against me.
I must've been as
blind as a bat,
not to have seen this before.
George McDonald had done more
to me than any other writer.
Of course he had that bee in
his bonnet about Christianity.
He was good in spite of it.
Spenser, Dante, Milton
had it too.
I thought Chesterton the
most sensible man alive,
apart from his Christianity.
I was beginning to think
that Christianity
was quite sensible apart
from its Christianity.
On the other hand, those writers
who did not suffer religion
and with whom my sympathies
ought to have been complete:
Shaw, Wells, Gibbon,
Voltaire, seemed thin, tinny.
Oh, they were all entertaining,
especially Gibbon,
but hardly more.
The roughness and
density of life
did not appear in their books.
I concluded that those with
untrained philosophic minds
could come near the notion
of an absolute being
by believing in a God.
And I distinguished my
belief very sharply
from the God of popular
Oh there was no possibility
of being
in a personal relation with him.
I could no more meet him than
Hamlet could meet Shakespeare.
And I did not call
him God, either.
I called him Spirit.
One must fight for one's
remaining comforts.
About this time one of
my fellow tutors,
the hardest boiled atheist
I'd ever known,
sat in my rooms other side
of the fireplace and remarked
"The evidence for the
historicity of the gospels,
surprisingly good.
Rum thing, all that mythology
about the dying god.
Rum thing, looks as if
it really happened once."
I was shattered.
If he the cynic of
cynics, who's never since
shown any interest
in Christianity
were not as I still would
have thought him, safe,
where can I turn?
Before God closed in on me
I was in fact offered a
moment of free choice.
I was sitting on a bus
going up Headington Hills
thinking I was wearing
a suit of armor,
trying to keep something out.
I could unbuckle the armor
or, keep it on.
The choice felt momentous.
I chose to unbuckle.
Did not seem impossible
to do the opposite.
The initiative did
not lie with me.
If Hamlet and Shakespeare
could ever meet,
it would have to be Shakespeares
he could write himself
into the play.
What I called Spirit
began to show
an alarming tendency
to become personal.
Into my mind, crept
a horrible novelty.
I really believed something.
And now that I had blundered
into that
I knew I could play at
philosophy no longer.
It was time something
should be done.
The absolute had arrived.
Making a nuisance of
itself, issuing a command.
All my acts and desires
were to be brought in line
with this absolute spirit
that I now believed.
For the first time
I examined myself
with a serious practical
What I found appalled me.
Depth after depth of
pride, self admiration,
a zoo of lusts, a bedlam
of ambitions,
a nursery of fears, a
harem of fondled hatred.
Oh, my name is legion.
Amiable agnostics talk cheerfully
of man's search for God,
may as well talk of the
mouse's search for the cat.
All I ever wanted was
not be interfered with,
to call my soul my own.
Keep out, private. This
is my business.
But no one talked glibly of
the comforts of religion.
Is it a small thing to give
yourself blindly to a guide
when his own showing
may very well
be leading you to
poverty, ridicule, death?
Oh, I knew I would
not allow myself
to do anything intolerably
I would be reasonable.
Would it be reasonable?
No assurance was offered.
It was all or nothing.
As the dry bones shook in
Ezekiel's dreadful valley,
the absolute spirit
began to stir and heave
and throw off its grave clothes.
He said, "I am the Lord.
I am that I am.
I am."
You must picture me alone
in my room at Magdalen,
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 found me.
In the Trinity term,
1929, I gave in.
And admitted that God is God.
Knelt and prayed perhaps
that night,
the most dejected, reluctant
convert in all England.
I did not then see
the divine love
that would accept a
prodigal on such terms.
Kicking, struggling, resentful,
darting his eyes in
every direction,
looking for a chance to escape.
The hardness of God is kinder
than the softness of man.
His compulsion is my liberation.
You must understand that the
conversion I just described
was only to theism, pure and
simple, not Christianity.
I knew nothing of
the incarnation,
the God to whom I
surrendered was not human.
I had no belief in
an after life.
That to me, felt like a bribe.
My argument against God
was that the universe
was so cruel and unjust,
but where had I got this
notion of cruel and unjust?
I call a line crooked
because I have some
idea of a straight line.
