Monthly Archives: September 2014

Rereading the Screwtape Letters as an Atheist; Part Fifteen

I think the biggest weakness of Lewis’ logical arguments is how often he misunderstands, oversimplifies or outright ignores the counterarguments that real people who disagree with him would make. This chapter, for example, has him arguing that everything we are, all the time we have and everything we own does not really belong to us, but ultimately to God. He states that there is no counterargument.

“The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defence. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels. He is also, in theory, committed to a total service of the Enemy; and if the Enemy appeared to him in bodily form and demanded that total service for even one day, he would not refuse. He would be greatly relieved if that one day involved nothing harder than listening to the conversation of a foolish woman; and he would be relieved almost to the pitch of disappointment if for one half-hour in that day the Enemy said ‘now you may go and amuse yourself.’ Now if he thinks about his assumption for a moment, even he is bound to realise that he is actually in this situation every day. When I speak of preserving this assumption in his mind, therefore, the last thing I mean you to do is to furnish him with arguments in its defence. There aren’t any.”

Everything comes from God, therefore everything really is God’s, and God may come in and make demands on whatever we have regardless of what it means to us. He goes on to say that the false sense of ownership is something encouraged by demons and of great use to them.

Well, there are counterarguments to that. One is simply to disagree with his assertion that there is a God to have everything, but I think even before you get that far there are some flaws in his reasoning. I almost hesitate to make the arguments, because I think he applies his conclusion in some good ways. “We produce this sense of ownership not only by pride but by confusion. We teach them not to notice the different senses of the possessive pronoun-the finely graded differences that run from ‘my boots’ through ‘my dog,’ ‘my servant,’ ‘my wife,’ ‘my father,’ ‘my master,’ and ‘my country,’ to ‘my God.’ They can be taught to reduce all these senses to that of ‘my boots,’ the ‘my’ of ownership. Even in the nursery a child can be taught to mean by ‘my Teddy-bear’ not the old imagined recipient of affection to whom it stands in a special relation… but ‘the bear I can pull to pieces if I like.'” He’s arguing against the concept of ownership because that leads us to use our time, selves, relationships and things in ways that are contrary to how they should be used. His ultimate conclusion is one that I agree with, but his penultimate one is not.

If he had not completely dismissed everyone who might agree with him, this might be another chapter I skip on the grounds that he is speaking too much about religion to religious people. However, his complete dismissal of counterarguments makes me feel the need to make them, just because I’m ticked off at his continued habit of ignoring people who disagree with him. Furthermore, as I think of it, I realize that a lot of the judgmental attitude I encountered, in the Christian world, towards atheists and the secular world in general, is based on this idea that thinking you have a right to your own life is inherently selfish and absurd. Thinking that you can have a real claim on your life, your body and your time is not an inevitably bad belief. The mere idea that you have rights is predicated on the assumption that you own, at the very least, your own self. Why fight for human rights if you deny that anyone can possess anything?

Lewis justifies moral behavior, particularly generous and giving behavior, with the assumption that as we do not own anything, we must give back to God whatever he demands in whatever way he demands it. I frequently agree with him about what moral behavior looks like, but my explanation for why it is necessary is different. While some things are ours, like our individual lives, most things are ultimately shared. Everything that makes life possible is shared; the sun, the air, the water we drink and the soil that grows our food. Most things that we produce are the result of shared social effort. We could not own them if other humans had put in effort to either directly make them or indirectly make them possible. Shared social effort is possible only when people treat each other well, which is why humans with a moral sense are a successful form of life. When we act in a way that is conscious of the network we interact within, and that is to the best interest of as many people as possible within it, we call that morality, and the result of it is a world I am happier to live in.

My idea that I own some small things, like my own person and identity and time, does not contradict this moral sense that affirms generosity and kindness. From one point of view it seems to, but from another it affirms it. For example, when I spend some of my own time making somebody feel better, I am participating in a community of nice people who try to make each other feel better. Someday I might need somebody to give some of their time to me. I might not get that time as a direct result of having given someone else my time when part of me didn’t want to, but I have earned my right to hang out with the kind of people who are willing to give their time to others who need it.

