Friday, October 20, 2017

C. S. Lewis on homosexuality at his public school

It is interesting that Lewis doesn't think that the main source of what would now be called homophobia is Christian at all. 

The Wyvernians seem to me in retrospect to have been the least spontaneous, in that sense the least boyish, society I have ever known. It would perhaps not be too much to say that in some boys’ lives everything was calculated to the great end of advancement. For this games were played; for this clothes, friends, amusements, and vices were chosen.
And that is why I cannot give pederasty anything like a first place among the evils of the Coll. There is much hypocrisy on this theme. People commonly talk as if every other evil were more tolerable than this. But why? Because those of us who do not share the vice feel for it a certain nausea, as we do, say, for necrophily? I think that of very little relevance to moral judgment. Because it produces permanent perversion? But there is very little evidence that it does. The Bloods would have preferred girls to boys if they could have come by them; when, at a later age, girls were obtainable, they probably took them. Is it then on Christian grounds? But how many of those who fulminate on the matter are in fact Christians? And what Christian, in a society as worldly and cruel as that of Wyvern, would pick out the carnal sins for special reprobation? Cruelty is surely more evil than lust and the World at least as dangerous as the Flesh. The real reason for all the pother is, in my opinion, neither Christian nor ethical. We attack this vice not because it is the worst but because it is, by adult standards, the most disreputable and unmentionable, and happens also to be a crime in English law. The world may lead you only to Hell; but sodomy may lead you to jail and creat a scandal, and lose you your job. The World, to do it justice, seldom does that.
If those of us who have known a school like Wyvern dared to speak the truth, we should have to say that pederasty, however great an evil in itself, was, in that time and place, the only foothold or cranny left for certain good things. It was the only counterpoise to the social struggle; the one oasis (though green only with weeds and moist only with fetid water) in the burning desert of competitive ambition. In his unnatural love affairs, and perhaps only there, the Blood went a little out of himself, forgot for a few hours that he was One of the Most Important People There Are. It softens the picture. A perversion was the only chink left through which something spontaneous and uncalculating could creep in. Plato was right after all. Eros, turned upside down, blackened, distorted, and filthy, still bore the traces of his divinity.


brownmamba said...

Just a few of points:

I was unfamiliar with the term "pederasty" prior to this post and, upon looking it up, I understand it to be a specific kind of homosexual relationship between a man and an adolescent. I wonder if Lewis made a distinction between this and a homosexual relationship between two adults. I think the conventional, modern take on pederasty is that it is exploitative and hence frowned down upon, regardless as to one's view on homosexuality (though of course if one thought homosexuality to be evil, it would be viewed as worse).

My take on the source of "homophobia" is that it is perceived as an affront to masculinity. This is why, even if one denied being gay, those who acted effeminately in my all-boys high school were treated with cruelty. To some, boys/men are just supposed to behave in a certain way, and a part of that is being straight.

That being said, Christian doctrine, like other religions, provides an intellectual justification for bigotry. At its most benign, as evidenced by what C.S. Lewis wrote, one could be disposed to be tolerant to homosexuality, but still be lead to affirm its status as a "sin". Perhaps Lewis would have denied it's "wrongness" all together, if he were not Christian.

Victor Reppert said...

Bigotry is an awfully strong word, and implies unjustified prejudice. A person who believes

A) That, based on their best reflection on the world, Christian theism is true.
B) That the Christian revelation, properly understood, either through the Catholic Church or the Bible, requires us to avoid homosexual conduct.

It seems to me that this wouldn't be the result of mindless bigotry or dislike of a certain type of people. A certain group of people might be debarred from the possibility of morally acceptable sexual activity on this view, but this would not only include homosexuals, but also all heterosexuals (including Lewis himself for most of his life) who were unable to find appropriate marriage partners.

People with gay orientations aren't considered bad people on this account, any more than single people are considered bad. They just can't have sex. Being gay is just one of several possible reasons why a morally acceptable sex life might be impossible for someone.

Now, someone might argue that this is undue prudery and hostility to sex. That would at least make sense. But it is not bigoted against any particular group of people. Some people, in virtue of their situation, have a tougher path to virtue than others. Some born a psychopath is certain in a rough spot on that score. But we don't accuse people of psychopathophobia if we believe that, even if you are a psychopath, it is going to be more difficult for you to be moral than if you were not a psychopath.

Hal said...

A certain group of people might be debarred from the possibility of morally acceptable sexual activity on this view, but this would not only include homosexuals, but also all heterosexuals (including Lewis himself for most of his life) who were unable to find appropriate marriage partners.

