In a letter to Isherwood—a letter that may have been the source of Isherwood’s comment—Auden wrote, “Though I believe it sinful to be queer, it has at least saved me from becoming a pillar of the Establishment.” The comment is illuminating. Auden tried to resist his sexual temptations, but felt them to be stronger than he was. In one poem he ruefully echoes a famous prayer of Augustine’s, writing “I am sorry I’m not sorry . . . / Make me chaste, Lord, but not yet.” But his determination to “bless what there is for being” led him to seek ways to be grateful to God even for his sins and afflictions, through which he believed God to work for His own purposes. Hence his thankfulness not to have become an Establishment figure. He also believed that the homosexual was less likely to engage in the idolatry of eros that is so common among heterosexuals. In his view his sexuality was, therefore, an affliction that bore the seeds of potential blessings.
But however complex Auden’s attitude toward these matters, the mere fact that he was homosexual has written him off the books of many Christians—even Christians who are quick to forgive C. S. Lewis’ peculiar liaison with Mrs. Moore, or Charles Williams’ penchant for spanking and being spanked by young women. The Christian world has its hierarchy of sins, and may be right in its judgments. But it is singularly unfortunate that, even if we have judged Auden’s sins rightly, we should allow that judgment to stand in the way of learning from the wisdom contained in his writings.
(Dead link fixed 4.24.11)