So that is why I disagree with his insistence that his perspective is the only way you can look at this issue. I also see a flaw in his reasoning, as he states it. He calls everything from God a “gift.” Well, as I understand it, the entire point of a gift is that once it is given, the recipient owns it. The giver has relinquished all claim on how it must be used. If I give someone a book, I cannot later demand that they trash it in protest of the statements the author made on gay rights, or say they cannot re-gift it to someone else who they think would enjoy the book more. It is now their book.

Now, he may be using the word “give” in the sense that I use the word “loan.” I can loan something and stipulate that it be given back at a certain date or only used in a certain way. Even there, though, not every demand I can make is fair or legitimate. It is one thing to loan someone a Princess Mononoke DVD and expect that it will be given back by the end of the week. It is less reasonable to demand that they only watch it with subtitles, as whether they watch it that way or not does not affect me or my later use of the DVD. There are demands I could make that make sense and are unobjectionable, and there are demands I could make that are ridiculous, controlling or insensitive to the person I am supposedly doing this for.

There was a time in my life when I felt like nothing was mine. I was extremely depressed, anxious and isolated, and I realized that part of what was going wrong was that I was nearly done with my teens and I had never been a teenager. Everything I read, watched, listened to and wore was being passed through a filter of what was pre-approved by James Dobbs and Focus on the Family and all the other things conservative Christian kids are raised on. I wanted to see what it was like to dye my hair and read Harry Potter. My father was furious. Surprisingly, he did cave on the hair, but there were a lot of other things I wasn’t allowed to wear, and he was absolutely adamant on the books. Even having something like Harry Potter in the house was practically inviting Satan to live in our basement. Books that offered different perspectives on religion were similarly unwanted. I had to hide even fairly respectful and nuanced books like The History of God and God is Not One. His justification for forbidding these things to a kid who was seventeen, eighteen, even twenty years old, was that he owned the house, and so nothing that was in it could be mine. I only had things that he allowed me to have. Even things that I bought with money I earned at my job weren’t mine; he said that if it wasn’t for him buying my food and paying the bills, I wouldn’t have the disposable income to get my own things. This made me feel incredibly trapped; I couldn’t be myself in my home, but I did not have the ability to leave it. When Lewis describes living in a world where everything is God’s and everything must be used in the way that he decrees, that is what I think about.

As I describe it, I think most people can see that this level of control was unreasonable for my father to place on me. I am my own person, and I needed to be allowed to figure out for myself who that was; that is the essence of being a teenager. Now, for argument’s sake, let’s assume there is a God. Let’s further assume that my father is right about what he demands of us, and that by disobeying my father I was also disobeying God. Do the demands and the total lack of self-ownership then become reasonable? I don’t think so. The life I had been commanded to lead had left me depressed and anxious. As a person who prayed daily and tried to follow every commandment to the best of my ability, I cried myself to sleep every night and had bursts of crying every day as well. I was so anxious I could barely answer the phone, and I could not walk to the local coffeeshop alone and have a private drink without having a meltdown. As a person who dyed my hair and read forbidden books, in some strange, inexplicable way I found myself, and I slowly learned how to interact with people and even make friends. I even stopped crying. I was objectively, measurably better off doing things my own way than when I was trying to follow “God’s will.”

So, if God was the one giving me the original commandment to follow the lifestyle of the strict conservative Christian, and he had the right to give me that order to do that because he really owned me, then he was giving me commands to destroy his own property. He was the one interpreting “my” in the same sense of “my teddy which I can pull to pieces if I like.” This has gotten into the territory of the Euthypro dilemma. If God exists, is goodness good because it is what God has decreed is good, or does God decree what is good because it is good. If the latter, I don’t need God’s commands to be good. I need to be good, and whether I’m doing it because God tells me to or not doesn’t matter. But if the answer is the former, I think that just makes goodness arbitrary. Morality becomes simply what the biggest person in the room says it should be. Even if it were proved to me tomorrow that God was real, he was the conservative God of Lewis and my father, and I will be damned if I don’t follow his words to the letter, I would not change any of my choices. I might no longer claim to be an atheist, but I won’t follow the commands of someone who I don’t think is taking good care of me and my loved ones. I refuse to be the teddy bear he gets to tear to bits if he wants.

So this is my response to Lewis. I own myself. I own my time. I own all the things I have personally earned. However, I have a responsibility to take good care of those things, and to use them in ways that better myself and the shared world around me, for the good of everyone. I do not need an almighty God sticking his flag into my person in order to make moral choices about how I make use of what is mine.


