In “The Inner Ring” Lewis takes the initiative to warn about a common habit of men. He calls it “so perennial that no one calls [it a] current affair.” His topic are the circles or rings of society that exclude some people, intentionally or unitentionally, while including others.
Lewis shows how there are no concrete rules for these circles. No standards of admittance or rejection, no list of members, and no determined name. The only rule is that those outside of the circle are labeled differently from those who are inside the circle. Yet despite this undefined quality these circles exist in every workplace, school, community, hospital, inn of court, and college. This existence spawns from people’s desire to be “in the circle.” Sometimes the desire is recognizable sometimes it is not. Sometimes people are immune to the desire to enter one group by their desire to enter a different group. Often one becomes displeased after being included in one circle because of a sudden desire to be included in another circle. Lewis warns that “unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life.”
Lewis calls a person who constantly feeds this desire a scoundrel. He is never satisfied, but always wants to be included on the secrets he supposes others possess, when in reality they know very little than him. The point at which a man becomes a scoundrel is not a dramatic event. But as Lewis says, “the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”
Lewis says that Inner Rings are not necessarily an evil thing. The problem with them is the exclusion that occurs automatically. Even a close friendship can become an inner ring when it excludes others from joining it or revolves around an activity that others cannot enjoy as much as those in the inner ring.
No one can deny that they have encountered inner rings. The classic example in today’s age in junior high and high school clicks. All the students want to be in the “cool” group but not all of them can be. But, these inner rings can also be seen in the scholars of the Enlightenment whose knowledge excluded others. Or the nobles of the Middle Ages who excluded those not born to noble parentage. Or the priests of the early Catholic Church who excluded the peasants who could not read the Bible, or the Hollywood actors and actresses whose perfect bodies and beautiful hair have become the envy of many American citizens. Or the bosses who refuse to look the interns in the eye. The list goes on. Perhaps you were on the inside preventing others from joining, or perhaps you were on the outside drooling over the idea of joining the group. Maybe you experienced a little of both.
The real challenge for us is to prevent the church from becoming the inner circle. It would be easy for us to exclude those who cannot speak “Christianese.” It would be quite unintentional for us to be so busy with youth group and bible study that we do not see the neighbor down the road across town who desperately needs our help. It would be easy for us to be so involved in our church community that we neglect and even ostracize the people we pass every day. It may be unintentional, but it is still a horrible thing for us to let happen.