What was I comparing
the universe with,
when I called it cruel
and unjust.
If the whole universe
has no meaning,
I should never have
known it has no meaning.
All of my reasonable
mind was convinced
that the universe cannot
explain itself,
that God is behind the universe,
that he has purposes.
And is to be obeyed
simply because he is God.
I suppose my religion was
like that of the Jews.
As soon as I became a theist,
I started attending my
parish church on Sunday.
College chapel during the week.
Not because I believed
in Christianity,
but because I thought one
should fly one's flag.
Church was an unattractive
I like clergy as I like
bears, but I have no more wish
to be in church as
to be in a zoo.
Church to me meant ugly
architecture, bleed music,
bad poetry, hymns are
extremely disagreeable to me.
And the botheration of it
all, the crowds, the notices,
the perpetual organizing.
Before our final prayer,
a quick announcement,
if you would like to join
Edith on the flower rota,
she's desperate for volunteers,
do please speak to her at the
back by the font afterwards.
Let us pray.
Lighten our darkness,
we beseech thee oh Lord
and by thy great mercy
defend us from all perils
and dangers of this night,
for the love of Thy only
son, our savior Jesus Christ.
My new conviction
in a higher being
did not exactly make
me a paid-up member
in the Church of England.
But now that I believed in God,
I wanted to know more of him,
from any source, pagan
or Christian.
The question was no longer
to find the one true religion
among many, but where
had the thing grown up.
Paganism was the childhood
of religion.
Where had it reached maturity?
As for the materialists,
their view was out of court.
If reason is only the
accidental result of atoms
colliding in skulls, I
could see no reason
to believe that one accident
should give the correct account
for all other accidents.
My allegiance was now
with the mass of humanity
who danced, sang and
prayed, worshiped.
There isn't really an
infinite variety
of religions you know.
To me, the only ones
worth considering
are Christianity and Hinduism.
Islam is only the greatest
of the Christian heresies.
Buddhism's only the greatest
of the Hindu heresies.
All that is best in
Judaism and Plato
survives in Christianity
and Hinduism bears no
historical claim.
That had been put into my head
by that hard-boiled atheist,
who said, "All that
mythology about a dying God
looks as if it really
happened once."
One day Tolkien and I took
a stroll on Addison's walk.
As we talked, I said.
Tollers, I have, with
considerable resistance,
come to believe in God,
but not Christianity.
Oh Jack.
I cannot believe something
I do not understand.
How can the life and
death of someone else,
whoever he was, 2000 years ago,
help us in the here and now.
When you meet a God sacrificing
himself in a pagan story
like Dionysus, Balder, Osiris
or even in a fairy tale,
you like it very much and
are mysteriously moved by it.
Provided you meet it anywhere
except in the gospels.
Well the story of
Christ is a myth,
working on us in the
same way as other myths,
with one tremendous difference
in that it really happened.
Suddenly a rush of wind
interrupted us, startling me.
So many leaves fell to the
ground I thought it was raining.
I held my breath.
Come on, Jack. You're
too slow to catch a cold.
You know Dyson hates
sitting on those steps
waiting to be let in.
I don't know if Tollers
remembered that moment.
I did. His words hit home.
No matter how unwilling,
I was beginning to move.
Tollers and I talked
deep into the night.
Hugo Dyson joined us.
Beef. Sensational pie.
You make a mess with that.
Now this stuff will put
hairs on your chest.
Here she is.
Make space would you.
There we go.
Look, I may be prepared
to accept Jesus
as a great moral teacher,
but I simply cannot accept
his claim to be God.
Oh, come on Jack.
How could a mere man be
called a great moral teacher
and say the sort of
things Jesus said?
Such as?
That he always existed.
That he was coming
again to judge the world.
Such men are judged
frauds, lunatics.
In spite of my resistance,
they convinced me that
nothing else in all literature
is just like the gospels.
Myths are like it in
one way with its stories
of the miraculous,
histories like it in another
with its attention
to minute details,
but nothing is simply like it.
And no person is like
the person depicted.
I'm sure there are many people
who believe themselves
to be God.
Our hospitals are full of them.
Oh, come on Jack be serious.