Seems to me there is a rather big difference between one group of people (heterosexuals) not finding a marriage partner and another group of people (homosexuals) being legally barred from finding a marriage partner.

Victor Reppert said...

Many homosexuals throughout history have found opposite-sex marriage partners and made babies with them. For most of human history, there has been and individual and a social imperative to reproduce successfully. Social, because population is needed to provide the manpower for a nation's defense, and individual, because the elderly (before Social Security) were supposed to be taken care of by offspring when they were no longer able to contribute by working. So, for ancient Greece and Rome, there wasn't necessarily any opposition to homosexual conduct per se, but the only question was whether it was OK to engage in this sort of fun and games over and above your marriage. There was, in the ancient world, a class of effeminate homosexuals (invariably underage) which we considered the scum of the earth, but some people back then thought it was OK to have fun with them in addition to your marriage.

But, for all gay people, is it impossible that they could have

People today live in a culture where the premium on successful reproduction has disappeared. The chances of my passing on my genes are now slim and none, and when I got married we decided the children from my wife's previous marriage were enough, we had no need to reproduce further. Maybe on a strong Catholic view this was wrong. Lewis didn't pass on his genes either.

For Lewis, Christian morality should not and need not determine marriage law. This is a passage from Mere Christianity which I think bears on same-sex marriage as a matter of legality:

“Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question-how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mahommedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.”

So what Lewis is talking about is people being barred from the possibility of marriage in accordance with one's orientation.

People who are pedophiles also have no pathway to a morally acceptable sex life. Or those who, if they got into an intimate relationship, have an uncontrollable urge to go sadomasochistic. Richard Carrier says that he is polyamorous by orientation. Any of these people can say "I have a right to happiness, so no matter what, I am entitled to pursue the kinds of relationships that I want." But is this correct? Lewis thought not.

There are several elements to Lewis's perspective on homosexuality, and I am thinking of developing a paper on that subject.

brownmamba said...

To clarify my position, I wouldn't say someone with the views Victor described would necessarily be a bigot. For example, going by the excerpt, I wouldn't label C.S. Lewis a bigot. My point was two-fold. First, for those who actually are bigots, (those who view homosexuals as necessarily wicked people and who treat them without respect), religious doctrine provides a justification for their view and likely crystallizes it.

Second, some people who aren't bigots, who nevertheless think homosexuality is wrong, wouldn't have a problem with homosexuality at all, if it weren't for Christian doctrine (same could be said for other doctrines). Even this mild disapproval is a major cost to homosexuals if such a view is the norm (being socially pressured to feel shame instead of sexual gratification is not something minor!).

The big picture is that though I agree that Christianity is not the source of "homophobia", we cannot completely separate the two. In addition, we cannot separate it from the social costs homosexuals have had to experience, even if not a function of "bigotry". Victor actually concedes the second point (by saying on Christianity homosexuality may need to be disbarred), but seems content to make the point that it really isn't "bigotry". This may be correct, but this strikes me as a hollow victory.

Victor Reppert said...

What you are calling "social costs" is a part of life. Ever try going through adolescence and young adulthood trying to practice Christian chastity? When you hang out with people who don't practice it, you get social pressures, believe me. Non-Christians will go on and on about how much you need to go out and get laid.

I think there is a tough open theological question about what Christians with a gay orientation should do, and I'm not about to get preachy on the subject because, like C. S. Lewis, I've never fought this battle myself. A very longtime friend of mind from childhood, actually the person who introduced me to Lewis's writings, is now pastor of a largely gay congregation in Phoenix. (I am convinced that if there were a way to pray the gay away, he would have found it). Gay chastity seems admirable to me, but I can't tell you what I would do if I were gay, because I'm not.

What bothers me is when homosexuals want to be protected from disapproval, and it really bothers me when they want the state to protect them from disapproval. (Why sue the baker, when there is a bakery across the street that will probably do a better job since they fully approve of what you're doing?)

I meant to say that for Lewis he was talking about people being barred from Christian marriage in accordance with their orientation, not necessarily civil marriage.

I don't need your approval for the decisions I have made in my love life. Why do you need mine?

Victor Reppert said...

I think people latch onto homosexuality for disapproval because even if they don't meet Christian standards of virtue in other areas (I mean, who does?) they can at least be proud of themselves for not committing this vice. "I thank God that I am not as other men. I may lie, cheat, commit adultery, and steal. But at least I'm not gay." When I taught ethics at Northern Illinois I found students who were very free to accept abortion a,d premarital sex, but sounded like devout Catholics (which was usually their religious background) when it came to homosexuality.