Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christian Marriage

I have to say, overall this has been my favorite chapter of the book. There are, of course, some things that I disagree with and some things that feel very old fashioned to me, but Lewis also espouses an attitude that surprised me coming from him! And then he ruined it for me with the last couple of paragraphs.

"There are two reasons why I do not particularly want to deal with marriage. The first is that the Christian doctrines on this subject are extremely unpopular. The second is that I have never been married myself, and, therefore, can speak only at second hand. But in spite of that, I feel I can hardly leave the subject out in an account of Christian morals."

So Lewis, like me, is talking from the peanut gallery on the subject of marriage. Just so we're all clear. This is someone who hadn't been married at the time writing about marriage and having his thoughts commented on by someone else who isn't married. We're Statler and Waldorf, basically. :)

"The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ's words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism–for that is what the words `one flesh' would be in modern English. And the Christians believe that when He said this He was not expressing a sentiment but stating a fact...The inventor of the human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, were made to be combined together in pairs, not simply on the sexual level, but totally combined. The monstrosity of sexual intercourse out-side marriage is that those who indulge in it 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 and make up the total union."

I'm not going to go into polygamy, which existed at Christ's time (and afterward) and was never explicitly forbidden. This is one of those things where it's read into the text - that you can only be *completely* one with one other person. There're arguments on both side of that fence though. And there are some people who claim the title of Christian who do believe in and practice polygamy. It's not main stream any longer, but it does exist. So there's obviously, like in so many things, enough wiggle room within the text for people to come up with different answers to the same questions.

But Lewis saying that people who are having sex outside of marriage are trying to separate the kinds of union doesn't make sense to me. Just because these people may not legally be wed or wed in a religious manner doesn't mean that they aren't devoted to one another in the same way that people who have gone through one or both of those other options are. Do you really need a piece of paper or a ceremony to tell you that you're 'one' with the other person? Not always. Though, since we are humans we do like to mark special things like that with ceremonies. But it's not necessary.

"The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again."

Clearly Lewis has never heard of a wine or beer tasting.

"As a consequence, Christianity teaches that marriage is for life. There is, of course, a difference here between different Churches: some do not admit divorce at all; some allow it reluctantly in very special cases. It is a great pity that Christians should disagree about such a question; but...all agree with one another about marriage a great deal more than any of them agrees with the outside world...all regard divorce as something like cutting up a living body, as a kind of surgical operation...What they all disagree with is the modern view that it is a simple readjustment of partners, to be made whenever people feel they are no longer in love with one another, or when either of them falls in love with someone else."

*waggles hand* Most churches do teach that marriage is for life. And it's not something that I think should be entered into lightly, but it's (again) nothing that's stated outright. It's not even implied, but something that is inferred from the text. From the same line that is used to teach that marriage is between one man and one woman. The bit about a man and a woman being 'one'. Because if two things have become one, they can't be separated again. Right? Eh. Actually, in many cases they can be separated and become the two distinct things they were before being combined. Now I'm not saying that people should be divorcing willy nilly. I've lived through my parents' divorce, and it wasn't pretty. It's a nasty thing, which just means, to me, that people need to be far more careful when they're choosing someone to marry in the first place. Whether or not you believe that a marriage should last forever, you don't want to turn around and fight a divorce if you don't have to.

Lewis feels that marriage is related to two virtues. Chastity (of course) and justice. Where does the 'justice' come in?

"Justice, as I said before, includes the keeping of promises. Now everyone who has been married in a church has made a public, solemn promise to stick to his (or her) partner till death. The duty of keeping that promise has no special connection with sexual morality: it is in the same position as any other promise. If, as modern people are always telling us, the sexual impulse is just like all our other impulses, then it ought to be treated like all our other impulses; and as their indulgence is controlled by our promises, so should its be. If, as I think, it is not like all our other impulses, but is morbidly inflamed, then we should be specially careful not to let it lead us into dishonesty."

Now, everyone, contain your shock. I *agree* with the first half of Lewis statement, even though it's not the position he takes. I believe that it is the *promise* that should hold people in their marriages. Meaning, if you promise, whether it's spelled out or not, to be monogamous with your spouse, then you be monogamous. Period. If you can't do that, then you don't promise to do it. Don't get married. Be up front about it. I'm certain that, somewhere, there is a person who will be willing and happy to let you be yourself while being themselves in return. If you absolutely cannot control your sexual impulses, you have a mental issue and need to seek counseling. Most of us don't have that excuse.

