Mere Christianity, Book Three, Chapter 5: “Sexual Morality”

  • The Christian rule/virtue of chastity must not be confused with the societal rule of ‘modesty.’
    • Modesty simply sets the rules for how much skin should be shown in different situations, and what topics are allowed in conversations.
    • the rules of modesty are different at different times and in different places and for different groups of people, even different situations.
    • chastity is always the same at all times for all Christians
    • Christian chastity is “Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.”
  • Analogy of strip-tease act with food… This would lead you to the conclusion that the society that craved these displays was either a nation of starving people, or, if they are not starving, a people seriously corrupted in regards to food.
  • We’ve been told for 70 years, “till one is sick of hearing it, that sexual desire is in the same state as any of our other natural desires and that if only we abandon the silly old Victorian idea of hushing it up, everything in the garden will be lovely. It is not true. The moment you look at the facts, and away from the propaganda, you see that it is not.”

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 chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in 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 round. I think the human race originally hushed it up because it had become such a mess. Modern people are always saying, ‘Sex is nothing to be ashamed of.’ They may mean two things. They may mean `There is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that the human race reproduces itself in a certain way, nor in the fact that it gives pleasure.’ If they mean that, they are right. Christianity says the same. It is not the thing, nor the pleasure, that is the trouble. The old Christian teachers said that if man had never fallen, sexual pleasure, instead of being less than it is now, would actually have been greater. I know some muddle-headed Christians have talked as if Christianity thought that sex, or the body, or pleasure, were bad in themselves. But they were wrong. Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body – which believes that 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, our 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’.

  • Lewis makes the very good point that there are people who want to keep us enslaved to our sexual desires in order to make money off of us…. it is more true now than it was in his day.
  • There is no cure until we decide we want to be cured.
  • Lewis quotes St. Augustin (of Hippo), “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet” [da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo] (Conf., VIII. vii (17)).
  • Satan and his devils play on our warped nature with the lie that the desires we are resisting are “only natural,” and “healthy.”

Like all powerful lies, it is based on a truth –the truth, acknowledged above, that sex in itself apart from the excesses and obsessions that have grown round it) is ‘normal’ and ‘healthy,’ and all the rest of it. The lie consists in the suggestion that any sexual act of which you are tempted at the moment is also healthy and normal. Now this, on any conceivable view, and quite apart from Christianity, must be nonsense. Surrender to all our desires obviously leads to impotence, disease, jealousies, lies, concealment, and everything that is the reverse of health, good humour, and frankness.

The real conflict is not between Christianity and ‘nature,’ but between Christian principles and other principles in the control of ‘nature’. For `nature’ (in the sense of natural desire) will have to be controlled anyway, unless you are going to ruin your whole life. The Christian principles are, admittedly, stricter than the others; but then we think you will get help towards obeying them which you will not get towards obeying the others.

  • Many people will pass over the attempt at Christian chastity on the assumption that it’s impossible…. without ever having tried it…. Everything is impossible that is never tried.

We may, indeed, be sure that perfect chastity-like perfect charity-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 for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, 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 again. For 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 worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.

  • People confuse suppression with the psychological term, ‘repression.’
    • ‘repression’ means burying something so deeply that it is pushed into the subconscious. Repressed sexuality does not even appear to the patient to be sexuality at all.
    • resisting sexuality is not repression. It is becoming familiar with the desires and dealing with them for what they are, not ‘repression.’

Lewis closes by making the very good point that chastity is not the center of Christian morality. He then makes the shocking statement that “The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins.”

Interestingly enough, Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 6:16-20:

NLT
15 Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! 16 And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.”[d] 17 But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. 18 Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body. 19 Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.

The Message
There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.

So, I would disagree that they are the ‘least bad of all sins,’ but I do agree with his point that they are not the worst.

[[ Next: Mere Christianity, Book Three, Chapter 6: “Christian Marriage” ]]

Parent: Mere Christianity: Leaders’ Notes Series

[[ Prev: Mere Christianity, Book Three, Chapter 4: “Morality and Psychoanalysis” ]]

Buy a copy of Mere Christianity from Amazon.com

%d bloggers like this: