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Are Sexual Sins the Least Bad?

By June 23, 2016 4 Comments

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis (along with John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley). Faithul Christians of all stripes recognize Lewis as a modern giant of apologetics: a standard by which other attempts at simple, lucid, and charitable explication of Christianity-contra-modernity can be judged. Millions more know him as the author of popular fantasy and sci-fi novels. (And an unlucky few have only seen him woo Debra Winger in the sentimental Shadowlands.)
Catholics, true, tend to have mixed or divided opinions about Lewis. Some speak of him in the same breath that they do Chesterton; others dismiss him (as a Traditionalist seminarian did to me once during a conversation in a Catholic bookstore) as a Protestant fundamentalist. In between these extremes there’s room for Catholic admiration of Lewis, as well as criticism: of some of his pop-theological notions, of his attempted marriage with divorcée Joy Davidman, and of his apparent inability to shake anti-Catholic habits from his Ulster upbringing (which would contribute to the cooling of his famous friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien).
Another area that deserves to have a critical light shined on it is Lewis’s take on sexual sin. In Mere Christianity he asserts:

[T]hough I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who regularly goes to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.

At first blush, Lewis’s words may seem consonant with Pope Francis’s recent warnings against reducing the gospel to a small set of controversial moral teachings. To the degree that they are, of course, there’s much truth to them. Sex is not the center of Christian morality. If in our age it sometimes seems to be, it’s because our age made sex its central obsession first.
But this “least bad” business, this division of the “Animal” and “Diabolical” self, smacks to me faintly of Gnosticism—of an insufficient appreciation of the spiritual dimension of sex. Elsewhere in Lewis’s writings he does affirm the goodness of sex and of the body, but here, in what may be the best-known part of his best-known book, he seems to stop short of the full truth.
Now, it’s true that, subjectively speaking, sexual sins may in some instances be less grave than others. The Catechism, for instance, affirms that due to personal factors, moral culpability for the grave evil of masturbation may be lessened or even “reduc[ed] to a minimum” (CCC 2352). Temptations, habits, personal circumstances could likewise, it stands to reason, lessen culpability for other kinds of sexual sins, despite their serious objects.
But that’s not Lewis’s argument. He’s asserting that sexual sin, by its nature, is less bad, because it is purely “animal.”
And yet, if sexual sin is purely animal, then sex itself must be. If sexual sin is the least bad of evils, then sex is the least good of goods.
This is not the Catholic understanding.
A fully Catholic understanding of sex places it high among earthly goods. Sex is the core of conjugal union, which is so important that Christ made it a sacrament: a fleshly sign of his love for the Church. In creating life out of love, sex imitates the creative love of the Holy Trinity. In fact, it does not just imitate but cooperates with God’s creative power; God blesses, ratifies, and elevates the “animal” act by causing a new spiritual, eternal soul to come into being by it.
Given the high regard that God himself accords sex, how can offenses against it be the “least bad” of sins?
One is tempted to play armchair psychoanalyst and say that Lewis—starched Cambridge don and nearly lifelong bachelor, who in his few writings about sex sometimes apologizes for even bringing it up—simply lacked a personal frame of reference for giving sex its full due. Whatever the reason, though, I think it’s manifest that this oft-quoted passage from Mere Christianity is at best a half-truth. It’s important to put Christian sexual teaching in right context, but not at the expense of the power, sacredness, and inviolability with which God chose to endow the marital act.
Catholic Answers affirms the critical importance of sexual morality, and recognizes the personal and cultural chaos that has resulted from its abandonment. Accordingly, chastity education will always be an integral part of our mission of apologetics and evangelization. Look for a freshly revamped Chastity.com website, coming soon to a computer screen near you, as one sign of that commitment.
By Todd Aglialoro

4 Comments

  • Dave says:

    I love your comments, Patrick. 🙂 They’re not all self-refuting, but they all make a good laugh.
    You should try being a(n) (a)theologian.

    • Dave says:

      Patrick,
      You only need to refute something which can potentially hide truth.
      What, exactly, would I need to refute in your view? You start from a strawman, and build everything on top.
      In all your posts, you start with your own projection of your view of the RCC, and proceed from there. It’s like a creationist arguing “well, my grandpa isn’t a monkey” and hoping people to be convinced.
      I gave you a longer reply on “Why God Can’t Commend Us To Do Evil”.
      I’m fine with you not believing, but I don’t like empty arguments based on “maybes” and miscomprehensions. You must be knowledgeable with the Russel’s teapot. That’s how I see your position : if you are saying that “maybe God doesn’t exist” just to avoid saying “God doesn’t exist”, I call it lazy. I don’t just believe in God “because I can’t prove he can’t exist”. Likewise, I don’t believe you’re asking yourself the question “well, does God exist?” after every action you take; I believe you live it as if there is no God. Now, whether that “no God”, that “God” you claim doesn’t exist or hypothetically could be said of non existing is the same one as I have is another matter. And it’s the real crux of the question.
      That’s why I say I don’t bite your arguments. For me, they’re strawmen. I could lose a whole day or two explaining myself over and over, giving you all the arguments, starting with the common understanding we have about things until we find points where we start to disagree, but it’s tiring : it’s already been done over and over. The Catechism of the Church is openly available.
      That’s why I also said you should become a theologian. You’re building your idea of God, your view of God, just in order to say it’s bullcrap.
      That’s also why I said that your arguments are not all self-refuting : it’s true that “sex is personal and private”. But then, wham, it becomes the reason why sex is bad. Who argues like this? Where is the source? If it’s truly a mistake, point the source. Show why it’s something wrong.
      Hope, again, it will suffice.
      In truth,
      D.

  • jrhunt says:

    According to 1 John 3:4 sin is the transgression of the law in all its forms,so to attempt to separate one sin of the flesh from another,would be futile,Yeshua has condemned all sins of the flesh Romans 8:3.the wages of sin is still death if it is a practiced life style,all sex sins include Homosexuality,adultry,transgenderism,lesbianism,Hebrews 10:26 tells us if we willfully sin(transgress the Torah)after that we have received the knowledge of the truth,there remainseth no more sacrifice for sin,we are given Yahweh’s grace just for this purpose to enable us to keep his statutes and his judgments Ezekiel 36:26-27,he also allows us the space to learn his instruction and obey them,Yeshua has forgiven us of our passed Sins without us have to keep a set of rules or laws,but then we are required to learn his ways and be a doer of the law and follow his example,that is what transformation is and how we are to be transformed by his word including his Moral laws Psalms 19:7-8,in the first century the Gospel was the Old Covenant scriptures and the remain that way to day,if you have learned to rightly divide the word of truth,the so called new testament was not canonized until the forth century,and is mostly commentary on the old Covenant,we are saved by grace through faith,but grace is the enable power of the Spirit that causes us to be acceptable to Yahweh by learning his ways and agreeing with his thoughts.-

  • Patrick— Saint Patrick must be sadly shaking his head up in Heaven— a namesake has swayed so far —from the highest things —in so far they are knowable by the light of natural reasoning! Epistemology has taught me to look up for a reward in Heaven! Unfortunately you seem to have chosen to look down — wouldn’t an intelligent soul choose to go up to a Loving God —rather than down to the fires of Hell! “Me thinks thou dost Protest ,too,Much” I will pray for your Soul!!! ? ???❤️??

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