May 23, 2019

Klasie Kraalogies: Purity Culture?

Purity Culture?
by Klasie Kraalogies

In January 2015, the Washington Post announced that the famed Joshua Harris, author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, announced his resignation from his church, and headed off to seminary. Then, by August 2016 we read that he had started grappling with the reality that maybe he wasn’t quite correct. However, from 1997 when the book was published, the no-dating-no-sex-contact-no-nothing model of courtship blossomed in the US. But…. Let me tell you an older story. You see, Joshua Harris was a virtual liberal hippy compared to the teaching on sexuality (and marriage) of some. Joshua-come-lately was way behind the curve.

In the 1960’s there arose a sect in South Africa that decided, beyond all the normal don’ts of fundamentalism – no TV! no Sunday sport! modest dress! (btw, that is generally meant for the female of the species, more than the male) that all forms of dating and courtship are wrong, designed by Satan to trick the faithful, just like old Potiphar’s wife (see painting by Guido Reni). When the time is right, maybe when you are 19, maybe when you are 59, he will show you your wife (it never goes the other way, mind you), and the, once everyone has prayed and feels that it is God’s will, well, presto, there is your life partner! Some version of the Isaac and Rebecca story – minus the servant.

I can see you everyone, or almost everyone reading this roll their eyes. But let me challenge you thus: Where does this come from? Is this not simply a slightly over-the-top result of the teaching, and more important, the culture around sexuality that has been practised in, well, many societies for ever so long? Some, like Rome, made a fetish of perpetual virginity, somehow imparting the idea that true spirituality excludes all thoughts and actions of giving an inch to our reproductive biology. The multitude of scandals out there (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-47134033) shows how workable that approach is. And it would be unfair to single out Romish fallibility – Rome is hardly unique.

That is all understood. But let’s travel back to the mid-eighties and examine a particular young fellow.

Once the young man reached the age when the nether stirrings are undeniable (about 12/13 years old?), he was suddenly confronted with the idea that sex is sin. Why? He wasn’t married – and still way too young. He was most emphatically not allowed to notice the swelling breasts, the long legs, etc etc around him. He couldn’t even touch their hands. Even briefly thinking about a girl was a horrible thought crime. And, since the preacherman loved to quote the plucking of eyes and the cutting of tongues, he started avoiding contact with the opposite sex as much as possible. Any or all women could be Potiphar’s wife! If they aren’t married, God might have destined them for someone, so looking at them is the same as adultery with a married woman! He suffered unending mental agony – and it is years before he discovered simple things – that “wet dreams” and even erections are involuntary. He felt driven to confess his dreams.

Everything was sin…

The result is a given. At a far too young age, he becomes convinced that he is being led to marry – but he does not know her of course.

Thus he marries. And suddenly his whole universe must flip -up is now down and down is up and evil nature is now godly nature (sometimes), all by the stroke of a pen on a marriage certificate. How to work out this mess? And while this is going on, he quickly discovers the personality of his now life partner – and to his infinite dismay, he discovers he is wedded, death-do-us-part someone his psychiatrist will inform him 2 decades later is likely suffering from NPD (narcissistic personality disorder). More about that another time.

You, see, he wasn’t allowed to have a friendship even – purity was understood and preached as if one was running a sterile laboratory. Not as respect – the word didn’t come into it. Respect was for parents, government, and especially, preachermen. So he walked headlong into a nightmare, in the agony (as he now understands, with the wisdom of time and suffering) of seeking an outlet to the natural desire for friendship, companionship, and romance, bequeathed to him by one-and-a-quarter billion years of evolution.

And of course, by ecclesiastical and parental decree, that is where he must stay, because anything else is sin. Which of course leads to hellfire.

Yip, as you have probably guessed, this is autobiographical. And much has been left out. But I am by no means unique. If we return to the after affects of Harris’ book, we discover testimonies like this:

 

 

 

Instead of protection, these teachings led to suffering, to dysfunction, and yes, to abuse. And as one discovers the more you dig into this, the damage is much worse for the young women than the young men. For some, normal intercourse remains an impossibility, as years of shaming and teaching have left psychological scars that precludes true intimacy.

I would close with the observation that much of this is cultural – but the church is culture, by and large. I am not a Christian, but it would be a fairly easy task to put together a positive and informative sexual ethic that is not incompatible with the basics of the faith, that does not rely on ancient instincts of power, control and shaming. Other wise the damaged lives will just keep on proliferating. I, for one, have had enough.

Comments

  1. Written with feeling 🙂

    Read with feeling too.

    There was a preacherman in our group of churches who did a talk on “the first one is the right one”*, which influenced all my adolescent years. Kept me out of mischief, possibly (well, mischief with other people…), but didn’t help me develop any kind of relational or emotional maturity. Leaving me cruelly unprepared to choose, assess, or coexist with my future spouse.

    That said, I’m not sure I’d want to go all the other way to the “if I don’t have sex I’ll die”-based ethics of some people in the church today. And I think that (as per Henry James’ The Lesson of the Master), there might be something in the idea of channelling sexual energy into creativity or vocation. But that has to be chosen, not imposed, obviously.

    (*I believe that in later life, there was a bit of a scandal surrounding preacherman, who may have helped himself to seconds…)

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      Lots and lots of feeling 🙂

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Something I concluded long ago:

      CHRISTIANS ARE JUST AS SCREWED-UP SEXUALLY AS EVERYONE ELSE.
      JUST IN A DIFFERENT (AND USUALLY OPPOSITE) DIRECTION.

