Mere Christianity Part 16


I have now read the chapter “Sexual Morality” in Mere Christianity. As I’m sure you can guess, C.S. Lewis spends the chapter talking about sex from a Christian perspective.

He begins by stating “I do not think that a very strict or fussy standard of propriety is any proof of chastity or any help to it, and I therefore regard the great relaxation and simplifying of the rule which has taken place in my own lifetime as a good thing.” I can agree with him here. People often assume the worst of people who they view to be dressed inappropriately, but what do you actually know about a person based on their clothes? Is that person wearing a baggy sweater and sweatpants actually homeless, or are they maybe sick, or upset, or maybe their reasons are even deeper? Likewise, that teenage girl wearing a short skirt and spaghetti-strap may be a virgin. She may not even have any sexual-related reason for wearing her clothes. Maybe she doesn’t  even view them as sexual. So why judge? Unless you’re a mind reader, who are you to say what a person’s reasons are for the clothes they wear? I’m glad we are becoming more aware of the problems associated with judging a person solely on their wardrobe and I hope we get better at disassociating sex from dress.

Lewis goes on to argue that “the Christian rule is, ‘Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.'” But where did this rule come from? This idea wasn’t common in the ancient Middle East, at least not among men, nor was it common throughout the Middle Ages. In fact, it was expected that men would be experienced before marriage. The idea of a monogamous marriage really didn’t come into play until the Victorian Era, and even then it was only upheld by certain social groups, ie. the Middle Class. This may be a Christian rule now, but how closely is it actually tied to Christian doctrine?

He continues on by saying of Christian views of sex “Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong.” Why does it have to be one or the other? Can no single part of Christianity be wrong without the whole thing falling apart? If that is the case, it makes Christianity incredibly easy to debunk, but does anybody actually think this is the case? Though, if it has to be one or the other, I’d say that it is far more likely that the man-made religion is wrong than it is that every human’s sexual desire has somehow gotten messed up.

Lewis then tries to compare sexual desire to food cravings to show how sexual desire is messed up. He argues that “In the same way, before accepting sexual starvation as the cause of the strip-tease, we should have to look for evidence that there is in fact more sexual abstinence in our age than in those ages when things like the strip-tease were unknown. But surely there is no such evidence.” Surely there is no such evidence? Is that how we find the truth now? We assert our own opinion without ever doing any research to make sure that our opinion is correct? Try opening a history book, Lewis. Historians have in fact found evidence that the obsession with sex arose in the Victorian Era, which caused both the repression of sexuality and the upraise of sexual entertainment. I have a problem with a lot of sexual entertainment, which can be very violent and teaches people to have unrealistic standards where sex is concerned, but I don’t think strip-teases are inherently wrong. Why do they suggest a level of obsession? Then again, Lewis wasn’t really looking for answers, he was simply looking for an example to support his belief. He made it clear that he didn’t really care to do research to make sure that his assumptions were correct.

Lewis goes on to argue “public opinion is less hostile to illicit unions and even to perversion than it has been since Pagan times.” Evidence? Unless Christianity only arose in the Victorian Era, this is not at all true. It can be claimed that women had only gained sexual freedom, since, throughout history, female sexuality has been oppressed, but men were still less free to express their sexuality in the 40’s than they were in the Middle Ages. In many ways, they still are, since, in the Middle Ages, men were expected to have sex with women other than their wives and many people today still believe that sex only belongs in a marriage.

He goes on to say “They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been. It has been chatted about all day long. Yet it is still a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not. I think it is the other way around. I think the human race originally hushed it up because it had become such a mess.” Really? The people of the 40’s and 50’s were sexually liberated? Compared to the Victorian era, absolutely. But in reality? Not really. The 50’s was a time when people did there best to return to how things were in the Victorian Era. The people were not chatting about sex all day long. It may have seemed that way to a sexually repressed man, but we don’t even talk about sex all that often today. No, there hadn’t been time for the issues related to sexuality to be sorted out. It many ways, we are only beginning to straighten out these issues today. But we still view sex as a source of shame and something to be hidden and ignored.

Lewis had a bit more to say on the subject, but I feel my above comments adequately explain why Lewis is wrong where sexuality is concerned.

