C.S. Lewis and Sexual Morality

C. S. Lewis briefly covered the topic of sexual morality in The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity. The topic is hot today, especially when society has slowly distorted the ideas and meanings of sex, love and marriage. Modern American society teaches that sex is a personal matter, which should be practiced depending on how one feels. Abstinence or “safe” sex is encouraged mainly to reduce the risk of disease or pregnancy, yet rarely for moral or religious reasons. 

The Christian viewpoint on sex is different. The Bible emphasises that sex is good when done the right way. Lewis explains the simple Christian guideline for sex is “either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence” (Mere Christianity 90). Unfortunately many Christians don’t remind people of this simple rule, but they complicate it by suggesting we return to traditional morals. Peter Leithart warns against this because it “assumes that past civilizations approach life and morality the same way we do” (Leithart). Sodom and Gomorrah had traditional sexual morals, yet God called them “violent”. 

God’s plan for marriage is that a man “is joined to his wife, and the two become one” (Gen. 2:24). Despite His plan, the human body has an impulse to do quite the opposite, to misuse the goodness of sex to the point of sin. Lewis says the guidelines for sex are “so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it is now, has gone wrong” (Mere Christianity 90). We honestly don’t want to follow the rules; we want to break them. Many couples don’t want to save sex for marriage. For some, the concept of waiting is considered old fashioned and instead should be determined when the time feels right. They see sex and marriage as separated; sex being the act of sexual intercourse, while marriage is a permanent covenant between two people. Society exalts flexibility, which is why divorce, premarital sex, extramarital sex and living together are becoming so popular. 

Lewis argues, through The Screwtape Letters that the act of sex and marriage are inseparable, 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” (71). The act of sex signifies the confirmation or completion of the marriage covenant. Sex is not “confined” to marriage, but an essential part of the marriage covenant. 

Screwtape tells his nephew that God “described a married couple as ‘one flesh’” and that He “did not confine it to married couples. Mere copulation, for him, makes ‘one flesh’” (71). If this is the case, theoretically sex outside marriage cannot truly exist. Instead, those having sex outside of marriage with multiple partners are actually consummating marriage, creating the effect of overlapping marriages. These people are all “married” to each other in some way, from where these seemingly isolated acts create a monstrosity of interconnected marriages and breed divorce, disease, abortion and a collage of other problems.

Of course, many of the physical and visual problems arising from promiscuous sex can be avoided through birth control and the avoidance of the marriage covenant. But pregnancy or STDs are merely after effects of sex, results of the two becoming one. Elimination of the effects of sex doesn’t eliminate the permanent union of sex, just as the elimination of a drug’s side effects doesn’t eliminate the presence of drugs in the bloodstream. Eliminating the union requires a divorce, an action God hates and which Lewis describes as “like having both your legs cut off rather than it is like dissolving a business partnership” (Mere Christianity 97).

Despite acknowledging sex as a organ of marriage which cannot operate solely on it’s own, people still have strong sexual desires.
Lewis describes sex as a biological appetite, and that it must be controlled like the stomach, since sex without restraint could “easily populate a small village” (90). However, humans are not sexually starved to the point that they must have large quantities to be satisfied. He illustrated that if people drooled over the display of bacon like they do over a nude dancer, one could conclude those people were starving (91). Yet, people are more sexually active than ever.

Also, people don’t experiment with food like they experiment with sex. People use new recipes and eating habits, but generally eating is consuming an edible substance. The sexual revolution has left America with a menagerie of sexual deviations. Dr. Abdul Qader Tash, editor of Arab News, wrote that Western cultures which were “originally enticed by the clever and catchy slogans of sexual freedom and total liberation are the ones suffering now from the consequences of their depravity” (Tash). 

Sex before marriage, sex with the same gender, sex with animals, sex with inanimate objects, sex with self or sex with dead people: all these are considered sexual deviations because they stray from the standard established by God. Each deviation is slightly different, such as homosexuality may be considered less off course than bestiality, but both come short of God’s standard for sexual relations, which is sin.

However, God doesn’t immediately condemn everyone with a deviant sexual desire to hell, whether bending toward homosexuality or masturbation or rape. It matters not whether you have a normal or abnormal sexual desire, but what you do with it. Lewis says God judges not by your gifts but how you use them. He says, “You are of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can” (Mere Christianity 185). 

Unfortunately, modern society and ashamedly some churches have widened the highway to hell by pretending there is no standard, or that some of the standard should be changed from time to time. Fox News mentioned that the Episcopal, United Methodist, and Presbyterian churches are probably going to permit marriages between same-sex couples (Fox). In doing this, they have made useless a holy sacrament. Lewis argues, “there aught to be two distinct kinds of marriage…so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not” (Mere Christianity 102). If the state wishes to marry two same-sexed people, they can, but the idea of taking a man and another man and calling them married under the eye of God is impossible, just as a bicycle on a plot of land can’t be called a house. If God’s standard is changed once to make it more “modern”, could it not be changed again to allow the marriage between a man and two women, or a man and a dog, or a man and land property? If God’s original standard is ignored, it’s not a standard then, only a suggestion. 

Although people can be made aware of the necessity of sex within marriage and that it must not deviate from it’s original standard, the temptation still exists to bend the rules a little. Some people have different definitions of what “sex” is; the Bible and Lewis are silent on this. President Clinton once defined sex as being sexual intercourse and intercourse alone. Later he excused committing adultery on a supposed technicality. Unfortunately other couples are convinced that they are not really having sex because they are technically avoiding coitus. The problem here is that it reduces sex, the union of a man and woman, to no more than an explicitly detailed procedure, and that by not penetrating a certain location or using a certain barrier, a couple can feel in honesty that they avoided the procedure in whole. But God is no fool and He’s well aware of the intentions behind everything. Considering what Jesus said about lusting over a woman being a form of adultery, it’s probable that any physical action between a man and a woman that it is used for sexual desire is considered sex. 

Sex is a good thing, but unfortunately since the fall of humanity, it’s just another good thing that sin and Satan have twisted to be an avenue for sin. Like any sin, sex is one of those things that cannot be kept out of God’s power. Lewis makes it plain that God, “once you call Him in, He will give you the full treatment” (174). He will not permit a little sexually immorality here or there. He will continue working until His temple is perfect enough for Him, perfect like Him.

Works Cited

Leithart, Peter. “The Biblical Source of Western Sexual Morality.” 1993. Contra Mundrum. 24 July 2000. <www.visi.com/~contra_m>.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. London: Touchstone, 1996.

Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters. Glasgow: Fount, 1998.

Ostling, Richard. “Liberal Clergy Endorse Declaration On Sexual Morality.” 18 Jan. 2000. Fox News. Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX. 24 July 2000. <www.foxnews.com>.

Tash, Abdul Qader. “A Welcome Awakening: A Return To Sexual Morality.” Arab View 8 Dec. 1996. ArabNet. Abilene Christian University, Abilene, TX. 24 July 2000. <www.arab.net/arabview>.

The Quest Study Bible. New International Version. Colorado Springs: Zondervan Books, 1997.