by Janice B. Brown
Lewis ends the chapter “Sexual Morality” with a remarkable assertion: “…a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute” (p. 95). Why does Lewis consider spiritual sins to be worse than sins of the flesh? What is Lewis’s view of the proper role of sexuality, pleasure, and chastity for Christians?
The Cardinal (or Deadly) Sins are frequently separated into cold hearted and warm hearted sins. The warm-hearted sins—that include gluttony and lust—are generally thought of as more physical than spiritual. The cold-hearted sins, by contrast, are more deliberate, more deep-rooted, and more cruel. This thinking underlies Lewis’s view of sins of flesh, including sexual sin.
Lewis saw Dante as one of the greatest Christian writers of all time, and he would agree with Dante’s view of the relative seriousness of various states of sin. Dante places the sin of lust at one of the higher levels of the cone of hell (The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto V), and sees lust in its simplest form (i.e. when it not compounded with more serious sins like cruelty and treachery) as a kind of incontinence. He presents it as the least hateful of the deadly sins. The most terrible sins—those punished at the lower levels of Dante’s hell—are those involving maliciousness, cruelty and betrayal.