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.

7 comments:

Laura said...

There does seem to be this acceptance of a lower standard in this regard today. Maybe I'm naive and there always was, it was just less visible? It makes one think. You've gotta love Clive Staples, though. He doesn't pull any punches.

Louise Gallagher said...

I think you're spot on, Glynn. The 'rules' keep us safe, keep us sane, keep us human.

Thelma Box would be pleased -- she's the found of Choices Seminars -- her mission is 'to change the world, one heart at a time.'

Dusty Rayburn said...

The Law does not save us...only God's grace can do that.

Our intent is not to force our beliefs upon someone else. Rather, it is to allow them the opportunity to experience God's saving grace and to be liberated from the chains immorality and death.

jasonS said...

I was amazed at how Lewis said repeatedly that things had gotten so loose in his time. I can't even imagine what he would say were he alive today. I agree with you (no shock there, I guess) and it is laughable that we are the ones accused of forcing anything down anyone's throat. Great post, Glynn. Thanks!

H. Gillham said...

Word, Glynn, word.

Changing hearts --- is what it's about...

That is such a rich book .... so much discussion you guys have gotten from it, and as a reader of your blog, so much blogging from you about it. Thanks.

Helen said...

I think the best reason for chastity is love for God. A not so noble reason, yet still a viable reason, is self preservation, both emotional and physical. You make a good point, that it sets us apart. That's something we should be used to.

nance marie said...

there is no way that i can see clive doing a disco dance.