For me it's not so much the 'having sex with someone who is not your spouse' that gets to be about adultery because if it's an open relationship, where everyone involved knows about everyone else and is accepting of the dynamics, then I don't have any problem with it. I have a problem with the deceit and the lies - the abuse of the spouse and their trust.

"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."

This is the attitude that surprised me from Lewis! I would have expected him not to make such a concession, but to stick to the black or white attitude. Either you wed and are morally 'legal' to have sex or you are chaste. But I do get the angle he's taking here. If you're already going to be sinning, why add another sin?

The thing that I really liked about this chapter was Lewis' focus on the fact that 'love' is not the basis for a good, long lasting marriage. That first crazy flush of passion dies out. And if there isn't something else there, something slower burning than the crazy infatuation, then you're going to fizzle out.

"There are several sound, social reasons; to provide a home for their children, 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."

I have an issue with that statement, but it's a very time and place related one. Or it should be. I don't think that there's as much of a stigma about a woman working and be married any longer, but there are probably some places where there are. I do know that there are still problems with women working and having children. Yet another one of those things that is better but must continue to be worked on.

"People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on `being in love' for ever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change—not realising that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one."

This is so true. Books, movies, etc. Pretty much every form of entertainment that has this as a facet. My question is, it's so widespread, where did it start? Where did we first get the idea that love was some flowery ideal that would last and last? Basically, whose butt do I need to kick? :)

"This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go—let it die away—go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life."

I just like this. I think it's very true.

"Another notion we get from novels and plays is that `falling in love' is something quite irresistible; something that just happens to one, like measles. And because they believe this, some married people throw up the sponge and give in when they find themselves attracted by a new acquaintance. But I am inclined to think that these irresistible passions are much rarer in real life than in books, at any rate when one is grown up. When we meet someone beautiful and clever and sympathetic, of course we ought, in one sense, to admire and love these good qualities. But is it not very largely in our own choice whether this love shall, or shall not, turn into what we call `being in love'? No doubt, if our minds are full of novels and plays and sentimental songs, and our bodies full of alcohol, we shall turn any love we feel into that kind of love: just as if you have a rut in your path all the rainwater will run into that rut, and if you wear blue spectacles everything you see will turn blue. But that will be our own fault."

"Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question—how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be 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 on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not."

This. I don't know what or how Lewis thinks it should be made clear who is 'state' married and who is 'Christian' married, or that I even think that's necessary. But I do think there needs to be a distinction made between religious unions and legal/state ones, assuming that the second category even needs to exist. Religious custom should not be allowed to dictate policy for everyone.

"In Christian marriage the man is said to be the `head'. Two questions obviously arise here. (1) Why should there be a head at all—why not equality? (2) Why should it be the man?

(1)The need for some head follows from the idea that marriage is permanent. Of course, as long as the husband and wife are agreed, no question of a head need arise; and we may hope that this will be the normal state of affairs in a Christian marriage. But when there is a real disagreement, what is to happen? Talk it over, of course; but I am assuming they have done that and still failed to reach agreement. What do they do next? They cannot decide by a majority vote, for in a council of two there can be no majority. Surely, only one or other of two things can happen: either they must separate and go their own ways or else one or other of them must have a casting vote. If marriage is permanent, one or other party must, in the last resort, have the power of deciding the family policy. You cannot have a permanent association without a constitution.

