Surprised by Surprised by Joy

I think I know why Surprised by Joy is not spoken of as much as other works by C. S. Lewis.  It’s his defense, apologetic, explanation, or toleration of homosexuality.  Having leveled such a charge I surely must put up or shut up.

In English Public School a New Boy could be a Tart. “A Tart is a pretty and effeminate-looking small boy who acts as a catamite to one or more of his seniors, usually Bloods [the ruling oligarchy at Public School – PRH] (87). On the next page Lewis remarks that pederasty was not regarded as seriously as putting your hands in your pockets or wearing your coat unbuttoned (88).

You’re right; thus far Lewis hasn’t defended homosexuality, but he hasn’t criticized it either.   At the beginning of the following chapter he addresses why “he’s written a whole chapter without one word describing his old school as a very furnace of impure loves without one word on the heinousness of the sin” (101).  His answer?  “[T]he sin in question is one of the two (gambling is the other) which I have never been tempted to commit. I will not indulge in futile philippics against enemies I never met in battle” (Ibid.).

Still this isn’t really a defense, is it? It’s more of an explanation of why there was no attack.  Read on. Beginning on page 108 he defends the system that allowed boys to peddle themselves out to older boys because it was a way for them to advance.  For this reason, “I cannot give pederasty anything like a first place among the evils of the Coll [that particular school]” (108).

Lewis criticizes people who “commonly talk as if every other evil were more tolerable than this” (Ibid.). Then he goes on to examine why people are so repulsed by it.  He rejects the idea that people are repulsed because they are as nauseated by homosexuality as they are by necrophily. The nauseousness of something, he says, has little relevance to moral judgment (108-9).  He rejects the idea that schoolboy homosexuality produces permanent perversion saying there is very little evidence that it does (109).  What about on Christian grounds?  Lewis answers, “But how many of those who fulminate on the matter are in fact Christians?  And what Christian, in a society as worldly and cruel as that of Wyvern [another school], would pick out the carnal sins for special reprobation (109)?

So why do we attack this vice?  Lewis’ answer: “We attack this vice not because it is the worst but because it is, by adult standards, the most disreputable and unmentionable, and happens also to be a crime in English Law” (109). Surprised yet? You will be: “If those of us who have known a school like Wyvern dared to speak the truth, we should have to say that pederasty, however great an evil in itself, was, in that time and place, the only foothold or cranny left for certain good things. It was the only counterpoise to the social struggle; the one oasis (though green only with weeds and most only with fetid water) in the burning desert of competitive ambition” (109).

In Lewis view both the dominant and the submissive were at their best in their homosexuality.  The above paragraph supports this view of the submissive. What follows supports this understanding for the dominant. “In his unnatural love affairs, and perhaps only there, the Blood went a little out of himself, forgot for a few hours that he was One of the Most Important People There Are. It softens the picture. A perversion was the only chink left through which something spontaneous and uncalculating could creep in. Plato was right after all. Eros, turned upside down, blackened, distorted, and filthy, still bore the traces of divinity” (109-110).

Do you think Lewis would write this way today when the only marriage anyone wants to fight for is gay?  When you can get a gay channel on your XM radio and there is/ was a Gay and Lesbian category on Netflix?  When to be heterosexual is to be guilty of having an “ism?”

I don’t know. I do know that Lewis even then called pederasty which specifically is a homosexual relationship between an adult male and a younger boy “heinous” a “perversion” “blackened, distorted, and filthy.”  Also, even though there are no laws against homosexuality in U.S., it is still considered heroic to come out of the closet.  Why? Because homosexuality is against the laws of nature written on all men’s hearts. So there is still a deep disgust and revulsion over against it akin to seeing a two-headed calf, a cat with three eyes, or anything else unnatural.

There is also something to be learned from Lewis’ statement that there is “very little evidence that” Public School pederasty produces permanent perversion (109).  It is a fact that about 10% of males in prison will resort to homosexuality. Most, however, don’t continue this when released. Gay activists get their 10% of the population is gay from the research done on imprisoned men. They have perverted the statistics on perversion. The latest stat I saw was that in America 3.8% of the population is L, G, B, or T.

What I think you have in Surprised by Joy is a man honestly trying to come to grips with what happened to and around him in his youth.  In summing up the whole relationship between the upper and lower classmen he says this, “Peace to them all. A worse fate awaited them than the most vindictive fag [In British private school this was a younger boy who had to do chores, not sexual favors, for older classmates.] among us could have wished. Ypres and the Somme ate up most of them. They were happy while their good days lasted” (94).

Like Al Bundy, their glory days were those of high school, and theirs went more deeply down hill than selling women’s shoes. They went from glory days to grave. Ypres and the Somme were infamous battles in World War I where tens of thousands of Public School graduates were chewed up in the meat grinding warfare of the trench.

The time preceding WW I was an era where pederasty in particular as well as homosexuality in general came very close to the acceptability they have achieved in our day. But then, all hell broke loose. Not only on them, but on the world. The condemnation of homosexuality in Romans 1 is not only of homosexuals but of the society, the world that makes, promotes, and accepts them. That would be us, and this shouldn’t be a surprise, and it’s definitely not one of joy.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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