Friday, September 21, 2012

Marriage—Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

One Mechanism
After explaining in the last chapter, Sexual Morality, what is wrong with the sexual impulse in man, C.S. Lewis now describes its right working with several memorable illustrations: "The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ's words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organismfor that is what the words 'one flesh' would be in modern English.... He was not expressing a sentiment but stating a factjust as one is stating a fact ... that a lock and its key are one mechanism.... The inventor of the human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, were made to be combined together in pairs, not merely on the sexual level, but totally combined.

"The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union ... from all the other kinds of union that were intended to go along with it and make up the total union. The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again. As a consequence, Christianity teaches that marriage is for life."

"Churches all agree with one another about marriage a great deal more than ... with the outside world.... They all regard divorce ... like cutting up a living body ... than it is like dissolving a business partnership.... What they all disagree with is the modern view that it is a simple readjustment of partners, to be made whenever people feel they are no longer in love with one another, or when either of them falls in love with someone else.... The idea that 'being in love' is the only reason for remaining married...leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise.... Those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises. Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy. The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something that is foreign to that passion's own nature: it is demanding that lovers should take seriously [what] their passion ... itself impels them to do.... A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions: no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way.... But what ... is the use of keeping two people together if they are no longer in love? There are several sound, social reasons: to provide a home for their children, to protect the woman (who probably sacrificed or damaged her own career by getting married)."

What Keeps the Engine Running in Marriage
"Feelings come and go.... Ceasing to be 'in love' need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense ... is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be 'in love' with someone else. 'Being in love' first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it."

What the Mature Thrill Teaches about Marriage
"Our experienced is colored through and through by the books and plays and the cinema, and it takes patience and skill to disentangle the things we have really learned from life for ourselves. People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on 'being in love' forever.... In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come at the beginning and do not last. The sort of thrill a boy has at the first idea of flying will not go on when he has joined the R.A.F. and is really learning to fly. The thrill you feel first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this mean it would be better not to learn to fly and not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. In both cases, if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. What is more (and I can hardly find words to tell you how important I think this), it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. The man who has learned to fly and become a good pilot will suddenly discover music; the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening. This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go—let it die away—go through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time.

"If you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life. It is because so few people understand this that you find many middle-aged men and women maundering about their lost youth, at the very age when new horizons ought to be appearing and new doors opening all round them....

"So much for the Christian doctrine about the permanence of marriage. Something else, even more unpopular, remains to be dealt with. Christian wives promise to obey their husbands. In Christian marriage the man is said to be the 'head.'... The need for some head follows from the idea that marriage is permanent.... When there is a real disagreement ... they cannot decide by a majority vote, for in a council of two there can be no majority.... Either they must separate and go their own ways or else one of them must have a casting vote.... Why the man?... Is there any very serious wish that it should be the woman? Even a woman who wants to be the head of her own house does not usually admire the same state of things when she finds it going on next door. She is much more likely to say, 'Poor Mr. X! Why he allows that appalling woman to boss him about the way she does is more than I can imagine.'...  The relations of the family to the outer world--what might be called its foreign policy--must depend, in the last resort, upon the man, because he always ought to be, and usually is, much more just to the outsiders. A woman is primarily fighting for her own children and husband.... She is the special trustee of their interests.... The husband ... has the last word ... to protect other people from the intense family patriotism of the wife. If anyone doubts me, let me ask a simple question. If your dog has bitten the child next door, or if your child has hurt the dog next door, which would you sooner have to deal with, the master of that house or the mistress?"

SPECIAL NOTE: C.S. Lewis married late in life and enjoyed a particularly blessed marriage, described at the end of my illustrated biography of his and J.R.R. Tolkien's lives. During that special period of Lewis's life, he wrote his masterpiece  The Four Loves, which I have summarized and illustrated. The excerpt above is from chapter 6: Christian Marriage, book 3: Christian Behavior in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Click here for a clear view of how this chapter on marriage relates to the whole book.

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