Friday, September 21, 2012

Sexual Morality—Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

These Kinds of Things Change
On this delicate topic C.S. Lewis carefully defines the key terms: "The Christian rule of chastity must not be confused with the social rule of 'modesty'... i.e. propriety, or decency .. .how much of the human body should be displayed and what subjects can be referred to, and in what words.... While the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all times, the rule of propriety changes.... When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so ... to excite lust ... then they are offending against chastity. But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners. When, as often happens, they break it defiantly ... to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable: for it is uncharitable to take pleasure in making other people feel uncomfortable. I do not think that a very strict or fussy standard of propriety is any proof of chastity or any help, and I therefore regard the great relaxation and simplifying of the rule ... as a good thing.... It has this inconvenience ... people of different ages and types do not all acknowledge the same standard.... A real desire to believe all the good you can of others and to make others as comfortable as you can will solve most of the problems."
Food Strip-Tease?!

"Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues.... The Christian rule is, 'Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.' Now this is so difficult and contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct that has gone wrong. But I have other reasons for thinking so.... You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act.... Suppose you come to a country where you could fill a theater by simply bringing a covered plate onto the stage and then slowly lifting the cover ... to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained ... a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?.... The sexual appetite, like our other appetites, grows by indulgence. Starving men may think much about food, but so do gluttons."

"Christianity is almost the only [religion] that thoroughly approves of the bodythat believes matter is good, that God Himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, or beauty and our energy. Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other religion: and nearly all the greatest love poetry in the world has been produced by Christians. If anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once. But, of course, when people say, 'Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,' they may mean 'the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of.'... I think it is everything to be ashamed of. There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food....

"I do not say you and I are ... responsible for the present situation. Our ancestors have handed over to us organisms which are warped in this respect: and we grow up surrounded by propaganda in favor of unchastity.... God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them."

"Perfect chastity ... will not be attained by any merely human efforts. You must ask for God's help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you ... that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind.... Ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying againFor however important chastity (or courage, or truthfulness, or any other virtue) may be, this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still. It cures our illusions about ourselves and teaches us to depend on God. We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection." 

"When an adolescent or an adult is engaged in resisting a conscious desire, he is not dealing with a repression nor is he in the least danger of creating a repression. On the contrary, those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else. They come to know their desires as Wellington knew Napoleon, or as Sherlock Holmes knew Moriarty; as a rat-catcher knows rats or a plumber knows about leaky pipes. Virtueeven attempted virtuebrings light; indulgence brings fog. 

Better to Be Neither
"If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as 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 pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred.... That is 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."

Highlights from chapter 5: Sexual Morality, book 3: Christian Behaviour in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  Click here for a clear view of how this chapter relates to the whole book.


  1. Harry Reid! Haha! What a mug. "The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual." Such a great quote.

    1. Yes, that is a great quote because it reflects what Jesus said in Matthew 23: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, but have neglected the weightier matters of the Law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone. Blind guides--you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!...You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also!" I did not realize when I googled for an image of a self-righteous man that the man would prove to be a recognizable public figure. I suppose I should have known--poor man!