Rereading the Screwtape Letters as an Atheist; Part Thirteen

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?

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7 thoughts on “Rereading the Screwtape Letters as an Atheist; Part Thirteen

  1. Dear anonymous,
    First, I would like to say how cool it is for you to reread this book with a changed perspective, and to do so with such reflection.
    I want to address your question – Why sex outside of marriage is condemned. If sex is a demonstration and symbol and experience of love, then it shouldn’t be commended as sinful but should be viewed as good and admirable.

    I know there are a lot of contradicting views of redemption and being saved by God. For me, I grew up being told by many people in the church that it is possible to fall away from God, and to lose your salvation. I agreed with this up until around early 20’s. I have learned something very different written in the word, That what Christ has begun in you, he will also finish in you. I am saved by grace through faith, and it is not by myself that I do this, but it is a gift from God, not by any kind of good deed that I have done, because I would be able to boast that I have saved myself.
    I can list off a few others, but I want to get to the point.
    Let’s assume, without having all the answers of the universe, that If Christ has redeemed me, if I am washed white as snow, I am His and he is mine- we are united as one. we all know that Christ refers to the church (those saved by grace through faith) as his bride.

    Ok, so when I surrendered to him all that I am, he in return has given me himself. This union is a lasting one. If God is love, if he is faithful, His spirit will change me and make me new, He will do what he promised. He also, will never be separated from me (romans 8:38-39)

    Sex is referred to in the bible as “one flesh”. Just as I have become one flesh with God, I can also become one flesh with a man here on earth. I keep getting the sense, that God loves examples, He likes having things we do on this earth to point directly to who he is, and what he is. in marriage, a wife is to forget herself and think of her husband (essence of love in it’s purest forms) the husband is to also to forget himself and think of his wife. It is to be a mutual selfless love, because that love mirrors the love of God. Sex in marriage is holy, because it is the act of being one. becoming one flesh, mirrors how Christ is faithful and loving and will never leave, that He dwells with us. Love is faithful, it endures all things, it is selfless.

    Outside of marriage, sex is made meaningless. two people having sex (becoming one) and then leaving each other, is the exact opposite of love. Remember, that love endures, it is faithful, it is selfless.
    sex without the commitment of forever, is devoid of what the bible defines as love. it is not faithful, it is not just. The two who became one flesh- abandon each other. So in essence, the sex that is done outside of marriage, really isn’t the same as sex in marriage. Now, I”m not claiming that all marriages last (we know that divorce occur in the church as well as outside of it) . We take things and we wreck them. Jesus wants us to treasure these things and care for them like he cares for us. That is simply my entire point, he wants us to commit to one another and not just TAKE what we want, and throw the rest away. He wants us to love as he loves, and to be faithful to one another, as he is to us. We are imperfect, but with his faithfulness, with the love he gives us, and Christ in us, we have the capacity to love as he does.

    I wont tell a person, or you how to live your life (unless you are killing everyone, or raping everyone) But as a christian, I have a deep desire to see the lives around me experience the same joy and love and peace that I have in Jesus. A true conversion, is one that experiences EVERYTHING that the scriptures says we will experience in Jesus. Without it being true, without your heart being pierced by God, it is impossible for you to stay faithful to him (because you don’t know him) you simply don’t believe.

    Whenever I hear people’s stories about how they left the church, they don’t believe God exists, or how the “fell away”. I know in the depths of my soul, that they never encountered the spirit of God, they never felt his love, they never knew just how precious he is, and what he can do with their heart. i have lived 21 years with him, and I can tell you, He is not a myth, he is not something someone made up. I can tell you with absolute certainty, with no doubt, that he was and is and always will be “the great I Am”. there was blind faith in the beginning, but He has shown me in amazing ways his existence, things that can’t be explained away, things that unless you yourself have experienced it, will never be able to understand.
    I honestly don’t know why people don’t why he doesn’t make himself known to everyone, but I do know that he wants us to seek him, and to seek the truth. But not everyone wants to know the truth. the truth is hard, once you know it, you need to live it out, its too important, and it is too precious. A call to die to yourself isn’t very appealing when you don’t understand the gravity of sin.

    I have strayed a little from your question, but I can’t help but impart to you just a little bit of who He is. The bible isn’t just a rule book ( mostly old testament – old law) following “rules” was never what he wanted for us, he wanted the law in our hearts, for us to WANT to do what is good.
    Because I am changed by his grace, there is a desire in me to be like him, and to love as he loves me. He is so freaking good to me, and I don’t deserve it. Last night, I was on my knees asking for guidance, I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t even know where to begin to ask for what I needed or even know what I needed. I’m glad He is real, otherwise I would be pleading to an empty room without an answer. I am forever grateful that he is alive and that he cares about me. When I have nothing, I still have everything. I don’t want what this world is offering, because It’s a complete joke to what He has given me. I”m not rich, I’m not married, I don’t have kids, I am STILL a virgin (if that matters), but the absence of those things does not bring me pain, nor does it make me think I have nothing. perhaps in your eyes, my life sure seems like a joke due to the absence of those things ( But I am only guessing your mind, I don’t know you, and I apologize if that wasn’t even a thought in your head)
    The glory of it all, is that I don’t HAVE to have those things to be fulfilled or to have joy.

    This is what I know and this is what I have-

    Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ – Philippians 3:8

    I”m only “preaching” to you because I want you to have what I have. He really is everything.

    Sorry this was so lengthy. And I’ll have you know that I took the time out of studying to write this, so it’s not like I was bored. I REALLY need to be studying. I just thought you should hear an answer..

    Also, dude, I was homeschooled too!! We be kickin it homeschool.

    Also, if you are interested, you should read “seeking allah finding jesus”. Not because I want you to get saved (which I do) but the conversations within the story are pretty stimulating.

    Regards
    -Mattea Kaufman (not anonymous)

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    1. Hi Mattea,

      Thanks for such a carefully thought out comment. Nobody ever has to apologize to me for being lengthy; I much prefer it when people take the time to clearly spell out their thoughts.

      I’m not really sure why you’re calling me anonymous. I’m not; my full name is right up there in the banner, and also in the URL. Perhaps you saw this was reblogged to Christians Anonymous?

      Anyway, I feel this long comment deserves a long reply, long enough to turn into a full length post, so that’s what I’m working on. It should be up early next month, and I’ll post a link down here.

      Good luck in your studies,
      Lane William Brown

      Like

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