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You won't find a more apt example of an excerpt that is contradictory to an author's broader writings than this bit from C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity:

Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which ...

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Displaying 1–20 of 20 comments

Ryan Klassen

May 30, 2013  1:52pm

The author misses a significant point in Lewis' paragraph: "Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives." It is not that Lewis disagrees with Tolkien - it is that he argues non-Christians do not have the resources to live a Christian life, namely the Holy Spirit and the community of faith. The author further confuses things in his statement: "Rather, the faith teaches us that submitting to the laws of our creator is the surest way to live reconciled lives with his creation." My understanding is that the surest way to live reconciled lives with God's creation is to be reconciled with God through Jesus Christ.

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Jim Gustafson

December 28, 2012  1:01pm

Well-written article, and good comments too! On the whole, I have to agree more with Lewis as regards public policy, while I prefer Tolkein's emphasis on universal truth. Looks like most of the correspondents here think similarly. But try this thought experiment: take CS Lewis's statement, and apply it not to divorce, his era's hot topic, but to our hot topic, gay marraige. Does it change anyone's views? Discuss.

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Doug Wright

December 20, 2012  1:32am

There is sharp division between state registered and Church officiated marriage; a line now obliterated here long before there in England. Lewis is a bit of a visionary here and makes a point about what might be a more advertised distinction. J.R.R. makes a better point on naturality; Divorce for example was illegal in Rome, the natural state of man is to cause marriage to endure. We have so inverted nature that his bold statement of Patriarchy needs to be pointed out today as much as it was assumed in his day. We are blinded by our status quo; the state manipulates divorce to dissipate its people. It started in Soviet Union as a way to prevent organisation against Communism and here later to bolster state. In general history is natural, patriarchal (exceptions only proving the rule). Only state perverts this now, for the goal of subjugating fathers. Is there any contract so diminished by state? Marriage law should be held to a "Christian" standard like parenthood or property.

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Jon Trott

December 19, 2012  3:12pm

Lewis was far too liberal to be tolerated. (Wink.) In fact I think his one-paragraph argument completely convincing, regardless of all the words that followed it in this article or from J. R. R. Tolkien. The Church should uphold biblical marriage. The Church should *not* dictate biblical marriage to the state, just as it should not dictate other articles of faith to the state (such as the Trinity or Salvation via Christ alone). We have a tightrope to walk, and only via the Holy Spirit can we walk it. But insisting upon Christian marriage for non-christian people is both absurd and an act of anti-evangelism.

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Hugh Wetmore

December 19, 2012  12:37pm

Defining Marriage has proved difficult for many. There is Social Marriage which has been practiced in every society long before Legal marriage was developed. But it is God's definition that Marriage happens whenever a man and a woman leave their parents (or previous ties) to form a new family unit, and join in sexual intimacy, that God joins them as one. The Public and the Private events constitute Marriage. This applies to every culture, ethic group, religion ~ from the beginning of Human History (Gen 2:24), and was affirmed by Jesus as a Creation mandate (Matt 19:4-6). It is heterosexual by definition. This is not an exclusively "Christian" institution. Is it permanent? Ideally, yes. But Jesus was realistic enough to say that "hard heart(s)" can lead to divorce. Most of his strong teaching seems directed against Remarriage, rather than Divorce. In our fallen world, we must often choose between the lesser of two evils: (Re)Marriage or Cohabitation.

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Derek Atkins

December 18, 2012  11:35pm

Defending traditional marriage and traditional sexual morality is simply a matter of upholding the common good--every child benefits from having a stable, traditional marriage, and society as a whole benefits tremendously from upholding traditional moral behavior. I'm presently reading a book entitled Adam and Eve After the Pill, which is a devastating critique of the sexual revolution, and one of the key points the author of this book makes is that there are mountains of empirical evidence that demonstrate the awful consequences of the sexual revolution.

