Saturday, July 27, 2013

From C.S. Lewis, sins of the World

In the middle of the book "Surpirsed by Joy", C.S. Lewis explains in some detail his experiences at his school called Wyvern.  Wyvern made him into a "prig", he regets to say.   At Wyvern there seems to have been rampant "pederasty".  I didn't really know the term "pederasty" before, but I just read a longish summary of the practice, including in Athenian Greece, on Wikipedia.  The Greek situation is probably interesting and also to Lewis' other points, but we will leave this, just as he does.  Lewis' does not want to belabor the pederasty because it is not one of his vices or temptations.  He wants to talk about what polluted him and what tempted him.

     Spiritually speaking, the deadly thing was that school life was a life almost wholly dominated by the social struggle; to get on, to arrive, or, having reached the top, to remain there, was the absorbing preoccupation.  It is often, of course, the preoccupation of adult life as well;  but I have not yet seen any adult society in which the surrender to this impulse was to total.  And from it, at school as in the world, all sorts of meanness flow;  the sycophancy that courts those higher in the scale, the cultivation of those whom it is well to know, the speedy abandonment of friendships that will not help on the upward path, the readiness to join the cry against the unpopular, the secret motive in almost every action.  The Wyvernians seem to me in retrospect to have been the least spontaneous, in that sense the least boyish society I have ever known.  It would perhaps not be too much to say that in some boys' lives everything was calculated to the great end of advancement.  for this games were played;  for this clothes, friends, amusements, and vices were chosen.
     And that is why I cannot give pederasty anything like a first place among the evils of the Coll (Wyvern).  There is much hypocrisy on this theme.  People commonly talk as if every other evil were more tolerable than this.  But why?  Because those of us who do not share the vice feel for it a certain nausea, as we do, say, for necrophily?  I think that of very little relevance to moral judgment.Because it produces permanent perversion?  But there is very little evidence that it does.  ... And what Christian, in a society so worldly and cruel as that of Wyvern, would pick out the carnal sins for special reprobation?  Cruelty is surely more evil than lust and the World at least as dangerous as the Flesh. The real reason for all the pother is, in my opinion, neither christian nor ethical.  We attack this vice not because it is the worst but because it is, by adult standards, the most disreputable and unmentionable, and happens also to be a crime in English law.  the World will lead you only to Hell;  but sodomy may lead you to jail and create a scandal, and lose you your job.  The World, to do it justice, seldom does that.

Those are all good points and well put, and we are sad to hear that Lewis was polluted by the thinking.  And we should consider how we are also polluted by "worldly" considerations.

But then I can't quite go with any soft-pedaling of the  pederasty.  Other writers have been concerned with what to do with teenage lust and come up with various scenarios to indulge it before eventual marriage.  Let's leave that one for today.  Let's just say that today, with all our counselling and psychological and psychiatric culture we know how much damage is done to minors with unwanted sexual advances by those in positions of power.  But this is not Lewis' topic.  Maybe though, we can see how both issues are related.  The World and the Flesh are surely not completely separate entities.  If it had been his sin or if he had been drawn into the pederasty he might speak differently.  What he does want to show, however, is how the more subtle sins of calculating society get you to the top of the heap and how we are more likely to fall for them without noticing.  It happened to him and if the divine fisherman had not been out for him, he would have walked straight into hell will these sins and temptations.

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