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[The Classic Christian] MereChristianity: Book III. Christian Behaviour 5. Se...

MereChristianity: Book III. Christian Behaviour 5. Sexual Morality -C.S.Lewis

5. Sexual Morality



     We must now consider Christian morality as regards sex, what Christians

call the virtue  of  chastity.  The Christian rule of  chastity must not  be

confused with the social rule of "modesty" (in one sense of that word); i.e.

propriety, or decency. The social rule of propriety lays  down  how much  of

the human body should be displayed and what subjects can be referred to, and

in what  words, according  to the  customs of a given social  circle.  Thus,

while the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all  times, the

rule of propriety  changes. A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any

clothes and a Victorian lady  completely covered in  clothes  might  both be

equally "modest," proper, or decent, according to the standards of their own

societies: and both, for all we  could tell by their dress, might be equally

chaste  (or equally unchaste). Some  of the language which chaste women used

in Shakespeare's time would have been used in the nineteenth century only by

a  woman completely  abandoned.  When  people  break the rule  of  propriety

current in their own time and place, if they  do so in order to excite  lust

in themselves  or  others, then they are offending  against chastity. But if

they break it through ignorance or carelessness they  are guilty only of bad



When, as often happens, they break  it defiantly in  order to shock

or embarrass others,  they  are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are

being uncharitable: for it is  uncharitable to take pleasure in making other

people uncomfortable. I do not think that a very strict or fussy standard of

propriety is any proof of chastity or any help to it, and I therefore regard

the great relaxation and simplifying of the rule which has taken place in my

own  lifetime as a  good  thing.  At its present stage, however, it has this

inconvenience, that people of different ages  and different types do not all

acknowledge the  same standard,  and we hardly know where we are. While this

confusion  lasts I  think that old, or old-fashioned,  people should be very

careful  not  to  assume  that  young  or  "emancipated"  people are corrupt

whenever they are (by the old standard) improper; and, in return, that young

people  should not call their elders  prudes or puritans because they do not

easily adopt the new standard. A real desire to believe all the good you can

of  others and to make others as comfortable as  you can  will solve most of

the problems.


     Chastity is the  most unpopular of  the Christian  virtues. There is no

getting  away  from  it: the old  Christian rule is,  "Either marriage, with

complete  faithfulness to your partner,  or else total abstinence." Now this

is so  difficult  and  so  contrary to our instincts, that  obviously either

Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it  now is, has gone wrong.

One or the other. Of course, being  a Christian, I think it  is the instinct

which has gone wrong.


     But I have other reasons for thinking so. The biological purpose of sex

is children, just as the biological purpose of eating is to repair the body.

Now  if we eat whenever we feel inclined  and just as much as we want, it is

quite true that most of us will eat too much: but not terrifically too much.

One man  may  eat enough for two, but he does not  eat enough for  ten.  The

appetite goes  a little beyond its biological purpose,  but  not enormously.

But  if  a healthy  young man indulged his sexual  appetite whenever he felt

inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily

populate  a  small village. This appetite is  in  ludicrous and preposterous

excess of its function.

     Or  take it  another  way. You  can get a large audience together for a

strip-tease act-that is,  to watch  a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose

you came to a country  where you could fill a  theatre  by simply bringing a

covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let

every one see, just before the lights went out, that  it  contained a mutton

chop or a bit of bacon, would you  not think  that in that country something

had  gone wrong  with the  appetite  for food? And would  not anyone who had

grown up in  a different world think there was something equally queer about

the state of the sex instinct among us?


     One  critic said  that if he  found a  country in which such striptease

acts  with  food  were  popular,  he would conclude that the people  of that

country were starving. He meant, of course, to imply that such things as the

strip-tease  act  resulted  not  from  sexual  corruption  but  from  sexual

starvation. I agree with him that if,  in  some strange land, we found  that

similar  acts  with  mutton  chops  were   popular,  one   of  the  possible

explanations  which would  occur to me  would  be famine. But the  next step

would be to  test our hypothesis by finding out  whether,  in fact,  much or

little food was being consumed in that country. If the evidence showed  that

a good deal was being eaten, then of  course we  should  have to abandon the

hypothesis  of starvation and try to think of another one. In the same  way,

before  accepting sexual starvation  as  the cause of  the  strip-tease,  we

should  have  to  look  for  evidence  that  there is in  fact  more  sexual

abstinence in our age  than in those ages when  things like  the strip-tease

were unknown. But surely there is no such evidence. Contraceptives have made

sexual  indulgence far less costly within marriage  and far safer outside it

than ever  before, and public opinion is  less hostile to illicit unions and

even to perversion than it has been since Pagan times. Nor is the hypothesis

of "starvation" the only one we can imagine. Everyone knows that  the sexual

appetite, like our other  appetites, grows by indulgence.  Starving men  may

think much  about  food, but so  do gluttons;  the  gorged, as  well  as the


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 Book III. Christian Behaviour 4. Morality and Psychoanalysis -C.S.Lewis


4. Morality and Psychoanalysis

     I have said that we should never get a Christian society unless most of

us became Christian individuals. That does  not mean, of course, that we can

put  off  doing anything about society until some imaginary  date in the far

future. It means  that we must begin both jobs at once-(1) the job of seeing

how "Do as you would be done by" can be applied in detail to modern society,

and (2) the job of becoming the sort of people who  really would apply it if

we saw  how.  I now want to  begin considering  what the Christian idea of a

good man is-the Christian specification for the human machine.

