For several chapters now, Lewis and I have danced around the topic of Christian sexual morality. He says one thing that makes me cringe and brace myself for the topic. Then, instead of diving into it, he uses it as a springboard into something else entirely, and I am both relieved and disappointed. Relieved, because right now sex is arguably the most divisive issue when it comes to the battle between conservative Christians and everyone else and putting off the dive into that shitshow was okay by me. Disappointed, because I do care about the topic, and I think it’s important to say my piece on it. Now, in Chapter Eighteen, he finally gives me to chance to talk about what I think of the controversy.
“The Enemy’s demand on humans takes the form of a dilemma; either complete abstinence or unmitigated monogamy.”
Now, let me make one thing clear. If you personally are A. a virgin, B. a monogamously married person, or C. someone who is holding off on sex until marriage, nothing I am about to say is directed against you. In my ideal world, I would fold this chapter in with the ones on prayer and communion, because they are just about Christians doing Christian things. In the world I actually live in, the right wingers have put considerable effort into directly imposing their sexual mores onto people who do not share those convictions, using not only bullying but also legislation to ensure people who try to live their own lives are not left in peace. They ban gay marriage and poly marriage and create legal barriers to getting insurance to cover birth control. They make it as difficult as possible for teenagers to get real medical information in their sex ed, in an attempt to control their sexuality, despite studies showing that doesn’t stop teenagers from having sex so much as make the sex they do have much more risky. And then they have the audacity to accuse us of forcing our agenda down their throats. I don’t have any problems with somebody making the personal decision to not have sex, or not have sex outside of particular circumstances, but in this case I will speak against the logic and mores Lewis lays out, not because I want to convince anybody to abandon them, but because I want people to see how these are not mores that need to be encoded into our laws and imposed on the private lives of citizens.
I have been to a number of churches and heard many pastors, reverends, youth leaders and ordinary Christian adults speak on why they believe sex outside of marriage is so bad, and there really isn’t that much variation in their reasoning. Mostly they are either of the belief that sex is inherently evil, and only in the context of marriage is it sanctioned as a necessary evil, or they believe that it is inherently good, but it is intended only to produce loving relationships within marriages. Lewis is part of the latter group, and he elaborates on that reasoning in a way that I don’t think many conservative Christians would disagree with.
“The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses… Now the Enemy’s philosophy is nothing more nor less than one continued attempt to evade this very obvious truth. He aims at a contradiction. Things are to be many, yet somehow also one. The good of one self is to be the good of another. This impossibility He calls Love… His real motive for fixing on sex as the method of reproduction among humans is only too apparent from the use he has made of it. Sex might have been, from our point of view, quite innocent. It might have been merely one more mode in which a stronger self preyed upon a weaker – as it is, indeed, among spiders where the bride concludes her nuptials by eating her groom. But in the humans the Enemy has gratuitously associated affection between the parties with sexual desire. He has also made the offspring dependent on the parents and given the parents an impulse to support it – thus producing the Family, which is like the organism, only worse; for the members are more distinct, yet also united in a more conscious and responsible way. The whole thing, in fact, turns out to be simply one more device for dragging in Love.”
Lewis cares a lot about logic. He fundamentally believes that faith is not only religious, but also rational, and whenever possible he justifies his assertions with tight syllogistic reasoning. Despite this love of logic, if you look carefully at the above, he says nothing about marriage or monogamy or virginity. On the next page, he will skip right to the assertion that once two people have slept together they must be married monogamously forever, seemingly completely oblivious to the fact that he, with all his concern for logic, never gave any reason why that would be so.
If anything, he gives an excellent argument for promiscuity. He is literally saying that sex is physically associated with love, that God is love and that God desires us all to be lovingly united. The conclusion that we should all unite in a planet-wide orgy to bring the kingdom of heaven down to Earth follows more logically from his premises than the conclusion he actually reaches.
And, in fact, his line of reasoning is not too far from my reason for being very sex positive. While, depending on context, sex isn’t always loving, it is often an expression of love, in the sense of “I want to do a thing with you that makes us both feel happy and connected and good.” The fact that I had sex in the context of relationships that ended doesn’t negate the fact that it was an act of love. It’s entirely possible to have a short term relationship where you really care about each other, and then you find you aren’t compatible in the long run and the most loving thing you can do is walk away. While that relationship existed, it was loving and good, and the sex was part of that. If God is supposed to be all about love, why is that condemned? I have still never heard a good reason articulated.
There are times when mores found in religion are also encoded in our laws. We can generally agree that killing other people should be avoided. Thievery is also generally frowned upon. These things are legally prosecuted because they are actually objectively bad things for society. You can explain why they are bad without resorting to religion. When it comes to things that some religions condemn, but that can’t be logically proven to be good or bad without religion, a nation that takes separation of church and state seriously will not make the religion into law. They will allow people to decide to follow what their faith dictates if they so desire, but they will not give members of that religion the power to impose their beliefs on those who do not share them. That is why Lewis’ failure to logically articulate his belief matters today. If this is the best he can do, that has some obvious implications for what our laws are currently doing wrong.
Next Lewis has Screwtape go into marriages, happy and otherwise, and why being in love is a big fat trap of the devil. I have more to say on that, but because this is already a full blog post’s worth of thoughts, I feel forced to break this chapter up into two parts. It seems appropriate, really, given that Lewis himself could not reasonably connect point A with point B. I apologize for any grumpiness that may have come across in this post, but have I mentioned that I’d really like to get married in Virginia someday?