Book III (continued)
The two chapters of Book II that I thought the most brilliant are those titled Sexual Morality and Christian Marriage.
Lewis makes the proposition that chastity is the most unpopular Christian virtue. He differentiates between chastity and modesty, defining the latter as a social construct that varies depending on geographical location and time period. Chastity he describes as, “Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.” Unfortunately, many today think chastity is only to be practised before marriage.
He affirms that our sexual instinct has gone wrong. He describes a scene in which people have packed a theatre to view a strip-tease act with a plate of food instead of a girl. The conclusion would be that something is wrong with the audience’s appetite for food. One critic responded him saying that those people were probably starving, to which Lewis replies that the same can’t be said of the society he lived in. Contraception had made sexual indulgence far less costly, hence the starvation theory is moot. (That was true 60 years ago, how much more so today? ) Besides, says he, all appetites grow by indulgence, including the sexual appetite.
So why do we resist chastity? He gives the following reasons:
- In the first place our warped natures, the devils who tempt us, and all the contemporary propaganda for lust, combine to make us feel that the desires we are resisting are so ‘natural’, so ‘healthy’, and so reasonable, that it is almost perverse and abnormal to resit them.
- … many people are deterred from seriously attempting Christian chastity because they think (before trying) that it is impossible.
On this last point, he cautions against thinking we’ll achieve perfection through mere human efforts. We must ask for God’s help; and when we fall short, ask for forgiveness, pick ourselves up, and try again.
Despite still being a bachelor when he wrote this chapter, Lewis makes many valid points. He asserts that sex within marriage is a beautiful and pleasurable thing, going as far as to call sex outside marriage a “monstrosity”. He maintains that marriage is for life. In this way, he considers marriage in relation to the virtues of chastity and justice. Justice, he reminds the reader has to do with keeping promises, such as those made in wedding vows.
On making promises, he had this to say:
As Chesterton pointed out, 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 which is foreign to that passion’s own nature: it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion itself impels them to do.
Being in love does not last, so we shouldn’t use it as the only reason for remaining married. “… ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.” Marriage partners need to ask God for grace to love each other when the excitement ends. Their love for each other is maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit.
Continue to Part 4.