     Before  I  come  down  to details  there are  two more general points I

should like to make.  First of all,  since Christian morality claims to be a

technique for putting the human  machine  right, I  think you would  like to

know how it is  related  to  another technique which seems to make a similar

claim-namely, psychoanalysis.


     Now you want to distinguish very  clearly  between two  things: between

the  actual medical  theories and  technique of the psychoanalysts,  and the

general  philosophical  view  of the world which Freud and some others  have

gone on  to  add to this.  The second  thing-the philosophy  of Freud-is  in

direct  contradiction  to  Christianity: and also in direct contradiction to

the other great  psychologist, Jung. And  furthermore, when Freud is talking

about  how to  cure  neurotics  he is speaking as  a specialist  on his  own

subject, but when he goes on to talk general philosophy he is speaking as an

amateur. It is therefore quite sensible to attend to him with respect in the

one case and not in the other-and that is what I do. I am all the readier to

do it because I have found that when  he  is talking off his own subject and

on  a  subject I  do know  something  about (namely,  languages) he  is very

ignorant.  But  psychoanalysis  itself,  apart from  all  the  philosophical

additions  that Freud  and  others  have  made to it, is not  in  the  least

contradictory  to  Christianity.  Its  technique  overlaps   with  Christian

morality at some points and it would not be a bad thing if every parson knew

something about it: but it does not run the same course all the way, for the

two techniques are doing rather different things.


     When a man makes a moral choice two things are involved. One is the act

of choosing. The other is the various feelings, impulses and so on which his

psychological  outfit presents him with, and which  are the raw material  of

his choice. Now this raw material may be of two kinds. Either it may be what

we would call normal: it may consist of the sort of feelings that are common

to all men. Or else it may consist of quite unnatural feelings due to things

that have  gone  wrong  in his subconscious.  Thus fear of  things that  are

really dangerous would be an example of the  first kind:  an irrational fear

of cats or spiders would be an  example  of the second kind. The desire of a

man for a woman  would  be of the first kind: the perverted  desire of a man

for a man would be of  the second. Now what psychoanalysis  undertakes to do

is to remove the  abnormal  feelings, that is, to give  the  man better  raw

material for  his acts of  choice: morality is  concerned with the  acts  of

choice themselves.


     Put it this  way. Imagine three men who go to war. One has the ordinary

natural fear of danger that  any man has  and he subdues it by  moral effort

and becomes a brave man. Let us suppose that the other two have, as a result

of things in  their sub-consciousness, exaggerated, irrational  fears, which

no amount  of  moral  effort  can  do anything  about.  Now  suppose that  a

psychoanalyst comes  along  and cures these two:  that is, he puts them both

back in the  position  of the  first man. Well  it  is just  then  that  the

psychoanalytical problem is over and the moral problem begins.  Because, now

that they are  cured, these two  men  might  take quite different lines. The

first might  say, "Thank goodness I've  got rid of all those doodahs. Now at

last I can do what I always wanted to do-my duty  to the cause  of freedom."

But  the  other might say, "Well, I'm very glad that  I now feel  moderately

cool under fire, but, of course, that doesn't alter the fact that  I'm still

jolly well determined to look after Number One and let the other chap do the

dangerous job  whenever I can. Indeed  one of the good things about  feeling

less frightened is that  I can now  look  after myself much more efficiently

and can  be  much cleverer  at hiding  the fact from the  others."  Now this

difference is a purely moral one and psychoanalysis cannot do anything about

it.  However  much you improve the man's raw material, you  have  still  got

something else: the real, free choice of the man, on  the material presented

to him,  either to put his own advantage first or  to  put it last And this$

free choice is the only thing that morality is concerned with.


     The bad psychological material is not a sin but a disease.  It does not

need  to  be  repented  of, but to  be cured. And  by the way, that is  very

important.  Human beings judge one another  by their  external  actions. God

judges them by their moral choices. When a neurotic who  has  a pathological

horror of cats  forces himself  to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is

quite possible that in God's eyes he  has shown more courage than  a healthy

man may have shown in  winning the  V.C. When  a man who has  been perverted

from his youth and  taught that  cruelty is the right thing, does some  tiny

little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he  might have committed, and

thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God's

eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for  a


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