December 5, 2020

The Sexual C.S. Lewis

Get Religion covers the latest fad in Lewisania: speculation that a young Lewis had premarital sex with his longtime housemate, Mrs. Moore. (yawn.)

London newspapers have been teasing this stuff for a week and now the New York Times is in on the act. American media only know that Lewis is popular with evangelicals and therefore must be a hypocrite, television evangelist or pervert. When they discover that Lewis haters like A.N. Wilson and Phillip Pullman are already talking about ol’ Jack the kinky boy, expect the two and three column stories to appear with regularity.

About the only book on C.S. Lewis that hasn’t been written by some adoring evangelical is a book on Clive’s sex life. But is that because evangelicals would abandon Lewis if they learned he had sex before his late-life marriage to Joy Davidman?

Evangelicals can always stand a reminder that Lewis was an old school Anglican with no affection for the kinds of American fundamentalists who love to cite him. Evangelicals who equate Lewis with some view of a fundamentalist apologist in their tradition have a lot to learn anyway, but the “questions” about Lewis’s sexual life have hardly been a secret. I’m no Lewis scholar, but I’ve read Lewis and Lewis books for three decades, and the facts are in:

1) Lewis was a normal male. He thought about sex a lot, and says so in his writing. Lewis’s appreciation of the erotic is there throughout his career, from his days as a young romantic poet to his mature Christian work.

Being a soldier, a bachelor and living with university students his entire life, Lewis knew very well what sexual excess was all about. He was hardly a sheltered person.

2) He confesses to the loss of his virginity as a young man. Despite this, there is little doubt among any mainstream Lewis scholars that Lewis was a chaste man the majority of his adult life. Nothing in Lewis’s life–before or after his career as a Christian writer–in any way disqualifies him from writing on Christian ethics and morality.

3) He teases readers with a possible sexual component to his misery in boarding schools. I have reread these passages many times, and I am less clear than ever what Lewis is hinting at, but if he is hinting at homosexual behavior among boys in school, there is no evidence that Lewis himself was a perpetrator of such behavior.

Lewis’s relationship with Arthur Greeves has also given some fodder to those who are looking for a homo-erotic note in Lewis’s life. I have not read their correspondence, but I have never heard any credible case for this and I am aware of no evidence that the relationship was anything other than the chemistry of the mind and imagination between two young men who thought no one loved to read what they loved to read.

4) He hints that thoughts of sadism may have troubled him throughout life.

5) He lived with a woman 26 years older than him for many years. And her daughter. And his brother. He never says a word about a romantic relationship of any kind, but he again teases readers of his autobiography with a cryptic statement that he is intentionally passing over some particularly bad aspects of his life at that time. Overall, it’s obvious he found her to be something less than enchanted, as she appears in thinly veiled guise in several books as quite tedious, overbearing and self-possessed.

It’s not unreasonable, given Lewis’s age, the oddity of the whole arrangement and his subsequent loyalty to the woman, to speculate that some sexual episode may have been part of the relationship at one time. But no one who credibly and calmly studies this material would believe that Lewis actually loved or had a continuing sexual relationship with Mrs. Moore. He was loyal to her out of a vow to a friend who died in World War I.

At its worst….what does this mean? Lewis wasn’t the pastor of a church. He wasn’t the author of anything at this point. He was just beginning his spiritual journey. During the likely years of a possible sexual episode with Mrs. Moore, Lewis was an atheist, then a theist, and later a new convert. If the New York Times wants America’s evangelicals to know that Lewis had the sexual history of an Augustine, I suggest they look harder…or just make it up. It’s not here. Lewis’s relationship with Mrs. Moore was odd, and it may have been sexual, but that relationship bears no significance to Lewis later work.

And by the way…did I say, “Who cares?”

6)Lewis’s sexual history with Joy Davidman is unclear to some scholars, primarily because Lewis’s relationship with Joy was, again, odd. What is clear is this: When Lewis married Joy, he had a normal sexual relationship with her, and he describes his marriage to her in terms of unmistakable joy. Those who have lobbied for a sexless Jack-Joy marriage are nuts, to put it kindly.

