C.S. Lewis on self-control

May 27, 2012

I preached this morning on the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-24. The following excerpt from Mere Christianity accompanies these verses in the C.S. Lewis Bible.

I was reminded of when I was a teenager in youth group. Several of our youth leaders, at one time or another, encouraged us to be teetotalers from “secular” music. This idea was widespread back in the ’80s. One Christian youth magazine had a chart comparing secular rock bands and artists to their Christianized equivalent: “If you like Led Zeppelin, you’ll love the Resurrection Band.” (By the way, Rez Band did rock hard and well back in the day.)

I like a lot of first-generation Christian rock; I find it spiritually nourishing. But even in high school I never bought in to the idea that we should only listen to sacred music. You weren’t going to convince me that the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour or Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home weren’t inspired by God.

Besides, the same kind of obsessive hero-worship was often transferred from Madonna and Mötley Crüe to Amy Grant and Stryper.

By the way, can any of you golf widows out there relate to his diagnosis of “golf-mania”? 😉

Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened “Temperance,” it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotalers…. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up. That is not the Christiain way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

One great piece of mischief has been done by the modern restriction of the word Temperance to the questions of drink. It helps people to forget that you can be just as intemperate about lots of other things. A man who makes his golf or his motor-bicycle the centre of his life, or a woman who devotes all her thoughts to clothes or bridge or her dog, is being just as “intemperate” as someone who gets drunk every evening. Of course, it does not show on the outside so easily: bridge-mania or golf-maina do not make you fall down in the middle of the road. But God is not deceived by externals.[†]

† C.S. Lewis, “A Matter of Self-Control” from The C.S. Lewis Bible NRSV (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 1330.

4 Responses to “C.S. Lewis on self-control”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    If you would please pass this position as to drinking on to the Southern Baptists of Texas and the Southern Baptist Convention, I would appreciate it! 🙂

    Interestingly, one of my brothers was denied a deaconship at a small S.B. church because he took this “moderation” position, even though he did not drink himself! Now he is associate pastor for one of the largest S.B. churches in Knoxville. 🙂

    • brentwhite Says:

      I think it just depends on the individual congregation. I was a cashier at a Kroger supermarket in high school, and I remember how shocked I was when I saw a couple of fellow church members buying beer along with their other groceries. I tried not to look shocked, but that’s how I felt at the time. I have long since gotten over that! 🙂

  2. robstroud Says:

    A lot of the division I saw among Christians within the military came about due to Temperance sensitivities.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I hear you, Rob. In that context, abstaining might sometimes be the right decision—if you’re surrounded by people who drink excessively. It’s tough.


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