Dorothy Sayers on Modernity’s Sexual Malaise

In her essay, “The Other Six Deadly Sins,” (collected in Creed or Chaos) Dorothy Sayers writes:

There are two main reasons for which people fall into the sin of Luxuria [lust]. It may be through sheer exuberance of animal spirits: in which case a sharp application of the curb may be all that is needed to bring the body into subjection and remind it of its proper place in the scheme of man’s twofold nature. Or—and this commonly happens in periods of disillusionment like our own, when philosophies are bankrupt and life appears without hope—men and women may turn to lust in sheer boredom and discontent, trying to find in it some stimulus which is not provided by the drab discomfort of their mental and physical surroundings. When that is the case, stern rebukes and restrictions are worse than useless. It is as though one were to endeavour to cure anaemia by bleeding; it only reduces further an already impoverished vitality. The mournful and medical aspect of twentieth-century pornography and promiscuity strongly suggests that we have reached one of these periods of spiritual depression, where people go to bed because they have nothing better to do. In other words, the “regrettable moral laxity” of which respectable people complain may have its root cause not in Luxuria at all, but in some other of the sins of society, and may automatically begin to cure itself when that root cause is removed.

3 thoughts on “Dorothy Sayers on Modernity’s Sexual Malaise

  1. Indeed. Of course, that basically also suggests that we shouldn’t worry much about notions of individual culpability (or, at least, only our own but never other people’s) and that “going after” this decadence in political and religious discourse is confusing cause and symptom.

    It’s a shame conservatives don’t consider Marx more. Not that I agree with him about everything, but I think he at least began the process of demystifying certain things (like power and value) that are really “structural” sociological realities, allowing us to see something like desire not as some sort of individualistic thing, but as something more like the product of a “social gradient” of various tensions and cross-pressures in the very structure of the network of society.

    Free will may be enough to explain individual actions. It is not enough to explain major demographic shifts in the very structure of society or culture, why previous equilibriums are disrupted, why history has progressed the way it has in terms of the evolution of political values etc.

  2. Thanks for this post – it creates avenues for creatively thinking about our current culture and a Christian response to the culture in which – ‘we move and have our being’.

  3. Pingback: Monday, September 9, 2013 | Tipsy Teetotaler

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