Thursday, April 18, 2013

CS Lewis on Gender

A transgendered friend of mine came across the following quote from a book of CS Lewis quotes:

"Everyone must sometimes have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and others feminine. What is masculine about a mountain or feminine about certain trees? Ransom has cured me of believing that this is a purely morphological phenomenon, depending on the form of the word. Still less is gender an imaginative extension of sex. Our ancestors did not make mountains masculine because they projected male characteristics into them. The real process is the reverse. Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply on of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity." -Perelandra, pg. 171-172

She got excited because she thought this quote would help her son understand her better. Now, I saw this and thought something fishy is going on here. C.S. Lewis was a very orthodox Christian. This quote in context could not possibly be saying all that my friend hoped it was. And so, I sat down to the Space Trilogy

Overall, I would say this is an excellent, thought-provoking series, but do not sit down to it if you're looking for a light, mind-less story. These books are crammed full of explicit and not-so-explicit theology, especially theology in regards to the nature of evil. I read the first two books back-to-back and I'm going to wait a while before starting the third because my brain needs a break.

Back to the quote: The quote is found near the end of the second book, Perelandra. Spoiler alert: Dr. Ransom had just saved Perelandra (aka Venus) from unimaginable evil. Before leaving the planet, he meets the gods of Mars and Venus. The god of Mars is male. The god of Venus is female. Both of these gods are body-less spirits. This leads Ransom to reflect on the fact that gender is more than the body. There are inanimate objects that have an undefinable feminine-ness or masculine-ness as illustrated in many of the world's languages. One cannot truly put their finger on exactly what feminine and masculine means.
If this is what my transgendered friend wants to use the quote for, she is exactly right. She can tell her son that some of the greatest minds in history recognized that gender is more than biological sex (Including but not limited to JPII, the authors of the Catechism, St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle). One of the things I appreciate most about my Catholic faith is the recognition that we are more than our bodies, we are more than our spirits. We are both. We will see that in the end of days in which we will all be resurrected body and soul. A dualist mentality is truly inconsistent with a Roman Catholic worldview.  You can see all the way back to Christ that dualism is not Christian. Jesus didn't reject the physical world, he embraced it. As Christians, we cannot disparage the physical nor can we ignore the spiritual.

This is a far cry, however, from saying that CS Lewis would be supportive of transsexuals. The key concept here is that we are both body and spirit. God created each one of us in our mother's wombs. God created us to be male or female. Our gender, while it is not solely a matter of our physical characteristics, is defined by both our natural characteristics and our spirit. Our physical bodies are completely and intricately linked to our souls. We are embodied souls. 
The Catholic Church considers it a mutilation of the body to remove perfectly functioning sexual organs and replace them with something that looks right, but cannot function. It is a psychological disorder requiring a psychological treatment, the Church argues. Someone changing their sex does not only affect the transsexual, but also their families, friends, and communities. It breaks relationships. It has been judged that sexual reassignment surgery can be used if it will cure a person of their emotional and psychological pain, but many in the Church are not convinced that surgery is the only answer.
All of that said, some of the language used by Church leaders in regards to these issues have been very hurtful and not pastorally sensitive. I am reminded frequently of Benedict XVI's Christmas address in 2008 in which he seems to accuse transsexuals of simple rebellion and equate sexual reassignment surgery with the destruction of a rainforest. (May be a misinterpretation) I hear from transsexuals and other transgendered that they feel as if the Church considers them "deformed" and "disordered."
I'd ask you to put yourself in their shoes, but you cannot know what they go through if you are not yourself transsexual. It is completely outside of our experience to feel like you're in the wrong body. Most of us don't know what it's like to feel so completely uncomfortable in your own skin that your willing to endure major surgery and alienate half your family to alleviate your own pain.
My friend mentioned earlier has a strained relationship with her own son over this. Her son is a devout Christian and she's looking for a way to explain herself in his terms. In this quote, she has found a way to poetically describe the complexity of gender, but she hasn't completely defended herself. Especially if her son happens to be Catholic.
Here is another quote to ponder:

"Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day."-Gaudium et Spes

Read more of many different views:
For more about Perelandra:


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