A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere." What would have happened to me, I often wonder, if I had read those words of C. S. Lewis when I was 18 years old and been alerted to the danger of reading? At the time, I was a grumpy and frankly rather arrogant atheist. I was totally convinced that there was no God, and that anyone who thought there was needed to be locked up for her own good. I was majoring in the sciences at high school and had won a scholarship to study chemistry at Oxford University, beginning in October 1971. I had every reason to believe that studying the sciences further would confirm my rampant godlessness. While waiting to go up to Oxford, I decided to work my way through a pile of "improving books." Needless to say, none of them were religious.
Eventually, I came to a classic work of philosophy—Plato's Republic. I couldn't make sense of everything I read. But one image etched itself into my imagination. Plato asks us to imagine a group of men, trapped in a cave, knowing only a world of flickering shadows cast by a fire. Having experienced no other world, they assume that the shadows are the only reality. Yet the reader knows—and is meant to know—that there is another world beyond the cave, awaiting discovery.
As I read this passage, the hard-nosed rationalist within me smiled condescendingly. Typical escapist superstition! What you see is what you get, and that's the end of the matter. Yet a still, small voice within me whispered words of doubt. What if this world is only part of the story? What if this world is only a shadowland? What if there is something more wonderful beyond it?
Had I read Lewis at that stage, ...