This is taken from the collection of Tolkien’s letters edited by Humphrey Carpenter.

49 To C. S. Lewis (draft)

[A comment on Lewis’s suggestion, in Christian Behaviour (1943), that ‘there ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage’: Christian marriage, which is binding and lifelong, and marriage-contracts solemnised only by the State, which make no such demands. The draft, apparently written in 1943, was found tucked into Tolkien’s copy of Lewis’s booklet.]

My dear L.,

 I have been reading your booklet ‘Christian Behaviour’. I have never felt happy about your view of Christian ‘policy’ with regard to divorce. I could not before say why – because on the surface your policy seems to be reasonable; and it is at any rate the system under which Roman Catholics already live. For the moment I will not argue whether your policy is in fact right (for today), even an inevitable situation. But I should like to point out that your opinion is in your booklet based on an argument that shows a confusion of thought discoverable from that booklet itself.

p. 34. ‘I’d be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine.’ Justly so. Let us consider this point alone, at first. Why? Well, if we try to ascend straightaway to a rational plane, and leave behind mere anger with anyone who interferes with our habits (good or bad), the answer is:

because the Mohammedans would be guilty of injustice. They would be injuring us by depriving us of our share in a universal human right, the temperate use of wine, against our will. You made that quite clear in your remarks about Temperance, p. 13.

But look now at pp. 26, 30, 31. There you will observe that you are really committed (with the Christian Church as a whole) to the view that Christian marriage – monogamous, permanent, rigidly ‘faithful’ – is in fact the truth about sexual behaviour for all humanity: this is the only road of total health (including sex in its proper place) for all men and women. That it is dissonant with men’s present sex-psychology does not disprove this, as you see: ‘I think it is the instinct that has gone wrong,’ you say. Indeed if this were not so, it would be an intolerable injustice to impose permanent monogamy even on Christians. If Christian marriage were in the last analysis ‘unnatural’ (of the same type as say the prohibition of flesh-meat in certain monastic rules) it could only be imposed on a special ‘chastity-order’ of the Church, not on the universal Church. No item of compulsory Christian morals is valid only for Christians. (See II Social Morality at the beginning.) Do I not then say truly that your bringing in of Mohammedans on p. 34 is a most stinking red-herring? I do not think you can possibly support your ‘policy’, by this argument, for by it you are giving away the very foundation of Christian marriage. The foundation is that this is the correct way of ‘running the human machine’. Your argument reduces it merely to a way of (perhaps?) getting an extra mileage out of a few selected machines. [Note by Tolkien: ‘Christian marriage is not a prohibition of sexual intercourse, but the correct way of sexual temperance – in fact, probably the best way of getting the most satisfying sexual pleasure, as alcoholic temperance is the best way of enjoying beer and wine.’]

The horror of the Christians with whom you disagree (the great majority of all practising Christians) at legal divorce is in the ultimate analysis precisely that: horror at seeing good machines ruined by misuse. I could hope that, if you ever get a chance of alterations, you would make the point clear. Toleration of divorce – if a Christian does tolerate it – is toleration of a human abuse, which it requires special local and temporary circumstances to justify (as does the toleration of usury) – if indeed either divorce or genuine usury should be tolerated at all, as a matter merely of expedient policy.

Under your limitations of space you have not, of course, had opportunity to elaborate your ‘policy’ – toleration of abuse. But I must suppose you have considered it, as a practical policy in the present world. You do not speak of your two-marriage system as a merely expedient policy, but as if it was somehow related to the Christian virtue of charity. Still I think you can only defend it as an expedient; as a surgeon who, knowing that an operation is necessary for a patient’s health, does not operate because he can’t (the patient and the patient’s foolish advisers won’t allow him); or does not even advocate the operation, because the Anti-Surgical League is so powerful and vocal that he is afraid of being beaten up. A Christian of your view is, as we have seen, committed to the belief that all people who practise ‘divorce’ – certainly divorce as it is now legalized – are misusing the human machine (whatever philosophical defence they may put up), as certainly as men who get drunk (doubtless with a philosophic defence also). They are injuring themselves, other people, and society, by their behaviour. And wrong behaviour (if it is really wrong on universal principles) is progressive, always: it never stops at being ‘not very good’, ‘second best’ – it either reforms, or goes on to third-rate, bad, abominable. In no department is that truer than in sex – as you yourself vividly exhibit, in the comparison between a dish of bacon and strip-tease. You show too that you yourself suspect that the break-down of sex-reticence in our time has not made matters better but worse. Anyone in any case can see that the enormous extension and facilitation of ‘divorce’ in our days, since those of (say) Trollopean society, has done great social harm. It is a slippery slope – leading quickly to Reno, and beyond: in fact already to a promiscuity barely restrained by legalities: for a pair can now divorce one another, have an interlude with new partners, and then ‘re-marry’. A situation is being, has been, produced in which ordinary unphilosophical and irreligious folk are not only not restrained by law from inconstancy, but are actually by law and social custom encouraged to inconstancy. I need hardly add that a situation is thus being produced in which it is intolerably hard to bring up Christian youth in Christian sexual morals (which are ex hypothesi correct morals for all, and which will be lost but which depend upon Christian youth for their maintenance).

On what grounds then do you part company with those Christians who resist, step by step, attempts to extend and make divorce easier? (On one point only would I agree. I do not view extension of the provisions of the law to all classes (irrespective of rank and money) as an extension of divorce – it is rather justice: if you can have real justice in evil. I think in so desperate a battle (about so fundamental and vital a matter) that resistance even of ‘cheapening’ of divorce may be defended – why not save the poor by their poverty?; but I admit that as an expedient policy it may be given an ugly twist by the enemy.)

I should like to know on what grounds you base your ‘two-marriage’ system! From the biological-sociological point of view I gather (from Huxley and others) that monogamy is probably highly beneficial to a community. On that plane, permanence and rigid fidelity would not appear at first sight to be essential. All that the ‘social director’ requires would seem to be a high degree of sexual continence. But has this ever been, and can it ever be in fact achieved without ‘sanctions’ or religio-legal ordinance that invests the marriage contract with ‘awe’? It does not look like it. The battle may be a losing one, but I cannot help suspecting that those who fight against the divorce in this case of law and religion are in the right. Sentire cum ecclesia: how often one finds that this is a true guide. I say this all the more cheerfully, because on this point I myself dissented in feeling (not expressly because I am under saving obedience). But I was then still under the delusion that Christian marriage was just a bit of special behaviour of my ‘sect or order’.

The last Christian marriage I attended was held under your system: the bridal pair were ‘married’ twice. They married one another before the Church’s witness (a priest), using one set of formulas, and making a vow of lifelong fidelity (and the woman of obedience); they then married again before the State’s witness (a registrar, and in this case – adding in my view to the impropriety – a woman) using another set of formulas and making no vow of fidelity or obedience. I felt it was an abominable proceeding – and also ridiculous, since the first set of formulas and vows included the latter as the lesser. In fact it was only not ridiculous on the assumption that the State was in fact saying by implication: I do not recognize the existence of your church; you may have taken certain vows in your meeting-place but they are just foolishness, private taboos, a burden you take on yourself: a limited and impermanent contract is all that is really necessary for citizens. In other words this ‘sharp division’ is a piece of propaganda, a counter-homily delivered to young Christians fresh from the solemn words of the Christian minister.

[The draft ends here.]