I just recently finished reading the last book in C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength. One of his central themes is community, and he sets two opposing types against one another – the “Inner Ring” and real Christian fellowship.
The Inner Ring is that select group of people that everyone yearns to be part of. “There are no formal admissions or expulsions. People think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it, or before they have been allowed in: this provides great amusement for those who are really inside.”1 All of us, at least to a certain extent, strive to be accepted; we strive to belong. For some of us, this desire is no more than a quiet, nagging, slightly spiteful voice in the back of our heads. But for others, like Mark Studdock (That Hideous Strength), this desire to belong consumes.
Mark tries to fulfill his cravings by seeking after various Inner Rings throughout the story. What he does not realize, however, is that the Inner Ring is a fake community. He joins the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments and quickly tries to squirm into this organization’s Inner Rings. The inner circle at the N.I.C.E. looks enticing, and its members seem pleasant, but “nice is different than good.”2 On the outside, the Inner Ring appears to be a group of likable friends.
It never satisfies.
Once we join the group, we feel temporarily accepted, but we never feel secure. I could lose my seat in the group at any given moment. The Inner Ring, the “in crowd”, the cool kids- we like them. We want to be their friends. The problem with this is that more times than not, we want to befriend them for selfish reasons. We want some of their popularity, we want to be noticed; we don’t really care about the other people in the group. We often view joining the Inner Ring as a one-way ticket to fame and happiness, but inside is a constant, silent battle between those on the verge of being rejected and those on the verge of being promoted into the next, more exclusive level of the Ring.
Unlike the Inner Ring, true Christian community is not a competition. It is about deep love, rather than shallow appearances.
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)
Through this sacrificial, Christ-like, agape (Greek: ἀγάπη) love, non-believers can be brought to faith. In the beginning of the story, Jane Studdock, Mark’s wife, “found Mother Dimble an embarrassing person to share a room with because she said prayers.”3 However, once she finds herself in the comforting embrace of fellowship with those at St. Anne’s, her eyes are opened. She is not immediately converted, but she gradually comes to faith over the course of her time surrounded by strong Christians.
Loving communities like the one at St. Anne’s give us a true sense of belonging, with no uncertainty as to whether we are accepted and truly ‘in.’ “All of this [lusting after the Inner Ring] is a false and destructive form of community—a faux community. True community is Oneness in the Spirit—it’s a unity of Jew and Gentile, black and white, cool and uncool, artist and plumber, old and young, all singing their own part in one glorious song.”4 When Christians come together in harmonious fellowship, true love and belonging abound.
We all crave to belong, to be in a community, but we don’t always seek the right community. The Inner Ring is deceptively alluring. When we chase after it, we find only worry, distrust, and rejection. However, those who thirst for real Christian community find encouragement, acceptance, and most importantly, a stronger love for God. God created us as social beings, and he wants us to develop fulfilling communion with fellow Christians, rather than seeking after the deceitfully appealing Inner Ring.
- The Inner Ring, C. S. Lewis
- I Know Things Now, Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim
- That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis
- That Hideous Weakness, Andrew Peterson