No great moral teacher
has ever made that claim
except Jesus, and you know it.
And he went on and on and on.
What do you mean?
Well, claiming to forgive sins
and that he himself is
the injured party
in every transgression.
Look, in anyone else this
would be thought silly.
Suppose you told me that
two of your colleagues
had lost you a top professorship
by telling lies about
your character.
And I replied "Freely
forgive them both."
Would you not think
this sheer lunacy?
It would be sheer lunacy.
Yet, even those
who opposed Jesus
admitted that he expressed
moral truth of depth and purity
full of wisdom and shrewdness.
Wisdom and shrewdness.
You make him sound like
Solomon the great.
On the contrary,
history repeatedly calls
him humble and meek.
Not that you want to
notice that of course Jack.
Humility and meekness are the
last things one would ascribe
to someone who makes claims
worthy of being a megalomaniac.
The Great Knock taught
me to shame inconsistency.
If Jesus' statements are false.
Christianity is of
no importance.
If true, it is of infinite
but one thing it cannot be
is moderately important.
So what are you saying?
Simply that either this man
was, and is, the son of God
or else he is a liar,
a lunatic or a fraud,
but all this patronizing
about him being some
great moral teacher,
it's not an option to us,
nor was it intended to be.
I felt a resistance to this
almost as strong as my
resistance to theism.
Every step from the
absolute to spirit to God
was a step toward the
more concrete.
And now to accept the
incarnation that God became man
was a further step in
the same direction.
Oh, this too was something
I had not wanted.
I remember very well when,
but hardly how,
the final step was taken.
I was being driven by my
brother Warnie to Whipsnade Zoo
in the sidecar of a
motorcycle one Sunday morning
in the autumn of 1931.
When we set out, I
did not believe
that Jesus Christ is
the son of God.
When we reached the zoo, I did,
I had not spent the journey
in thought, or great emotion.
It was more like a man
who, after a long sleep,
has become aware
he is now awake.
My conversion shed new
light on my search for joy.
The overwhelming longings
that emerged from "Phantastes"
and my brother's toy garden
were merely signposts
to what I truly desired.
They were not the thing itself.
I concluded that if I
find in myself a desire
that no experience in
this world could satisfy,
the most probable explanation,
I was made for another world.
At present we're on the
outside of that world,
the wrong side of the door.
We cannot mingle with
the splendors we see,
but all the leaves of the
New Testament are rustling
with the rumor that it
will not always be so.
One day, God willing,
we shall get in.
Meanwhile, the cross
comes before the crown
and tomorrow is another morning.
A cleft has opened in the
pitiless walls of this world,
and we have been invited to
follow our great captain inside.
Following him is of course
the essential point.
In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan
That Christmas, I took the
short walk to my parish church.
That walk marked the
end of one journey
and the beginning of another.
Snow had fallen
Snow on snow on snow
In the bleak midwinter
As I looked around,
I thought not only
of my own potential
glory hereafter,
but also that of my
neighbor's glory.
It is a serious thing to live
in a society of possible gods
and goddesses, to
remember that the dullest,
most uninteresting person
you meet may one day
be a creature that
if you saw it now,
you would be strongly tempted
to fall down and worship
or else a horror or a
corruption such as you now meet,
if at all, only in a nightmare.
All day long, we are
helping each other
to one or the other of
these two destinations.
It is in the light of these
overwhelming possibilities
that I should now conduct
all my dealings.
There are no ordinary people.
I've never met a mere mortal.
Nations, cultures,
civilizations, these are mortal.
Their life is to ours
as that of a gnat.
It is immortals whom we
joke with, work with,
marry, snub, exploit.
The weight or burden of
my neighbors glory
should be laid daily on my back.
A load so heavy, only
humility can carry it.
And the backs of the proud
will be broken.
What can I give him
Poor as I am
If I were a shepherd
I would give a lamb
If I were a wise man
I would do my part
Yet what I can I give him
Give him my heart
Christ our Passover
is sacrificed for us.
Therefore let us keep the feast.
The body of our Lord
Jesus Christ.
Unlike my first
communion, 17 years earlier.
I now believed.
Okay. Thanks very much.
That's a cut there. Thank you.
Thank you Max.
Thank you.