The Small Circle Problem of Social Justice

So, I’m terrible at having circles of friends, and I think one of the problems is that I’m a fairly progressive and radical liberal, and I also really hate groups of people that splinter easily. I’d rather have one really close and long term friend and some acquaintances than a group of fairly good friends who might explode sometime in the next few months. That preference does not go well with While socializing with politically radical types, I’ve been witness to a fair bit of cliquishness and drama. I left a trans support group because they had a way of freezing out anybody who wasn’t completely on the same page as them politically at all times, which made me feel uncomfortable. Even though I did agree with them on most major issues, and the areas where I disagreed I didn’t consider inherently important, the fact that I actively feared causing an explosion if I ever disagreed with one of the group leaders made me leave.

I’ve also witnessed some schisms caused by outright abuse. Thankfully I’ve been able to stay away from the heart of the drama explosions, and dodged the bulk of the drama shrapnel, but I’ve been close to people who weren’t so lucky. This post by my awesome brother-in-law Shaun has reminded me of how close I’ve been to some wolves in nice conscientious not-wolfy-at-all clothing.

Now, drama and the breaking up of social groups is just a fact of life, hardly unique to social justice or liberalism. The same goes for assholes, sociopaths and abusers who successfully gain the trust of good people in social groups with good intentions. Sometimes I feel like they happen unusually easily in social justice circles, but then I don’t have a lot of experience in other environments to compare them to. I have noticed some dynamics, however, that I think lead to their frequency. This post would ideally have some advice on how to avoid or break them. I’ll tell you right now, I don’t have any. I’m identifying the problem in hopes that as I think more about this topic, I’ll be able to think of solutions.

I think that when you get into intense, radical social justice, you become extremely aware of the way little things that are generally assumed to be benign actually lead to real problems. For example, cornrows, dredlocks and many other styles common to black people are widely considered “unprofessional,” while the styles that are “professional” are overwhelmingly easier to have and maintain if you are white. Many people would tell you that this is just how it is, but it’s an entirely arbitrary social convention, and it sets people up to think of black people as being less professional for reasons that have nothing to do with their capabilities or conduct. Jokes told in the gym and the locker room create a normalized attitude of homophobia, transphobia and a tendency to see women as sexual prizes before they are seen as people. The use of “retarded” as an insult is just the latest in a long string of appropriating medical terminology for playground mockery, leading people with disabled children unable to speak frankly about their everyday lives with their kids without sounded like they are insulting them. On and on it goes. As you become aware of these things, you start to feel guilty every time you hear such a microaggression and let it pass without comment… but if you do, you quickly alienate those around you.

Three things happen. First, you become less and less comfortable around people who aren’t already educated in all the ways that you are, either because you feel like you’re censoring your own discomfort around most people, or because you haven’t censored yourself enough and you’ve become known as the pedantic busybody of the office. Second, you become thrilled to find people you don’t have to deliver endless 101s to, people who already speak your language and share your values. Third, you begin to imagine a world where we have gotten culture right. We have evaded anything that accidentally oppresses anyone, eliminated all microaggressions, found the rules that are never unjust to anyone, ever. You really want that utopia to exist someday, and being surrounded by people who feel the same way you do feels like living in a miniature version of that utopia.

This creates dangers. For one thing, the more isolated you feel, the more attached you feel to the integrity of your little utopia, where you feel safe and comfortable. This makes you feel uncomfortable letting anyone new in unless they have proven that they won’t disturb the peace of your consensus. This in turn makes you judge people by what they say before getting to know them through what they do, and makes you overly attached to people who deliver the correct shibboleths. That is an environment ripe for abusers and manipulators to take over. Just because you can say our shibboleths doesn’t mean that you’ve absorbed our ethics, much less our morals. If you’re charismatic and you know the right morals to spout, you can create a large enough group of people who like you to have a ready barrier of advocates to fend off accusations of defense. Furthermore, people like that can use everybody’s tribalistic concientiousness to kick out anyone who raises too much of a fuss, creating false accusations if need be. I really wish I was basing this on conjecture, rather than things I recently observed. Finally, this may actually create barriers to further education. When you feel your social circle is dependent on consensus, you feel afraid to question your own beliefs. Such questioning might lead to changing your mind, and that might lead to your friends rejecting you.

