C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” extracts

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The idea that “being in love” is the only reason for remaining married really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise at all. If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made. The curious thing is that lovers themselves, while they remain really in love, know this better than those who talk about love. As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises. Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy. The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion’s own nature; it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do.

And, of course, the promise, made when in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love. A promise must be about things I can do, about actions; no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way. He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry.

C.S. Lewis, from “Mere Christianity”, as quoted in “A Year with C.S. Lewis”, edited by Patricia Klein, Harper Collins, 2004.

 

What we call “being in love” is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us. It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality; in that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust. No one in his senses would deny that being in love is far better than either common sensuality or cold self-centredness. But, as I said before, “the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs”. Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called “being in love” usually does not last.

C.S. Lewis, from “Mere Christianity”, as quoted in “A Year with C.S. Lewis”, edited by Patricia Klein, Harper Collins, 2004.

 

If the old fairly-tale ending “They lived happily ever after” is taken to mean “They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married”, then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense – love as distinct from “being in love” – is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be “in love” with someone else. “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity; this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run; being in love was the explosion that started it.

C.S. Lewis, from “Mere Christianity”, as quoted in “A Year with C.S. Lewis”, edited by Patricia Klein, Harper Collins, 2004

 

New. People get from books the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to on “being in love” for ever. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change – not realising that, when they have changed, the glamour will presently go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one. In this department of life, as in every other, thrills come out at the beginning and do not last. The sort of thrill a boy has at the first idea of flying will not go on when he has joined the R.A.F. and is really learning to fly. The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. ….
Another notion we get from novels and plays is that “falling in love” is something quite irresistible; something that just happens to one, like measles. And because they believe this, some married people throw up the sponge and give in when they find themselves attracted by a new acquaintance. But I am inclined to think that these irresistible passions are much rarer in real life than in books, at any rate when one is grown up. When we meet someone beautiful and clever and sympathetic, of course we ought, in one sense, to admire and love these good qualities. But is it not very largely in our own choice whether this love shall, or shall not, turn into being what we call “being in love”? No doubt, if our minds are full of novels and plays and sentimental songs, and our bodies full of alcohol, we shall turn any love we feel into that kind of love: just as if you have a rut in your path all the rainwater will run into that rut, and if you wear blue spectacles everything you see will turn blue. But that will be your own fault.

C.S. Lewis, from “Mere Christianity”, as quoted in “A Year with C.S. Lewis”, edited by Patricia Klein, Harper Collins, 2004

 

New. Our warped natures, the devils who tempt us, and all the contemporary propaganda for lust, combine to make us feel that the desires we are resisting are so “natural”, so “healthy”, and so reasonable, that it is almost perverse and abnormal to resist them. Poster after poster, film after film, novel after novel, associate the idea of sexual indulgence with the ideas of health, normality, youth, frankness, and good humour. Now this association is a lie. Like all powerful lies, it is based on a truth – the truth, acknowledged above, that sex in itself (apart for the excesses and obsessions that have grown round it) is “normal” and “healthy”, and all the rest of it. The lie consists in the suggestion that any sexual act to which you are tempted at the moment is also healthy and normal. Now this, on any conceivable view, and quite apart from Christianity, must be nonsense. Surrender to all our desires obviously leads to impotence, disease, jealousies, lies, concealment, and everything that is the reverse of health, good humour, and frankness.

C.S. Lewis, from “Mere Christianity”, as quoted in “A Year with C.S. Lewis”, edited by Patricia Klein, Harper Collins, 2004

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