A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
“The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again (p.105).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
This quote alludes to a connection between bulimia (the desire for food but not calories; chewing but not digesting) and pornography (the desire for closeness but not vulnerability; having but not belonging). But as the parallel is developed, it should be construed as the male (lust) and female (body image) version of the same problem. In recent years the struggles of men with eating disorders and women with pornography have both risen significantly.
Rather, each is a version of wanting the reward without the risk with a different pleasure. Both are forms of pseudo-comfort which in the end bring greater shame, isolation through secrecy, and life disruption. Both leave the individual feeling fake and unable to relate to others because of perceived inadequacies exacerbated by fixation on physical appearance.
Lewis hits on the key point—“you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself.” Elevating one aspect of any pleasure over the others and seeking to make that aspect compensate for the whole (the binge eating of bulimia or erotic stories associated with pornography), leaves the individual in a dangerously imbalanced condition.
Let Me Illustrate
Let me illustrate with an unrelated example. In high school, I sustained a significant ankle injury playing baseball. It required crutches and significant rehab. After several weeks of ankle exercises I got to the point that my injured ankle (left) was stronger than the other. But I was still limping as a means of self-protection.
The doctor told me, “You have to stop limping. If not, your left ankle will not be prepared to take the sudden weight shifts that happen in athletic events. By limping now you’re preventing the ankle from getting used to the full weight transfer, which is different from the muscular and ligament strength we’ve been building.”
Someone who struggles with bulimia or pornography may have an attractive figure, good social skills, and many friends of the opposite sex. Many are perfectionistic over-achievers. But they are limping (hiding) their authenticity about insecurity. Hence while their performance may be strong in key areas, they are not prepared for the vulnerability (the equivalent of sudden athletic moves of everyday relationships).
Isolated pleasure (food without calories or sexual gratification without intimacy) creates a character imbalance that results in a moral failure. With each moral failure, the “limping” becomes more logical and “needed.” If I had not stopped limping and injured my ankle again, I would want the self-protection of limping even more.
We must see the danger in picking apart the pleasures God designed for us to enjoy; as if we can reconfigure them and make an “improvement.” We are not picking undesired toppings off of a pizza. It is more like we are taking chips out of a computer and hoping it will still work. The more its performance lags, the more we tinker. Let us recognize that God’s pleasures come as wholes and ask Him for the courage to embrace them as He has designed them.
Join the Conversation
How can the concept of “wanting the reward without the risk” help you to think through heart issues behind behaviors like bulimia and pornography?