Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Christians and Abstinence - Why?
In Maddy Kronovet's post in The Spin today, entitled "Do I feel like a virgin or a whore tonight?", Ms. Kronovet criticizes students who choose to abstain from sex before marriage, with an emphasis on those who do so for religious reasons.
As is often the case when someone writes about a culture with which he or she is not well acquainted, the post reveals a two-dimensional understanding of why Christians choose abstinence and what it's like for them.
Being a Christian and acquainted with what might loosely (and somewhat incorrectly) be called evangelical culture here at Penn, I thought I would try and explain the basics.
The big myth is that Christians believe that sex is bad and you shouldn't do it. In this myth's narrative, Christians who abstain are blindly following teachings from the Bible which are archaic and counterintuitive.
On the contrary, Christians have a higher view of sex than popular perspectives today do. Christians believe that our bodies are inseparable from our selves, and that the physical union of a man and a woman in sex signifies and accomplishes the complete union of those two people.
This complete union is also known as marriage, after which, as Jesus says, "they are no longer two, but one flesh" (Mark 10:8). Note that I said sex both signifies and accomplishes this union: more than just symbolic, sex actually encompasses the spiritual and physical reality of two people becoming one.
From here, it's not difficult to see from where a belief in abstinence before marriage comes. In fact, in this view pre-marital sex is impossible. All sex is marital.
Jesus goes on to say in that passage, "Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate" (Mark 10:9). That doesn't mean that people can't separate, as many demonstrate with their lifestyles. But in the Biblical view, all of this sexual activity is nothing less than adultery.
Do we Christians look down on the sexually active majority around us? We shouldn't. To the extent that we do, we are sinning just as much as those we would think ourselves better than. The same Jesus that said the above words also said, "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matthew 7:1). Judging is Jesus's job, and when we do it we are pretending to be him. Unlike him, we're not perfect, and so we are made hypocrites.
That's not to say we are indifferent. Christians wish others would be abstinent as well, not simply because we want to enforce an arbitrary moral code, but because we believe that the Bible's view of sex is so much better (in all senses of the word) than Cosmopolitan's, and we would love for everyone to share.
"Why knock something you haven't tried?" asks Kronovet. I would repeat the same challenge to her. It is countercultural to put off pleasure now for pleasure later, but when the future pleasure promises to be much greater* than the presently available one, abstinence is a proposition which makes good economic sense.
And economic sense is something upon which most students at Penn can agree.
* What do I mean by greater pleasure? By Cosmopolitan's standards, this statement is ridiculous. Cosmo and Western culture at large teach that the utility of sex is in its ability to bring mind-blowing orgasms, and the quality of one's sex life can be measured by the integral of all sexual pleasure over time. In this view, any period of abstinence is a period of no sexual pleasure and thus a decreased quality of sex life over a lifetime. So why wait?
By greater pleasure, I mean that sex in marriage is about more than physical gratification. Christians thank God for mind-blowing orgasms, but they have a lot more to thank him for, too: Having someone to be completely vulnerable - naked - with, requiring trust which is only possible in light of a lifetime commitment. The joyful hope that their union may create new life, and that the same union will provide the environment for that life to thrive. Having a companion with whom to split life's sorrows and amplify life's joys. I could go on.
Much more than antiquated and arbitrary, the Christian view of sex is beautiful enough to marvel at, too complex to be easily dismissed, and ultimately worth waiting for.
**As you can see in the photo above, my good friends Matthew and leighcia recently married. For some of leighcia's thoughts the week leading up to the wedding, see here and here. Matthew's, here and here.