Does that sound bleak? Here is the counterpart. Many of those people who say bigoted, ignorant, microaggressive things are not actually bad people. Sure, they make mistakes, and they might be defensive when called out on them, and they might be totally blind to the real world effects of what they say. People are products of their environment, and we don’t change fast. We do not adopt a new worldview the moment we are presented with a spreadsheet of new liberal terminology. We assemble our points of view like a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle of a pile of leaves that are all more or less the same color, and we keep putting them together over the course of our lives. Sometimes people jam together a few peoples that look close enough, and when somebody else comes along and tries to point out that it’s wrong, it won’t fit with any other pieces until you swap this one for that one, they don’t want to do it, because taking out this piece means taking out those two other pieces, which in turn means they didn’t have the right pieces next to those, and goddamn it they had a picture that mostly made sense a minute ago and it’s not like you have all your pieces together so don’t lecture me! Just because they lost their temper when you were trying to disassemble their puzzle doesn’t mean they are actually bad people. Sometimes they are, but I do believe that most people aren’t.

Now, my analogy fails because worldviews, unlike puzzles, do affect how people treat each other. But that said, the interaction between belief and action is more complicated than many people seem to think. What a person says they think and what they will actually do don’t always line up. See once again; abusers camouflaging themselves by knowing the right words to say. Similarly, a person’s actions can show them to be compassionate or kind even when their words sometimes make you cringe. Learn about people based on how they treat others, and interact with them based on that. Talk to them about issues as two people trying to figure out this whole complicated puzzle thing together, not like someone you have to instruct in your doctrines before you allow them into your circle. You’ll find them more receptive, you’ll find yourself better able to criticize your own beliefs, and you won’t be quite so at the mercy of an abuser running your clique.

I guess I did sort of have a solution after all. That’s encouraging.

Rereading the Screwtape Letters as an Atheist; Part Fourteen

In Chapter Nineteen, Lewis leaves aside the philosophy and theology for some world building. Screwtape has accidentally contradicted himself. He has claimed, on multiple occasions, that love is not real, and also that the Enemy (God) truly loves humans. Wormwood has pointed it out, and Screwtape backpedals, claiming that of course all that stuff about the Enemy loving humans is propaganda and he didn’t mean they should actually believe it, he was only quoting because A. they don’t understand what the Enemy is really about and B. in the meantime they might as well quote his filthy lies, because that’s the closest they can come to understanding, and thus predicting, his aims. It’s up to interpretation how much Screwtape believes this. He also seems to be afraid that Wormwood might have shared some of these communications with the Gestapo of Hell, in the most literal sense. I don’t have much to say about it, which is good, because I have quite a lot to say about Chapter Twenty.

You may notice that in the last chapter I quoted Screwtape naming one advantage of the human belief that love is the best reason to get married. There was a second, which was that demons can use love, or sexual arousal mistaken for love, to convince a human to get married to someone they really shouldn’t. Or as he puts it, “any sexual infatuation whatever, so long as it intends marriage, will be regarded as ‘love,’ and ‘love’ will be held to excuse a man from all the guilt, and protect a man from all the consequences, of marrying a heathen, a fool or a wanton.” I suppose I might as well say now that Lewis’ idea of a good pairing and mine don’t entirely line up.

Here’s my acknowledgement of the good grain of a thought for the day. Simply being in love is not a sufficiently good reason to get married. The world is full of couples who are in love, but who would probably murder each other if they tried living together, much sharing finances and/or raising children as a team. Our lewd secular culture is not so blind to that fact as Lewis would paint us. TV, books and movies are full of break-ups and divorces between people who really loved each other but were not a good long term match. Magazines, online or in print, print quizzes to help you decide whether you’re with a keeper or not; these quizzes are of fairly, erm, varied quality, but they stand as testament to our general understanding that while love should really go with marriage, but we don’t think love and attraction alone make a good marriage.