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Ernie Pruitt

December 17, 2012  11:51pm

Lewis had it right in the sense that the Word of God never prescribes that the Church should be in authority over the state or society at large. The Apostle Paul made it quite clear that our responsiblity is to judge the church (each other) and not the society around us when he wrote: "What business is it of mine to judge those outsided the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside." NIV 2011 (1 Co 5:12-13). Given that nearly all the people who make up "society" in most any culture are not born of the spirit, it is abundantly clear that society will continue to follow the "god of this age" blind to the "light" of the gospel even if they have "good" marriages. When it comes to marriage, Christian standards are the same regardless of the moral or ethical component of cultural standards. And Christ's body and mission are not dependent on sympathetic legislation on the part of the state. The life of the first century church is a prime example.

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December 16, 2012  9:40pm

The issue is not what the Christian would impose on the world. The world does not care what the church wants and instead is imposing its own definition of marriage on the Church. Churches will soon be required to marry gay couples. Who can say what will follow? Perhaps we should quit describing the unions blessed by the state as marriages and dismiss all they do and recognize as civil unions. Christian marriages recognized by the church should have their own set of vows and follow biblical teaching. Whether the state will allow enforcement of such vows is the big question.

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Timothy Beirne

December 16, 2012  8:56am

It was a pleasure to read this eloquent and well-thought out article, but I don’t agree with it. The law of the Lord is perfect and it points us to Christ, who alone can turn aside the wrath of God that we so richly deserve, however the great commission is to make disciples, not to enforce God’s holy law. At this very moment the Holy Spirit is convicting the world of sin because they do not believe. Unbelief is the chief sin and from it all other dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors spring. Faith in Christ is the “key to human flourishing.” If we take the premise of this article to its logical conclusion then we should make unbelief illegal and force people to come to faith. That may sound crazy, but it has been done before. Ask the spiritual descendants of the radical reformers (Anabaptists).

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Wayne Froese

December 15, 2012  9:53pm

Derek, I would argue that you can live your faith in the public square without demanding that *others* live *your* faith. The soapbox is different from the judges' gavel. Do we establish the kingdom via politics?

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Derek Atkins

December 15, 2012  4:21am

The key question here is, is Christianity solely a private matter, or is it to be lived out in the public square? This is a very, very important question, because if we take it that Christianity is solely a private matter, and has nothing to do with the world outside the walls of our churches or our homes, then that means we are living a faith that is essentially meaningless. If Christianity has nothing to say to issues such as drug abuse, homosexuality, divorce, democracy, economics, or a whole host of other issues, then why should anyone care about the claims of the Gospel? But the reality is that God is the Lord of all creation, and is therefore concerned about all areas of life, including our public lives. And in the end, King Jesus will indeed rule the world after his return. "The kingdoms of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ..."

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Heather Macarthur

December 14, 2012  1:31pm

I agree with CS Lewis that legislating personal morality is not the state's job and is certainly most likely to be counter productive. I also think the author's argument would have more weight if the divorce rate among Christians (and especially Evangelical Christians) were not as high or even higher than the rest of the population. Is that not what should concern us rather than who wishes to marry whom in our society in order to access legal protection of the State? We're not a great example.

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Noel Anderson

December 14, 2012  10:26am

Most of the article is fine, but it seems a preposterous stretch of self-interest to recast St.Anne's in the image of a postmodern, vego-eco-agrarian commune. St. Anne's is a wartime bunker--an unchosen, convenient refuge--to protect the leadership from the overflowing forces of evil. Today's 20 or 30-somethings would most likely abhor the strict hierarchy of obedience and complementarity implicit throughout the narrative. Strictly-speaking, it is as anti-egalitarian as could be. Furthermore, the suggestion that the next Studdock would be something like savior-Pendragon is the author's own fantasy--it's nowhere in the story.

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Robert Hughes

December 14, 2012  1:51am

The witness of both the Old and New Testaments is that humans have become estranged from God, from each other, and from all of creation. It isn't possible, therefore, to assume a one to one relationship between God's perfect laws and the laws of a society. The laws of the State are relative and pragmatic, while God's laws are eternal and permanent. Our inability to observe the entirety of God's laws (such as occurs, for example, when one spouse physically abuses another) results, at times, in the need to have a civil law which contradicts one of God's laws in order to protect those who are vulnerable. This is why Jesus acknowledged Moses' need to have the civil law allowing for divorce while also upholding the inviolability of marriage based on God's created order. The point is that while God's law is good for all human beings, all human beings need a Mediator. The Christian witness is not of achieving God's perfect order in creation, it is of the Mediator.

