Lately I’ve been reading Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis’ autobiography of sorts. I’ve immensely enjoyed it so far and am fascinated by the insight into his life and way of looking at the world as portrayed in his book.
At the beginning of the seventh chapter, Lewis takes some time to explain his behavior in writing the previous chapter. You see, in the sixth chapter Lewis describes (among other things) the pederasty (or homosexual relations between older students and younger students) that was a common practice at the boarding school he attended. But although Lewis is known for the moral and apologetic nature of his writing in general, the reader looking for moral judgements about the practice will be hard pressed to find any.
Anticipating surprise and/or objections, Lewis explains:
Here’s a fellow, you say, who used to come before us as a moral and religious writer, and now, if you please, he’s written a whole chapter describing his old school as a very furnace of impure loves without one word on the heinousness of the sin. But there are two reasons. One you shall hear before this chapter ends. The other is that, as I have said, the sin in question is one of the two (gambling is the other) which I have never been tempted to commit. I will not indulge in futile philippics against enemies I never met in battle. (57)
There are at least two things about this that make it a timely word for us reading these words today.
1. Lewis sets a humble and gracious standard for us to imitate.
How easy it would have been for Lewis to lambast the school’s pederasty in particular and homosexuality in general. How easy it is for us to hit “share” or “retweet” when we find something we agree with and believe wholeheartedly and hope others will too. But when the topic is one with which we simply have no experience with, much more caution and grace is called for (this is a lesson I am still learning, by the way).
Is Lewis saying he believes that no one can EVER denounce a practice as wrong or a sin without having personally experienced either the temptation or the sin itself? I don’t believe so. However, what he is saying is that in his case he chose to focus on other topics and give priority where he had the experience to speak. I respect his stance very much and feel that we have much to learn from this, even if it’s only taking the step to consider whether we ought to be speaking on a given subject in the first place!
2. Lewis still uses strong yet appropriate language in discussing it.
While he does not go on a lengthy discourse or rant about the issue, Lewis still uses Biblical language in his brief aside. He is not afraid to call a sin a sin, using terms like “impure loves,” “sin,” and “enemies” to describe the practice. Lewis is concise and yet clear. When pressed for an answer, let us similarly remain faithful to share the truth even on topics where we have never ourselves been tempted.
What do you think of Lewis’ reasoning? Do you feel he sets a good example or that he should have used his platform to speak regardless of his personal experience? Did he get the balance right or sway too far to one side?