Saturday, February 04, 2006

Lewis on sexual morality

Book 3 Chapter 5
Sexual Morality
Lewis distinguishes between the social rule of modesty and the Christian rule of chastity.
“The social rule of propriety lays down how much of the human body should be displayed and what subjects can be referred to, and in what words, according to the custom of a given social circle.

The rule of chastity applies in all times and all places, rules of modesty may differ from culture to culture. A girl in the Pacific islands wearing nearly no clothes, and fully covered Victorian lady, may be equally chaste (or unchaste). Those who break the rule of propriety with the intent to incite lust are offending against chastity.

The most unpopular of all Christian virtues (though he is going to take that back in a subsequent chapter; you may be surprised at what supplants it).

Lewis defends the traditional position: “Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.”

This goes against our instinct, so either the rule is wrong, or our instinct have gone wrong.

The biological purpose of sex is children. If we eat every time we feel inclined and as much as we want, we will eat too much. If someone had sex anytime they wanted and it always produced a baby, in ten years it would populate a small village. (I’m not sure this argument gets us where we need to go).

Suppose we were in a country where people brought a covered plate of food and slowly removed the cover from it—a culinary strip-tease. If that were to happen, would that perhaps suggest that something had gone wrong with our appetite for food.

Would we conclude that the people were starving? But we can see that lots of food was being consumed.

Our appetite for food doesn’t involve doing strange things with it. But there are perversions of sex.

We have been told that our sexual desires are normal and if we stop hushing it up. But if hushing it up were the problem then chattering about it all day long would cure it. But it hasn’t. (Interesting that Lewis writes this in the 1940s,. before the “sexual revolution.”

Sex is nothing to be ashamed of can mean
1) The fact that we reproduce ourselves sexually and enjoy sexual acts in nothing to be ashamed of. That’s true.
2) The condition sex has gotten into in our fallen world is nothing to be ashamed of. That’s false.

We have to want to practice this virtue. Augustine said that he prayed for God to give him chastity, just not yet.

We must not believe the propaganda that it is all perfectly normal and healthy. Lewis thought there was a media blitz to that effect back in the 1940s. (And you thought the sexual revolution took place in the 1960s).

We must not believe that we shouldn’t attempt chastity because we can’t do it. You may fail over and over, but if you ask for God’s help, the help you need will be given. (Lewis contrasts with many Christians, who assume that difficulties in this area can be cured in short order by the Holy Spirit, and if they aren’t then there’s something wrong with you.

Repression is not disciplining one’s desire, repression is thrusting something into the subconscious. There is a difference between resisting sexual temptation and resisting sexual desire. Repressed sexuality does not appear to the patient to be sexuality at all.

This is not the center of Christian morality, If anyone thinks that Christians think that unchastity is the supreme vice, he is quite wrong.

“The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasure are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and partonising and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the humans self, which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That’s why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.”

(Note prescient comment on 1990s American politics).

Speaking for myself, I have always been able to see the point of people who object to Christian sexual morality. In Bible times a person who wanted to practice chastity could marry if they were burning with passion, in today’s society early marriage is counterproductive. But suppose you reject it, what are you going to replace it with?

8 comments:

Steven Carr said...

Lewis on chastity :-

'You may fail over and over, but if you ask for God’s help, the help you need will be given.'

So when babies were being snatched from the grasp of their mother's arms by the tsunami of 2004, and the mothers were crying out to God for help, God was too busy helping the supporters of the True Love Waits campaign?

Steven Carr said...

In my opinion, the article shows Lewis inability to think outside of the box.

Humans are naturally chaste for long period of their lives.

Children are not 'burning with passion' , yet nobody thinks this is strange, or wonder how God managed to create humans who are naturally chaste at a certain stage of their life.

Nobody bats an eyelid at the idea that humans are naturally chaste until (at least) puberty.

If God wants humans to be chaste until marriage, he just creates humans who are naturally chaste until marriage, and nobody would bat an eyelid at the idea that humans are naturally chaste until marriage.

mjwatson said...

I've always thought Lewis's chapter here was good for what it was: introductory thoughts on a topic amenable to the radio format and easily accessible once made into a book chapter.

I don't think, however, that his distinction between purely sexual sins, and spiritual sins, works very well, however we want to apply it to 90s politics (though surely Clinton was entirely innocent spiritually in his Oval Office adventures!).

I think this distinction is shown to be weakest in Lewis's discussion of the "bloods" in Surprised by Joy. There he makes this distinction again, and notes that if the older students could have had girls, instead of young pre-adolescent boys, they would have. But to think that these sins of the flesh were innocent of cruelty or other "spiritual" sins, or that the after-effects on the young victims was merely physical is to deny the deep intrinsic nature of our sexuality and our well-being.

Mike D said...

mjwatson makes a good point when he says,
"But to think that these sins of the flesh were innocent of cruelty or other "spiritual" sins, or that the after-effects on the young victims was merely physical is to deny the deep intrinsic nature of our sexuality and our well-being."

It is wise to consider the root causes of sexual temptation. The urge to violate a taboo or transgress a commandment often has behind it anger, frustration, or a false belief about God or one's own identity.

Steven may have an innate longing for the heavenly kingdom when he wants God to create us bullet-proof and protect each of us from any harm. Not in this world but it looks good for the next.

Randy said...

Steven may have an innate longing for the heavenly kingdom when he wants God to create us bullet-proof and protect each of us from any harm. Not in this world but it looks good for the next.

I think Steven was pointing out the absurdity of a metaphysical system which claims that a loving God could possibly create such a heavenly kindom, yet has not done so in this world.

Amy said...

Chastity is also defined differently by cultures, or subcultures. I always understood it to mean that couples could hug and kiss, but not go further until marriage. In many past and present cultures, both Christian and nonChristian, chastity meant that single men and single women did not have any contact whatsoever until marriage. In some Protestant subcultures there's now an increasing idea of chastity as non-dating; being friends with the opposite sex is OK but they should never dare to be alone together or touch at all until marriage. (For the record, I disagree with 2 out of 3 of these chastity definitions- take a guess!)

bdune said...

I think Lewis had part right,,,our sex drive is for reproduction purposes at least on the material biological level.Pleasure and love (strong attraction and/or need for intimacy plus other goodies) are the tools God uses to ensure the reproduction and maintain the family. Perversion occurs by choice with some and with others because of factors they have no control over...they have derived pleasure (or not derived pleasure) from types of contact and/or action that they did not choose or chose before they had an adult sense of morality. Sex with a 16 year old is ok if you are married to her but possibly perverted if you are an adult? No the sex itself is not perverted...it is what it may do to the 16 year old's mental, emotional and spiritual self..it may damage...key word being "may" which is enough to make it illegal and immoral in Western culture, Then why is it okay if you are married? Couldn't you still damage that 16 yr old whether married or not?

He that claims to know the will and want of God knows only his own will and want. We who die, who live in time and place with a few pounds of organic tissue in our heads think we can comrehend even the wishes of our Maker? Still we try and I think we get it right by accident more than by design. Does pray for God's will actually bring us to God's will? Isn't God's will simply to love God and each other and we complicate things with our theologies, moralities,etc etc? But to love God and love each other don't we have to be open to God and each other...vulnerable? Isn't sin then not being open to God because of anything we put before God?

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