Here Lewis gets into the virtue of chastity, which he calls the most unpopular of all the Christian virtues. He begins by making the statement that chastity is not to be confused with propriety. Chastity is always a constant, but social standards of propriety are always subject to change and indeed they do vary depending on place and time. For example, note that the standards of propriety held in sub-Saharan Africa and Victorian England are wildly different, as are the standards held in Buckhead and Afghanistan. With that, note that a breach of social standards of propriety is an offense against chastity only if it is deliberately calculated to evoke lust. Otherwise, it is merely bad manners.
Lewis offers the opinion that strict social standards of propriety are no real help to chastity, and that the relaxing of standards which was happening in his day, and in ours as well, is a good thing. The problem is that because of this there are two competing standards held by older people and younger people. Older people denounce younger people who do not accept their standard as lewd and immodest, while younger people denounce older people who do not accept their standard as prudes and Puritans. A real desire to believe the best about everyone else and to make others as comfortable as possible will go a long way toward solving these problems.
There are two big ideas from this chapter: Christians are not against sex, but must proclaim that the human appetite for sex has gone wrong. The other is that perfect Christian chastity is an impossible goal, and those who try and fail at it must be forgiven and restored. Continue reading “Mere Christianity 12: Sexual Morality”