The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Inner Ring

Many on the Anglican right have appropriated C.S. Lewis as an avatar of orthodoxy. I wonder if they're aware of his comment on John A.T. Robinson's
Honest to God (1963). Here's a snippet:
The Bishop of Woolwich will disturb most of us Christian laymen less than he anticipates. We have long ago abandoned belief in a God who sits on a throne in a localized heaven. We call this belief anthropomorphism, and it was officially condemned before our time. . . .We have always thought of God as being not only "in" and "above" but also "below" us....His view of Jesus as a window seems wholly orthodox (he that hath seen me hath seen the Father....Thus, though sometimes puzzled, I am not shocked by his article. His heart, though perhaps in some danger of bigotry, is in the right place.
The Honest To God Debate (1963) at 91-92.

Lewis also published in his marvellous collection They Wanted a Paper an essay titled "The Inner Ring", in which he warns of the dangers of belonging for the sake of belonging--and the concomittant pleasure of excluding:
In the whole of your life as you now remember it, has the desire to be on the right side of that invisible line ever prompted you to any act or word on which, in the cold small hours of a wakeful night, you can look back with satisfaction? If so, your case is more fortunate than most.

My main purpose in this address is simply to convince you that this desire is one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action. It is one of the factors which go to make up the world as we know it—this whole pell-mell of struggle, competition, confusion, graft, disappointment and advertisement, and if it is one of the permanent mainsprings then you may be quite sure of this. Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care. That will be the natural thing—the life that will come to you of its own accord. Any other kind of life, if you lead it, will be the result of conscious and continuous effort. If you do nothing about it, if you drift with the stream, you will in fact be an “inner ringer.” I don’t say you’ll be a successful one; that’s as may be. But whether by pining and moping outside Rings that you can never enter, or by passing triumphantly further and further in—one way or the other you will be that kind of man.
I wonder how many of our Anglican furious excluders are Inner Ringers, or aspirants to that status, who fear the loss of prestige, position, or acceptance? And I wonder how many of those who bridle at what can seem on the surface to be heresy have tried to meet it with the breezy self-assurance, and sympathetic tolerance, of Jack Lewis?


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

And don't forget his relatively mild comments on British Public School same-sexuality in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Then, too, I owe part of my adult reconversion to Christianity to reading Lewis -- so that must be a major mark against him in some books. ;-)

Anglocat said...

Good point, Tobias! I'm a big admirer of Lewis--not so much the "Mere Christianity" Lewis as of the more subtle and nuanced LEwis of the Great Divorce and A Grief Observed. He was a major way station on my path in the Church, and I still go back to my favorites.

(And now I get to thank him for his influence on you!)