I think having a good marriage is a mixture of having personalities that are either similar or complimentary, multiple shared interests and values, and the basic maturity to resolve inevitable conflicts fairly and compassionately. Lewis seems to think that a marriage can be bad simply because the woman involved is the wrong kind of hot. I wish I were making this up. To begin with, there’s the following; “in a rough and ready way, of course, this question [of which sort of men they should trick The Patient into marrying] is decided for us by spirits far deeper down the Lowerarchy than you and I. It is the business of these great masters to produce in every age a general misdirection of what may be called sexual ‘taste.’ This they do by working with the small circle of popular artists, dressmakers, actresses and advertisers who determine the fashionable type. The aim is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriages are most likely… At one time we have directed it to the statuesque and aristocratic type of beauty, mixing men’s vanity with their desires and encouraging the race to breed chiefly from the most arrogant and prodigal women. At another, we have selected an exaggeratedly feminine type, faint and languishing, so that folly and cowardice, and all the general falseness and littleness of mind which go with them, shall be at a premium. At present we are on the opposite tack. The age of jazz has succeeded the age of the waltz, and we now teach men to like women whose bodies are scarcely distinguishable from those of boys. Since this is a kind of beauty even more transitory than most, we thus aggravate the female’s chronic horror of growing old (with many excellent results) and render her less willing and less able to bear children. ”

The slim silver lining here (that Lewis is criticizing the unrealistic beauty standards that women are pressured to conform to) is not only undermined but utterly obliterated by his blithe assumption that every woman who conforms to these fashions has a personality to match their outfits. A person’s taste in fashion might give clues about their background, their culture, their hobbies, the sort of work they do or that they aspire to and their favorite color, but their outfits are utterly useless for telling whether they are kind or clever or fair-minded or anything that really matters about who they are as people. The only clues clothes give prospective partners are individual, rather than general; they can help two people realize they like the same TV shows but can’t identify a person as being generally the sort you want to be in a relationship with or not.

There is also an assumption above that female value in relationships is largely defined by  their willingness to produce children. He specifically lists “won’t want to have babies” as a disadvantage of modern fashion, and also talks about using these women to breed a worse set of human being. So we’ve got a woman’s right to choose dismissed without a first, much less second thought, and a nice big side of eugenics. Fashionable women are all horrible people, and they are also terrible mothers, and if you aren’t getting married to have babies you are doing marriage wrong. Now, I realize that he isn’t writing for a modern audience, but nor is he writing in medieval times. Feminism was a thing when he was around, so while his position might have been less controversial back then, it isn’t as though this is a stance I am artificially pushing him into with the lenses of modern values. There were controversies back then about women in jobs and their role in the family, and he is consciously taking a traditional, stay in the kitchen stance.

And somehow, it gets even worse.

“You will find, if you look carefully into any human’s heart, that he is haunted by at least two imaginary women-a terrestrial and an infernal Venus, and that his desire differs qualitatively according to its object. There is one type for which is desire is such as to be naturally amenable to the Enemy-readily mixed with charity, readily obedient to marriage, coloured all through with that golden light of reverence and naturalness which we detest; there is another type which he desires brutally, and desires to desire brutally, a type best used to draw him away from marriage altogether but which, even within marriage, he would tend to treat as a slave, an idol, or an accomplice. His love for the first might involve what the Enemy calls evil, but only accidentally; the man would wish that she was not someone else’s wife and be sorry that he could not love her lawfully. But in the second type, the felt evil is what he wants; it is that ‘tang’ in the flavour which he is after. In the face, it is the visible animality, or sulkiness, or craft, or cruelty which he likes, and in the body, something quite different from what he ordinarily calls Beauty, something he may even, in a sane hour, describe as ugliness, but which, by our art, can be made to play on the raw nerve of his private obsession.”

Elsewhere in this book, he regularly uses male pronouns, as writers of his time tended to do, when talking about humans in general, but in this passage something very strange happens. He follows “every human’s heart,” with a description that is unmistakeably only about heterosexual males, while he talks about women as being the subject of temptation, with no mention of how they feel about the whole thing or whether they are tempted by men in an equivalent fashion. Women, in this passage, are not only objects of affection, they are good or bad objects of affection based solely on how they physically present and what sorts of emotions they raise in the men observing them. Their feelings and choices have no part in whether they would make good partners or not, and the only acknowledgement that they even has personality comes with the assumption that the type of beautiful they happen to be can tell a professional tempter everything they need to know about the woman’s character.

