Mere Christianity | Book III, Chapter 6

C.S. Lewis | Mere Christianity
Book III | Christian Behavior
Chapter 6 | “Christian Marriage”

Question: In the previous chapter, Lewis spoke negatively about the sexual impulse. Why doesn’t he want to speak “about its right working,” Christian marriage?

Answer: Two things. First, “the Christian doctrines on this subject are extremely unpopular,” and two, Lewis (at that point) had never been married.

Q: What is the Christian idea of marriage?

A. A husband and wife, in Christ’s words, are “one flesh,” which means they “are to be regarded as a single organism.” Lewis uses the examples of a lock and key and a violin and bow as examples of two things operating as one.

Q. Why is sex outside of marriage a “monstrosity”?

A. Those who do so “are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it.” There is nothing “wrong about sexual pleasure,” but “you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself.”

Q. What is the consequence of this teaching?

A. “Marriage is for life.” Different Churches disagree about the acceptability of and conditions for divorce, but they are in agreement that divorce is “something like cutting up a living body, as a kind of surgical operation.”

Q. What is the relationship of marriage to justice?

A. Justice “includes the keeping of promises.” In a marriage ceremony in a church, two people make “a public, solemn promise to stick to his (or her) partner till death.” If the sexual impulse is just like any other impulse, it should be “controlled by our promises.” But Lewis thinks the sexual impulse is different and has become “morbidly inflamed,” which means “we should be especially careful not to let it lead us into dishonesty.”

Q. What about those for whom the promise of marriage was “a mere formality and never intended to keep it”?

A. The answer is a question: Who were they trying to deceive with their promise? If it’s God, “that was very unwise.” If it’s himself, “that was not very much wiser.” If it was the bride or her family, “that was treacherous.” Lewis believes it was actually an attempt to deceive the public. “They wanted the respectability that is attached to marriage with intending to pay the price.” Lewis won’t ask dishonest people to, then, pay attention to chastity.

Lewis then says something I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say: “If people do not believe in permanent marriage, it is perhaps better that they should live together unmarried than that they should make vows they do not mean to keep. It is true that by living together without marriage they will be guilty (in Christian eyes) of fornication. But one fault is not mended by adding another: unchastity is not improved by adding perjury.”

Q. How does the marriage promise relate to feelings?

A. The marriage promise is about actions, not feelings. You can’t promise to stay in love. Why, then, remain married? One, “to provide a home for their children.” Two, “to protect the woman (who has probably sacrificed or damaged her own career by getting married) from being dropped whenever the man is tired of her.” Three, realize that “feelings come and go.” We “like thinking in terms of good and bad, not of good, better, and best, or bad, worse, and worst.” There are things better than being in love. And to stop being in love does not mean you have to stop loving. In addition to feelings of love, there are habits of love and God’s grace to help you love.

Q. What wrong ideas about love can we get from books, plays, and movies?

A. First, “If you have married the right person you may expect to go on ‘being in love’ for ever.” Therefore, to stop being in love is evidence that you “have made a mistake and are entitled to a change.” The problem, though, is that feelings are always heightened at the beginning of things. If you continue on, “the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest.” Lewis says this is “one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies.”

Second, is the idea that “’falling in love’ is something quite irresistible; something that just happens to one, like measles.” Lewis thinks that for mature people “these irresistible passions are much rarer in real life than in books.”

Q. How far should Christians go “to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community”? In other words, how hard should we make divorce?

A. Lewis use the analogy of alcohol. If those who follow Mohammad tried to stop everyone else from drinking alcohol, he “should be very angry.” He thinks “Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives.” His solution is “two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her own members.”

Q. What about the promise Christian wives make “to obey their husbands”? “Why should there be a head at all—why not equality?” and “Why should it be the man?”

A. If there isn’t any disagreement there is no need for one person to be the head. But what happens “when there is a real disagreement?” Voting doesn’t work. “If marriage is permanent, one or other party must, in the last resort, have the power of deciding the family policy.”

So why the man? Based on his observations, Lewis concludes “There must be something unnatural about the rule of wives over husbands.” A second reason he calls “foreign policy.” A man will “always ought to be, and usually is, much more just to the outsiders.” In contrast, “A woman is primarily fighting for her own children and husband against the rest of the world.” And so the man “has the last word in order to protect other people from the intense family patriotism of the wife.”






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