C. S. Lewis on Birth Control

From his preface
(1952?) to Mere Christianity - emphasis mine:
So much for my omissions on doctrine. In Book III, which deals with morals, I have also passed over some things in silence, but for a different reason. Ever since I served as an infantryman in the first world war I have had a great dislike of people who, themselves in ease and safety, issue exhortations to men in the front line. As a result I have a reluctance to say much about temptations to which I myself am not exposed. No man, I suppose, is tempted to every sin. It so happens that the impulse which makes men gamble has been left out of my make-up; and, no doubt, I pay for this by lacking some good impulse of which it is the excess or perversion. I therefore did not feel myself qualified to give advice about permissable and impermissable gambling: if there is any permissable, for I do not claim to know even that. I have also said nothing about birth-control. I am not a woman nor even a married man, nor am I a priest. I did not think it my place to take a firm line about pains, dangers and expenses from which I am protected; having no pastoral office which obliged me to do so.

Remember that Lewis wrote this at a time when the transition in the world's culture and in Christianity was just beginning to take shape with regard to contraception. Though a change in thinking was occurring, there were still plenty of pastors preaching and teaching against birth control in the 40s and 50s. I wonder if he wouldn't have felt compelled to speak on this matter if he lived on into the 70s and beyond.

But it is that "pastoral office" point that caught my attention in this quote. Teaching in the church is, in fact, the job of the Office of Holy Ministry. I have, myself, wondered sometimes if I have, or currently am, overstepping my bounds in speaking about this subject now that there are pastors doing so. There are, after all, pastors who are authors on this blog, and I am increasingly reading pastors speaking out on their blogs and other discussion boards against contraception. The majority of pastors still see no problem with contraception, but I am much more optimistic than I used to be regarding this subject.

Things were not always the way they are today. There was a time just a few short years ago when I never heard ANY Lutheran pastor say anything against birth control. When I asked questions and expressed my concerns, I was labeled a pietist or legalist, nicknamed "The Hammer of God," and told with pastoral authority that the church doesn't have an official position on the subject. So I began researching the subject and found the Biblical historical teaching to be consistent with the natural law that convicted me against birth control.

When pastors turn from the Word of God and preach perverted doctrines, it is the DUTY of laymen to speak up. Perhaps those times are over with regard to birth control, yet I still feel that the historic position of the church on procreation is far from what I hear the majority of pastors preaching and teaching. Until I see that the tide is turned, I feel it is my duty as a layman to continue to speak on the historic position of the church on this issue. And I try my best to do most of that speaking by parroting what Luther and others in the Office of Holy Ministry have said before me - hence all the lengthy quotes in my posts.

What do you think?

Now, before I leave you with the thought that Lewis had nothing to say on the subject this blog deals with, let me provide just a couple other quotes:

Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it: the old Christian rule is, "Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence." Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong. One or the other. Of course, being a Christian, I think it is the instinct which has gone wrong. But I have other reasons for thinking so. The biological purpose of sex is children, just as the biological purpose of eating is to repair the body. Now if we eat whenever we feel inclined and just as much as we want, it is quite true that most of us will eat too much: but not terrifically too much. One man may eat enough for two, but he does not eat enough for ten. The appetite goes a little beyond its biological purpose, but not enormously. But if a healthy young man indulged his sexual appetite whenever he felt inclined, and if each act produced a baby, then in ten years he might easily populate a small village. This appetite is in ludicrous and preposterous excess of its function.

[Mere Christianity, p. 49]

Or, how about this one:
...what we call man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.

It is, of course, a commonplace to complain that men have hitherto used badly, and against their fellows, the powers that science her given them. But that is not the point I am trying to make. I am not speaking of particular corruptions and abuses which an increase of moral virtue would cure: I am considering what the thing called 'Man's power over Nature' must always and essentially be ... All long-term exercises of power, especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones.

[The Abolition of Man, p. 69]

And in his space trilogy, Lewis provides numerous allusions to the subject of the limiting of procreation. Most notably,
in That Hideous Strength, the third book, the character Merlin refers to the woman who used contraception as the “falsest lady of any.”

… the Stranger was speaking and pointing at her as he spoke.

She did not understand the words; but Dimble did, and heard Merlin saying in what seemed to him a rather strange kind of Latin:

‘Sir, you have in your house the falsest lady of any at this time alive.’

And Dimble heard the Director answer him in the same language:

‘Sir, you are mistaken. She is doubtless like all of us a sinner; but the woman is chaste.’

‘Sir,’ said Merlin, ‘know well that she has done in Logres a thing of which no less sorrow shall come than came of the stroke that Balinus struck. For, Sir, it was the purpose of God that she and her lord should between them have begotten a child by whom the enemies should have been put out of Logres for a thousand years.’

‘She is but lately married,’ said Ransom. ‘The child may yet be born.’

‘Sir,’ said Merlin, ‘be assured that the child will never be born, for the hour of its begetting is passed. Of their own will they are barren…’

[That Hideous Strength, 275-276]


Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

I have often heard the faulty reasoning that "be fruitful and multiply" was valid only until the Promised Seed, Christ, was born. By the same logic, the sin of Onan is not contraception per se but rather an attempt to prevent the birth of Christ.

This logic ignores the idea that there are purposes for which God creates every human being, as addressed in the next post above. Where would the world be today if Martin Luther's mother had contracepted him?

Anonymous said...

I'm too lazy to look it up now, but there is a fairly late private letter in Lewis's published correspondence in which he says he is not prepared to say contraception is always wrong.

Rachel said...

Dear anonymous,

Such a statement by Lewis would be consistent with what is already quoted in this post from the preface to Mere Christianity. On the other hand, your anonymous statement can only count as unsupported hearsay. If such a letter exists, would you please look it up and properly cite it?


Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

I was reading this post again and wondered about this allusion made by Lewis:

"‘Sir,’ said Merlin, ‘know well that she has done in Logres a thing of which no less sorrow shall come than came of the stroke that Balinus struck. For, Sir, it was the purpose of God that she and her lord should between them have begotten a child by whom the enemies should have been put out of Logres for a thousand years.’"

Who was "Balinus," and what did he do?

Initially googling "Balinus" I came up with the Arabic name for Apollonius of Tyana,a Greek Pythagorean philosopher and teacher. But reading about him I could not figure out what the allusion could be referring to. After a little more creative googling, I found out that Lewis was using the Latinized version of the name "Balin". See here:

Balin was a hot-tempered knight (or prospective knight) at King Arthur’s court. In a fit of anger he hurts Pellam with the Holy Lance, the spear that was used to pierce Christ on the Cross. Through this ‘Dolorous Stroke’, a sacrilege, the surrounding country turns into barren land for many years. The story came up in the thirteenth century and was included in Malory’s Morte Darthur, Book II.

That fits. I just thought readers here might also find this interesting.