I want to note that this is actually very uncharacteristic of Screwtape’s tone. He is very aware of how humans work, as people. His whole business is taking advantage of how people, as people, make mistakes, so while he might belittle, scorn or abuse them, he never dehumanizes them, based on gender or anything else. He explains to Wormwood how they tick, and when he thinks men and women tick differently, he will take a moment to explain how women work, presumably because he hopes that Wormwood will go on to tempt a multitude of humans, some of whom may be female. That is why, in the majority of this post, I speak of the dehumanization of women as Lewis’s problem, not a problem of Screwtape’s that we are supposed to criticize him for. Believe me, if I thought there was reasonable doubt that the misogyny was something we were supposed to criticize, rather than adapt, I would have given Lewis the benefit of the doubt, but the text does not support that conclusion.

At the same time that Lewis warns us all of this infernal Venus, his description of her is so vague as to be completely unhelpful. I’m not even sure whether he means that all women who arouse that sort of feeling are horrible women who will drag them down the road to hell by their actions, or whether they are bad because they are attractive to men in the wrong sort of way and will encourage the wrong sorts of thoughts in their heads, no matter what those women as individuals choose to do. Assuming, as he is, that all of us (meaning all men, because women apparently don’t actually exist except as philosophical zombies) are aware of this phenomenon based on it residing in our hearts. I suppose that means I can assume that the first thing that sprang to my mind, based on his crude description, was correct. I think he means Betty good, Veronica bad. If a girl is sweet and conservative in her sexuality, she’s good material, but if she is assertive and exotic and owns her sexuality, she’s bad. Apparently we also think that type is ugly deep down, and if we think that’s bunk we just haven’t explored the depths of our souls enough, sort of like how I’m not really a man and my boyfriend isn’t really not attracted to women, we are both just deceived by Satan.

Now, I don’t want to defend either Bettys or Veronicas, because number one I think that’s a very simplistic way to divide real people up, and number two… no, there is no number two. Number one covers it. In fact, most of the most strongly Veronica-ish people I can think of are actually happily married and have been for years. I can think of a number of people who are much more Betty-ish, but would probably be disastrous to marry, simply because they aren’t at that stage in their life yet. There is some maturing that needs to happen first. The majority of people I know aren’t either one; they are comfy down to earth sluts, or brash independent individuals who are looking forward to having kids, or they wear sweaters one day and stripper heels the next because real people have multiple modes they switch in and out of day to day, hour to hour. You can’t take half the population, sort them into two categories, and then say, “pick a wife from box A. and stay away from everyone in box B.” Those boxes are incorrect.

For a chapter about chastity, this is actually very sexually objectifying. People often think the “sexually” part of that phrase is the important one. It’s not. Being attractive to someone else is not a problem, and most people want to be attractive on some level. It’s the “objectifying” part that is an issue. Being aroused by someone is not a problem, but treating them as if their humanity and dignity ceases to matter in the face of your own arousal is a huge problem. Noticing that someone walking down the street has a fine ass is not necessarily sexually objectifying, but whistling at them generally is, because it ignores the fact that the ass is attached to a person who might not feel comfortable with that. Lewis is favoring women with toned down sexualities, but he is still valuing them entirely by how they sexually interest men, ignoring the fact that they have thoughts and feelings and histories and character beyond whether they wear short skirts and halter tops vs. smell like homemade cookies. Women, in this chapter, are objects.

He closes out by saying that getting a man to marry Veronica is as effective in capturing his soul as merely sleeping with her is. Again, whether this is because of the interaction between the two of them or just because the demons get to say, “ha-ha, we made you marry wrong girl” and then something mystical happens to everybody’s souls, that is not explained at all. Certain types of women are just bad, and we are supposed to all intuitively understand that he is correct about that. In this series of reviews, I have always tried to be fair, and I’ve tried to be aware of my current political and religious biases. I have erred on the side of caution, looking for the good in each chapter, as well as the bad. This is the one chapter so far that has completely failed to turn up anything redeemable. This is pure sexist sludge, with no universal moral lessons to be gleaned among the morass of misogyny.

Rereading the Screwtape Letters as an Atheist; Part Thirteen and a Half

In my last piece, Screwtape explained how love is part of sex and that makes it totally logical that God would command lifelong monogamy or chastity for everyone, except without the part where he actually explained that in a way that makes any sense. Now that he’s not made his point, he goes into the details of the implications.