Yes, Jack Lewis had sex. In marriage. And before. Maybe more than once. He wrote Christian books, and (gasp) he wrote Christian CHILDREN’S books. Does anyone have the feeling that the media is trying very hard to get the words “Lewis,” Sex” and “Christian Children’s books” into one sentence so we won’t have a repeat of that “Passion of the Christ” business? Well there. I wrote it for you.

Let’s face it. The media must assume that serious Christians are seriously unhealthy people, and what better cause can one find for rolling out those freshman psych classes and all that Fruedian repression in the name of religion? Anyone who writes children’s books in his 50’s must have issues, y’know.

Interestingly, in the movie “Shadowlands”, one of Jack’s drinking partners teases him exactly along these lines, inferring that the “fur coat” in the wardrobe was really a Fruedian symbol of sexual initiation. It was stupid then when it was a laugh in a movie, and it’s even dumber now when serious newspaper journalists run the same drivel as if “the public needs to know the truth.”

Stand by for future posts, as we learn that the author of the popular Christian children’s books also drank, smoked, liked a bawdy joke and had theology that would drive the Truly Reformed into a hissy fit.

Comments

  1. OH yeah and pssst…. Jesus had body odor! THE SHAME!

  2. Jeremiah Lawson says

    Pullman’s probably mad HIS books aren’t being made into movies yet.

  3. Michael,

    I stumbled on your blog after reading about it on Real Live Preacher. and now saw you comment on Get Religion. Forgive me for defending the media here, but given the way that Lewis is fawned over by evangelicals and the fact that a 200 million dollar movie is being made of one of his books, his personal life seems fair game.

    From what I’ve read, Lewis didn’t always see Mrs. Moore as a dreadful person. His friends may have, but from what I can gather, he enjoyed her company, until she became very difficult in her old age. He was extremely devoted to Mrs. Moore, and I find it disturbing how quickly Lewis fans will dismiss her as some old bat.

    Having ignored Lewis for some years, I was amazed at how much of a sainted figure he has become and how any criticism of him is seen as approaching blasphemy

    Jeremiah might be interested to know that Pullman’s books are being made into films. I’m not a particular fan of his, but I think there some merit in his criticism.

  4. Bob— I edited the post to be a bit fairer to Lewis’s view of Mrs. Moore.

    I am just curious….are you an evangelical? What about the evangelical popularity of Lewis concerns you?

  5. Micheal

    I’m a Covenanter, so I’m a pietist, and in a denomination that’s 1/2 way between the evangelical and mainline world. But I fall generally in the evangelical camp, but on the lutheran end, not the reformed end.

    I don’t mind the popularity of Lewis but in evangelical circles it’s become close to hagiolatry. He’s become a sacred cow. So the Times points out the Mrs. Moore affair, and it’s an “attack’ on Lewis.

    You know what else bugs me–evangelicals love Lewis but in our church practices, we ignore him. The Screwptape Letters, though 60 years old, seems to skewer the kind of hip and trendy, our church is cooler than yours church advertising and the needs-based worship services that evangelicals are famous for. Most of us ignore the Eucharist, which for Lewis was the central part of worship.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog

  6. I don’t think it’s so much “How dare you attack Lewis!” as it is, “Why try to connect “Sex” and “Christian CHILDREN’S author” in the minds of the public? I think the truth about Lewis, or any prominent Christian, ought to be told as appropriate.

    I agree that Lewis has much to say to today’s trendy, non-liturgical, non-sacramental churches.

  7. Good point Michael. If Lewis were simply a Christian children’s author, I might be more bothered by the whole sex thing. He’s also a major apologist / theologian for the evangelical movement and so that makes the sex question more relevant for a mainstream reporter. Lewis is a much more interesting person than the St. Jack he’s purpoted to be.

  8. Jim Nicholson says

    Pullman has a stated agenda. He wants to have as much influence on children as Lewis does, but he wants to provide didactic material for an atheist world view. This is pattenly obvious at even a casual glance at his own novels, which “tell of a battle against the church and a fight to overthrow God,” as the BBC puts it. At one point, one of Pullman’s main characters remarks, “The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all.”