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Michael Constantine

December 14, 2012  1:28am

Alright, at the beginning let me say that the level of this argument seems far too exalted for a guy like me. But if the core issue is Lews' view or Tolkien's, could I ask a further question: "How did the early church practice it's beliefs on marriage under the rule of Rome?" Certainly they could not impose those views on Rome. And I am pretty sure that the Roman model of marriage disagreed greatly from the Christian view. You can see my point. Let me also ask how you would counsel Christians who live in China to apply what you advocate in this article? Or here, where I live and minister, in a country with a Muslim majority? Yes, the biblical teaching is God's Truth. Of that we must all be sure. But our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in countries without a Judeo-Christian ethic can do only one thing: they can show by their example, the superiority of The Gospel and it's affect on our lives.

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Dee McDonald

December 14, 2012  12:01am

I think the author is wrong about Lewis' comment. It is not mind-boggling that he wrote it, nor contradictory. The key, I believe, to that quote is : "My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives." From what I can see, Lewis is not saying that everyone has their own personal beliefs that they are free to live by (that is not even the issue in the quote), but that no matter how many "Christian laws" we establish, people are not going to become Christians. Like Lewis, of course I believe in the importance of marriage in the way God designed it to be. But we should not expect people to come to Christ because we outlaw divorce, and perhaps for today's big issue, gay marriage.

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December 13, 2012  6:55pm

What is interesting here is that J.R.R. Tolkein was a Catholic -- under which there is actually a binding "church position" on the issue of divorce and re-marriage. C.S. Lewis was a Protestant -- where there is really no "official church position" on anything! Protestants would do well to understand why they cannot even agree on a moral position for society. They have to resolve that point before they can even talk about how to move the society/laws in that direction. I have to give the Catholics credit for having a base from which to work from. In addition, there is a deep tradition within the historical Catholic that includes a high view of reason, and use natural law arguments -- and not merely "sola scriptura". I think such a view has more strength going for it in terms of engaging with the wider society. It is not as vulnerable to the same tangles over "church vs. state" or "scripture vs. reason"

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Wayne Froese

December 13, 2012  6:47pm

"The argument simply assumes that religious dogma is strictly personal and, therefore, ultimately relative. You have your practices and I have mine." Or more directly stated, the writer means "your beliefs reflect no standards and mine are moral absolutes from the proper reading of Scripture."

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Paul johnson

December 13, 2012  4:03pm

I think CS Lewis got it exactly right. There are a number of Biblical configurations for marriage that I would not want the State to enforce. Especially the "Levirate marriages" mandated in Deuteronomy 25: 5-6 and demonstrated in Genesis 38:8 where the brother of a deceased man is obliged to marry his brother's widow. Nor would I want the State to instruct a rapist to marry the woman he has violated (Deuteronomy 22: 28, 29). I could continue on with the issues of polygamy, concubines or taking virgins as the spoils of war (Numbers 31: 1-18; Deuteronomy 21: 11-14). The longest commandment in the Big Ten is about Sabbath-keeping as a celebration of "creation spirituality." (Exodus 20: 11; Genesis 2:3). SDA's and Jews do this. Most Christians don't. How are you going to have the State figure this one out without prefering one faith community over another? Let us not fall into our own version of "Sharia law" creating religious wars. Lewis got it right! Tolkien-not so much.

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Susan Kane

December 13, 2012  3:14pm

The problem with your reasoning is a common problem for American Protestants -- conflating "society" or "community" with "state". The state, with its registration of marriage and divorce, is not an American location for religious unity. The state is instead an arbiter for all citizens, ensuring that (for example) Catholics do not prevent divorce for Protestants. The Puritans lived the communal unity you describe and yet they considered marriage a purely civil affair. Other things that today's Protestants leave to the individual conscience such as the wearing of lace or baking on the Sabbath Day were cause for punishment. Be careful what you wish for. The state belongs to all its citizens. You can have and live and preach a larger social vision for marriage -- you simply should not ask the state to use its power to enforce that vision on your fellow citizens. This is not Iran with its religious courts -- and we are a better nation for it.

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