“Now comes the joke. The Enemy described a married couple as ‘one flesh.’ He did not say ‘a happily married couple’ or ‘a couple who married because they were in love,’ but you can make them forget that the man they call Paul did not confine it to married couples. Mere copulation, for him, makes ‘one flesh.’ You can thus get the humans to accept as rhetorical eulogies of ‘being in love’ what were in fact plain descriptions of the real significance of sexual intercourse. The truth is that wherever a man lies with a woman, there, whether they like it or not, a transcendental relation is set up between them which must be eternally enjoyed or eternally endured.”

This is more or less what I was taught as a kid. If you have sex, you should get married, because in a sense you already spiritually are. Arguing anything else is just falling prey to silly modern romantic notions. Now, there was a fair bit of hypocrisy built into this. I did know a fair number of divorced people and pregnant teens who were not forced to marry the teen who provided the sperm end of the equation. That said, when it was hammered into my head, again and again, that sex outside of marriage was Bad, this was the general rationale. My parents were never abusive towards people who had gotten divorced or pregnant, but they had no tolerance for people openly sleeping together before marriage, and they accepted the former group with a tacit assumption that they had repented to God and felt properly ashamed of themselves.

Screwtape goes on to explain that love almost inevitably follows marriage, whether the couple is in love to begin with or not, but that our ridiculous modern culture regards being in love as both a prerequisite to and the only good reason for getting married. He happily takes credit for demonic help in encouraging individuals to come to this conclusion, because it serves their evil plan.

“In the first place, humans who have not the gift of continence can be deterred from seeking marriage as a solution because they do not find themselves ‘in love,’ and, thanks to us, the idea of marrying with any other motive seems to them low and cynical.”

Deciding you’ll just marry some random decent person because you aren’t allowed to have sex until you’re wed and you feel really, really horny? Yeah, that seems a bit cynical to me. Lewis tries to make us see it in another light with a bit of snark and some sleight of hand, “Yes, they think that. They regard the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life, as something lower than a storm of emotion.” Funny, because just a sentence ago you were actually suggesting that only the middle qualification really mattered. It’s not like I can’t skip back a line and reread what you said. The proof is right there. Don’t try to backpedal and pad “lets get married because I just really want to have sex” out into “lets get married because I really want sex and babies and to trust and rely on you forever.” Those two statements are not the same.

I think the whole idea of getting married is awesome. I also think that rock climbing, getting your driver’s license, getting a tattoo, owning 34 pets including some highly exotic species and starting your own business are awesome. These things all require some degree of forethought and preparation and personal maturity before you dive into them. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up to lose all your money, kill an innocent creature because you didn’t know Petco is the worst place on Earth to get advice about iguana husbandry, have Spongebob’s face on your butt forever, crash and break your neck, fall and break your neck, and someday face the dilemma of either getting divorced or living the rest of your life with someone who makes you miserable.

And that’s the thing that’s wrong here. What he frames as “not happily married” is what many people experience as “really goddamn miserable.” I’m not just talking about explicitly abusive relationships here, although I’m certainly including them. I’m thinking about, for example, the situation where one person has feelings for the other, but for reason the other has lost interest in them. I was in that situation once. It’s really soul crushing, and there is no solution except to get out. He needed to be with someone he loved, and I needed to be with someone who loved me.

But according to Lewis, because we had sex, supposedly my boyfriend and I were transcendentally bonded and we were obligated to stay together (I’m ignoring the fact that he probably wouldn’t have counted our relationship as real in the first place, on account of our being gay). What, precisely, was the effect of the transcendental bonding? Was breaking up destructive to the fabric of our souls? I feel fine. I’m still me, no differences noted beyond what you would expect after any kind of significant life experience. Are my future relationships all going to suffer from that trans-dimensional tearing? Well, my current relationship is awesome, and I think I learned things from my previous relationship that helped me make this one better, so I don’t really find that plausible. Is there some invisible effect that I’m just incapable of perceiving in any form, but that is definitely capital-b-Bad? I’m just supposed to trust him that I would have been better off making both of us miserable because of some spiritual effect that neither of us can perceive and that he can’t explain beyond calling it “transcendental”?

Yeah, I think I’ll stick with ethical sluttiness, thanks.