(2) If there must be a head, why the man? Well, firstly is there any very serious wish that it should be the woman? As I have said, I am not married myself, but as far as I can see, even a woman who wants to be the head of her own house does not usually admire the same state of things when she finds it going on next door. She is much more likely to say `Poor Mr X! Why he allows that appalling woman to boss him about the way she does is more than I can imagine.' I do not think she is even very flattered if anyone mentions the fact of her own `headship'. There must be something unnatural about the rule of wives over husbands, because the wives themselves are half ashamed of it and despise the husbands whom they rule. But there is also another reason; and here I speak quite frankly as a bachelor, because it is a reason you can see from outside even better than from inside. The relations of the family to the outer world—what might be called its foreign policy—must depend, in the last resort, upon the man, because he always ought to be, and usually is, much more just to the outsiders. A woman is primarily fighting for her own children and husband against the rest of the world. Naturally, almost, in a sense, rightly, their claims override, for her, all other claims. She is the special trustee of their interests. The function of the husband is to see that this natural preference of hers is not given its head. He has the last word in order to protect other people from the intense family patriotism of the wife. If any-one doubts this, let me ask a simple question. If your dog has bitten the child next door, or if your child has hurt the dog next door, which would you sooner have to deal with, the master of that house or the mistress? Or, if you are a married woman, let me ask you this question. Much as you admire your husband, would you not say that his chief failing is his tendency not to stick up for his rights and yours against the neighbours as vigorously as you would like? A bit of an Appeaser?"

*sigh* Oh, Lewis. I was enjoying this chapter, and then this. First, there doesn't need to be one person who is the 'authority'. I've been there, I've thought that, and I'm over it. If two adults cannot reach a compromise, there's something wrong. Marriage, in my understanding, is about give and take. Compromise and understanding. It's not about having a disagreement and then one party whipping out the 'I've got a penis' card and getting their way.

For the second half. Well, hah. It sounds kind of good, if you're not thinking about it. Women are *too* strong and tough to be allowed to run around and do what we want. We're too apt to think only of our family and our offspring and conquer the neighbors because we want their pool. Only what it means is that we're too ruled by our emotions to be expected or allowed to interact with the general population. So we need the calm, rational man to negotiate with the other families.


  1. Thank you for mentioning polygamy so I wouldn't have to! :D I know that just not saying anything is also an option, but for some reason I never take it...

    Clearly Lewis has never heard of a wine or beer tasting.
    Hee! It reminds me of one of my teachers when I was a teenager. He said alcohol was never acceptable because no one drinks for taste because it tastes awful, so the only possible reason is to get drunk. And then I went to college and learned that, hey, I actually really like the taste of alcohol, and do not like being drunk! Craziness.

    Re: Promises. Yes. I might add that "Don't get married" is not the only solution, but that marriage doesn't have to mean monogamy or till death. My vows will not include those. But like you say, the main point is don't make promises you think you won't keep.

    I hate that the "dropping a woman when he's finished with her" bit is something that actually makes sense for the time. I want to be angry at it, and I'm glad we don't really think like that anymore. But I remember being so furious when I learned my grandpa cheated constantly, and I hated that he wouldn't just get a divorce. My dad shut down that line of conversation pretty quick by pointing out that if he had gotten a divorce, my grandma would have been in poverty because she didn't really have any way of supporting herself. So he waited until my dad left home, and stayed to support the woman he promised to take care of. So that's something, I guess? But it's infuriating that my grandma's choices were "unhappy marriage" or "poverty-stricken single mom."

    The living together thing is pretty cool. It makes sense, and not even only in a Lewis-y way or an outdated way, but like something I'd probably be ok mentioning at my school when we talk about marriage. Weird!

  2. I mentioned it just for you! :D

    Okay, not really. But I thought you'd appreciate it.

    *laughs* I know. Personally, I enjoy the taste of some alcohols and I don't drink just to get drunk.

    *nods* That's my thing. Only make promises you can or intend to keep. I know that in life we can't keep all our promises, but I think that as long as when you made that promise you had full intention of keeping it then that's okay. I'm glad that nowadays people get to write their own vows.

    Yeah. I mean I get that, historically, it was better for the women to stay in a terrible relationship than to leave and be destitute and with kids, assuming that the father and his family didn't take them from her for being 'unsuitable'. That doesn't make it sit any better. But that's me judging from over here, where that's not so much an issue.

    I know. It shocked me coming from Lewis too!

  3. Really interesting post! Thanks for sharing so much of it. I think Lewis had met a few "Mama bears" in his time! :) It's amazing how our experiences with sometimes only a few people colors the way we think.

  4. I really enjoyed your thoughts on this post Amber (Sanil as well), and I'm all with you, I don't drink to get drunk, but I genuinely like the taste of some types of alcohol. I love red wine for example :)


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