Wednesday, June 29, 2011
The Most Unpopular Virtue
It’s time for the out-of-it, old fogey, idiotic, laughable, prudish, ridiculous, you-are-so-19th-century blog post.
“Chastity,” writes C.S. Lewis, “is the most unpopular of Christian virtues. There’s no getting away from it; the 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.”
If you are a Christian, what Lewis says is true. For us, the choice is marriage or abstinence. That doesn’t mean we don’t fail and generally make a mess of things; we do. There’s a long history of pastors, priests, monks, nuns, saints and all the rest of us making a mess of things. But we know, no matter how much our human nature (not to mention television, the movies, the news media and a lot of other cultural and social institutions) wants to convince us otherwise, that it’s either marriage or abstinence.
I was a young child in the 1950s. It was the decade of resurgence in church attendance – and the decade in which Hugh Hefner created and made a go of Playboy Magazine. Then came the 1960s, and all bets were off – Hippies, the Free Love Movement, the time when our parents and grandparents thought society was coming unhinged (and they weren’t far off). The Jesus Movement and the Women’s Movement took off at about the same time, and if the 1970s were anything, they were a decade of excess (discos, baby!).
AIDS changed everything except desire. The disease is now officially 30 years old, although the virus was likely around well before the official determination by the Centers for Disease Control in 1981.
I could list all of the positive reasons for marriage or abstinence, but these days, there’s one that stands out in my mind. That choice visibly, spiritually and emotionally sets us apart. It makes us different, and different in a way that evokes ridicule, hostility and, perhaps, envy. We’re accused by all the usual suspects of trying to force our morality down everyone else’s throat, which is rather laughable, considering what’s been forced down society’s throat for the last 50 years.
What they don’t see is that it’s not about trying to force our beliefs, our morality, on anyone else. What it is about is that we know what works and what doesn’t work, what society needs and doesn’t need to keep itself together in some kind of coherence, and we know that laws can be passed and rules put in place and edicts of tolerance issued but nothing will make a difference until hearts change.
And that’s what we’re about – changing hearts.
We’ve been reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, led by Sarah Salter and Jason Stasyszen. To read more posts on this chapter, “Sexual Morality,” please visit Sarah’s blog, Living Between the Lines.