    Whatever his credentials as a scholar or writer, Pullman’s bias is going to be against Lewis. We’re talking about a person who can read Narnia and say that he never encounters any examples of Christian virtue, especially love – in the books.

    Pullman is a blindfolded man, bumping into things and complaining that it is dark on one hand, and then passing out blindfolds to children on the other. There are people with compelling critical positions on Lewis’ life and works that are worth listening to. Philip Pullman is decidedly not one of them.

  9. The man was an author, not a pastor. Who cares what sins he struggled with (if he did)? This comes down to a total misunderstanding of what being a Christian is. I’m sure he would find all this talk absurd.

  10. Once again, this is a fine commentary, Mr. Spencer. I appreciate the reference to Augustine. What a carouser he was! Yet, what a great picture of grace, as well. If we want to disqualify great men of the faith because of their lack of perfection, then let us part ways with David (adulterer & murderer), Paul (persecutor), Peter (deserter), and even such reformers as Luther and Calvin who made some questionable decisions. But as it is, we recognize the nature of sanctification, and we see the ever-amazing grace of God.

  11. adrian walker says

    Dear Michael,

    I’m a Roman Catholic who loves Lewis, as many nof my co-religionists do. Lewis may not have been a saint, but he was a great theologian.

    The real problem, as far as I am concerned, is not whether Lewis had sex with Mrs. Moore (although, personally, I doubt it). The real problem—as you astutely point out—is that the media are using the rumors that he did to discredit him.

    Isn’t it amazing? Here’s a guy who is something of a cult figure to millions of people, and the media don’t seem to think it’s worth exploring who he is. Of course, exploring who he is might mean that a couple of dents get put in his halo along the way. But it would also mean taking him seriously, treating him like a human being, and so forth—instead of insinuating character assassinations.

    One other comment: the people who have the biggest problem with sex are precisely the kinds of people who would use rumors of sex with Mrs. Moore to discredit Lewis. It’s as if they were saying: “see, nobody isn’t into tawdry, ugly sex.” So under all the proclamations of sexual freedom there is still a kind of nihilistic self-hatred. . .which, of course, can’t tolerate that anyone or anything should be considered great and good.

    Thanks for a great blog.

    Adrian

  12. I’d still maintain that reporting on Lewis’s personal life is a relevant news story. This Narnia film is being promoted to the same groups that made the Passion a hit, and is being heavily endorsed by Focus on the Family–a group which has no trouble commenting on the sex lives of other people. Any competant, professional reporter working on this story wil notice a disconnect between Lewis’s home life and the kind of ideals espoused by evangelical groups. Reporting on that disconnect is not an indicator of a media agenda–they are just doing their jobs.

  13. It’s a common ploy of the devil to deceive people into thinking that, if one has sinned in certain ways, one has no right to speak about Christianity. The problem with that thinking is that those who have sinned can have the best understanding of the Gospel, as they know what it truly means to be forgiven! So someone as articulate as Lewis, having sinned (if indeed he did), ought to be someone we listen to all the more.

    It is interesting, though, that people instinctively make such a big deal about sexual sin, whereas Lewis’ other vices are ignored…. It makes me almost believe that the world has some suppressed knowledge of the real value and intimacy of sex.

  14. Do people think Lewis is appreciated because he was some sort of halo-ed saint? Give me a break. I appreciate Lewis, not because I agree with him on everything (I DISAGREE on several points), but because he addressed issues in an authentic and thoughtful way–a way that I’ve never heard fundamentalists or evangelicals talk.

    But here is the assumption people have: Christians are neither authentic nor thoughtful.

    Lewis is appreciated by evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, and others because he lays out an apologetic for the supernatural (and so much more…). He peels away the layers of secularism that form over the lens of a heart and lets us see the world the way it is: a place created by a wonderful God who not only put eternity in our hearts, but REASON.

    I don’t like everything Lewis said or did, but I like Lewis. I only wish more Christian leaders would be as daringly honest, humble, authentic and thoughtful. We are all already just as sinful–despite whatever may or may not be true about the particulars of Lewis’s life.