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11 responses to “Mere Christianity Part 16

  • leighmac17

    I, for one, loved reading mere Christianity. I always either give this book or suggest it for people who are very intelligent, scientists, or atheists. He speaks at an explanatory level they appreciate. Love C.S. Lewis!

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  • msaum3

    Hi. As soon as I saw C.S. Lewis and the chapter, I assumed that you were talking about Mere Christianity which I am reading myself at the moment so I didn’t want any spoilers! I’ll take a look at it soon though to see your summary when I’m done with the book though to see if there was something in there that I missed.

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  • mitchteemley

    Thought you might enjoy my 3-part post “Why I Believe: C.S. Lewis and Me, Parts One, Two, and Three.” Not about sexuality, but very much about the heart of the matter. Blessings. http://mitchteemley.com/2014/09/02/why-i-believe-part-one/

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  • amonglilies

    If you don’t mind me sharing a few thoughts… Concerning monogamy, Jesus is pretty clear that Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of their hearts, but from the beginning it wasn’t so. You are correct there are diff versions of the bible, many diff translations, but there has been a slew of biblical scholars who study the language and the historical contexts of the time biblical writers lived to clarify any issues that may arise from differences in translation. But if you are going to dismiss any one passage because of translation, why not dismiss the whole thing?

    Also if you look at the Old Testament, in Genesis Adam and Eve become one flesh. Eve is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. They complete one another. After the fall though (which disordered the passions and the intellect) lust entered into interaction between the sexes, which is why they saw their nakedness. This is what Lewis is referencing when saying the appetite had gone wrong. (Remember that Lewis is a philosopher, not an historian or a scientist. His “research” involves rather reading Scripture and Aquinas and other Fathers of the Church). After the fall, there is a lot of polygamy and harlotry, but that doesn’t mean that God was pleased with it. It caused a lot of discord and further sin and lack of stability among peoples. The Old Testament is a divine pedagogy though, where God eases his people into the new covenant over the course of centuries. He slowly through multiple covenants brings his people to be a more and more faithful people. I don’t think there’s any reading of the Bible where you can say a striptease is harmless “if a man lusts after a woman in his heart, he has committed adultery.” Lust is objectifying a woman for your own pleasure. There’s no gray area where the Bible is concerned.

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  • szbenton

    I need to read the book again. Thank you. ☺️

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  • drippingfaucet522

    “But we still view sex as a source of shame and something to be hidden and ignored.” – This is truly unfortunate regardless of perspective. There is undoubtedly disagreement about what and how sexuality should be discussed, but hiding and ignoring it is just inhumane. I hope to at least break this cycle with my own children.
    “The idea of a monogamous marriage really didn’t come into play until the Victorian Era, and even then it was only upheld by certain social groups, ie. the Middle Class. This may be a Christian rule now, but how closely is it actually tied to Christian doctrine?” – I would be interested in exploring this further. Am I imposing my own perspective on passages like Matthew 5, Mark 10, and 1 Corinthians 7 thereby seeing things not actually present? Did the Church actually ignore (doctrinally) these passages until the Victorian Era? Was the doctrine of monogamous marriage present, but not practiced, until that time?
    The oppression and sexual objectification/exploitation of women greatly complicate my thinking with regard to human sexuality. I think my own perspective is viable in this regard, but it is informed primarily by (what I think is) Biblical teaching and therefore meaningless to most Americans. We still live in a society in which men hold the vast majority of the power. How, within that reality, do you see it possible to avoid oppressing female sexuality on the one hand or exploiting it on the other?
    Speaking against what we haven’t tried is dangerous, but I will nevertheless state that monogamous sex within marriage is pretty #$*! good and avoids many complications I see from other sexual activity. Condoms, for one, would be a necessary annoyance to me…

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    • hessianwithteeth

      It’s hard to say if you’d be putting your own interpretation into those Biblical passages. Depending on your translation, you may be seeing what the translator wanted you to see. Don’t forget: the Bibles we read today are pretty far separated from the original.
      I don’t think we can get away from both suppressing and exploiting female sexuality until females are considered equal to males.

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  • myatheistlife

    In my experience, when a believer opens their mouth about sexuality they are wrong. Of course this is not always true, but true often enough to make it worth saying.

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