    JRush: One of those evangelical pastors…

  15. Jeremiah Lawson says

    Bob, I was thinking of the films being slated. Even if I don’t go for Pullman’s beliefs I could still see why he might get impatient waiting for a book of his to become a film. But then I doubt he’s waited as long as Stan Lee waited to see that first Spiderman film made.

  16. adrian walker says

    Bob—

    Yes, in theory the disconnect between Lewis’ personal life and his thought couldb be fair game. But it would have to be discussed in the context of people trying to understand Lewis as a whole, of taking him seriously as a Christian thinker, etc. But when Lewis’ supposed sins with Mrs. Moore are the main topic, well then there’s a serious imbalance that raises questions about how interested one is in really understanding Lewis and making sense of the Lewis phenomenon in an objective way. In other words; objective doesn’t just mean gleefully poking holes in the Saint Jack myth; it means helping people understand his significance as a Christian thinker and apologist. See what I mean?

    Adrian

  17. Brian Pendell says

    What no one’s read “Surprised by Joy” and the fact that he went to public school with a lot of really homosexual boys? THAT oughta set the cat among the canaries…

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  18. Question. Are we (evenagelicals) perhaps responsible for wanting those we venerate as heroes of the faith to be so spotless that we are actually inviting legitimate deconstruction by the media and other critics of evengelicalism?

  19. I find Bob Smietana’s arguments disturbing and shallow. The idea that merely because Evangelicals and other Christians like Lewis and think he made a valuable contribution to Christianity, and because a major film is being made of one of his books, that therefore the media is doing its job in trying to expose every aspect of his personal sexual life is just plain wrong. Wrong on so many levels its difficult to know where to start. We have the same kind of media here in New Zealand. The only time they ever deal with the Christian faith is when theres a controversy, or to print lurid and often laughably cartoonish tales of what Conservative or Evangelical Christians are supposedly like. This is “doing there job” only if their job is to serve the devil. Leave Lewis alone and let his work speak for itself.

    And of course Focus on the Family comments on sexual issues. They are concerned with the moral breakdown of society. That they also think the Narnia movies might be a good thing is not a valid reason to expose Lewis’ personal life to prove their is a “disconnect”. Rubbish. Its his creative work and his brilliant apologetics they and other Evangelicals are promoting. If this argument held, then every Christian writer or artist who ever lived would have to be exposed on the same grounds. Everyone from Augustine to John Howard Yoder would have to be dropped and never read or promoted by Christians.

    The truth is that there is a wide range of views and approaches to many issues amongst Evangelicals. The tendency of some like the media and Bob here to paint us all as puritanical crusaders who are not allowed to embrace good things like the Narnia film or the Passion on the sole basis that there is supposedly some “disconnect” between us and their creators is a monumentally shallow and bigoted argument.

    I have read Pullman’s arguments against Lewis and they are complete crap. His charge that Narnia is “racist” is the kind of unhinged pc ranting I have sadly come to expect from anti-Christian secular liberals.

  20. “the people who have the biggest problem with sex are precisely the kinds of people who would use rumors of sex with Mrs. Moore to discredit Lewis. It’s as if they were saying: “see, nobody isn’t into tawdry, ugly sex.” So under all the proclamations of sexual freedom there is still a kind of nihilistic self-hatred. . .which, of course, can’t tolerate that anyone or anything should be considered great and good.”

    as Adrian said.

    I guess my feeling in the matter is this: to me, it’s a moot point. Jack Lewis sinned. We all do. He probably did things he regretted greatly. But he went to God and asked forgiveness, and it was granted. It’s an issue between him and God, not an issue between me and the newspaper writers.

    Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I like to think that it’s called “private life” because it’s the sort of thing people keep, you know, private. It serves no instructive purpose to me to know the details of an individual’s sex life. It might serve an instructive purpose to know that “we all sin,” but I don’t need a journalist to tell me that.

    I don’t know. I guess I just get very tired of the super-high-beam-microscope on all the warts and wrinkles that seems to pass for biographical journalism these days.

  21. He was a human being. End of story. He deserves a bit more respect than this. So what if he had sex? Don’t we all? Good for him.