      • I would agree. The difference might be: with Christians, the screwing-up is usually self-inflicted; with “everyone else,” it’s OTHERS who end up getting screwed-up. Which is worse then: self-sexual abuse or sexual abuse of others?

        • (I should add… that’s mainly asked rhetorically, as the answer is “why suffer EITHER of those”?)

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      That said, I’m not sure I’d want to go all the other way to the “if I don’t have sex I’ll die”-based ethics of some people in the church today.

      Which itself is just jumping on a bandwagon and going “Me, Too!”

      Communism begets Objectivism — total opposites on the surface, identical in One True Way fanaticism beneath.

    • I agree 100%. I’ve largely been noticing similar things myself. I honestly feel the sin paranoia of purity culture inhibits emotional and spiritual maturation. It fosters a very narrow and unrealistic way of looking at the world that offers such little hope against the monster of temptation young people are going to face. My experience has been that it more often than not sets people up for failure on any number of fronts.

      There’s a reason for this. Purity culture relies on a three-pronged approach to manipulate young people into behaving: Fear (STD’s, emotional/spiritual/relational consequences), shame (the stigmatizing of this one sin above all others as definitive to the core of the person, and the retraction of all hope for any who make mistakes) and false promises (about how awesome your life will be if you follow this increasingly narrow formula).

      Most kids grow up to discover they can avoid most negative consequences if they’re even just a little smart about everything, the shame from extensive social conditioning is something they can learn to ignore, or for those that follow the rules, it can still turn out very badly for them in any number of ways.

      And then these adult kids are left wondering what to do with this faith that has so badly misled them.

      In my own life, such a culture gave me a narrow view of the world that it prevented me from effectively addressing my own personal weaknesses, gave me a very cynical view of other people that inhibited the development of meaningful relationships with them, and fostered an impractical naiveté concerning how best to order the direction of my life. The hindsight continues to become more clear 20 years after…

      • Well said Miguel.

      • Klasie Kraalogies says

        Good comment, Miguel.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Would it be accurate to say that “such a culture” arrested or slowed your emotional and personality development?

        • I think there is something about the nature of fundamentalism generally that reinforces shallow thinking, a narrow view of life, a tribalistic view of others, and an impractically formulaic pattern of personal development. None of the above squares with much of reality nor contributes to human flourishing. Purity culture, in this sense, is merely an expression of those things in regard to a traditional Christian sexual ethic, amped up by Puritan over-regulation, and apparently in many cases, sexism.

          For myself, I sometimes find it rather odd that I’ve retained a traditional Christian ethic at all, whilst somehow reducing the influence of Puritanism and fundamentalism on my psyche, but at other times, I’m not completely convinced I’ve landed on my feet yet. After being fed the idea for so long that being a “good Christian,” as defined by fundamentalism purity culture, would lead to a good life, you can only have so many experiences that do not fit in this box before you find your entire epistemology somewhat upended.

          I’m not terribly good at finding or maintaining happiness in life, though I don’t know to what extent this played a role. On the one hand, I’ve lost all certainty on where/how to seek it, and have become equally uncertain that it ought to be the priority which the American dream seems to suggest.

          IOW, I’m still left with a large degree of uncertainty on many things, having come out of this view of the world. I do not feel it built me into a mature, decisive, and confident person. I’ve seen it have similar effect on a good number of others. I’m not really sure what it looks like, especially as a parent, to hold to traditional Christian morality while avoiding these pitfalls.

      • Great comment, and nice to have you drop in and comment on this topic, Miguel.

  2. And it would be unfair to single out Romish fallibility – Rome is hardly unique.

    In this last week, a huge scandal has broken out in the U.S. in the wake of the publication of an investigative journalist story about hundreds of sexual offenses committed by hundreds ministers and lay helpers against and even greater number of victims in the Southern Baptist Convention over the last 15 years, mostly in Texas. In the last decades, activists had warned the Southern Baptist Convention leaders that these kinds of things were likely happening given the unhealthy culture surrounding sexuality and clerical power in many of the congregations, but the church leadership refused to institute reform; perhaps now they may start listening….or maybe not.

    • The investigation focused on incidents in Texas, and was conducted by two Texas-based newspapers, but you can be sure that it is not limited to that state.

      • Nor is the problem confined to any denomination, fundamentalist to progressive or anywhere in between. As long as leaders are primarily concerned with “the good name of the church” instead of doing the right thing, problems will continue.

        • It is more pervasive in church bodies that have no accountability to a larger institution that has developed and implemented good policies to prevent it. The Roman Catholic Church has a bad track record, and hasn’t adequately fessed up to the problematic historical institutional practices and culture that led to its problem, but in the last 15 years good preventative practices have been instituted at the local parish level by the national and international Church. The RCC was been able to do this because it has the ability to make its dioceses and parishes accountable to changes made at the higher levels. But the SBC, which is so local congregation-centered that it almost isn’t a denomination at all, and the other loosely affiliated evangelical “denominations” and independent churches that are similarly congregation-centered are in many ways, or even all ways, accountable to nothing but the local leadership. When the local leadership is the problem, because it looks the other way and lets violators off the hook with a slap on the wrist, after which they simply find another congregation-centered church to work in, systemic changes to rectify the situation won’t work, because there is no authoritative institution to make and/or enforce the changes, i.e., there is no “sytem”.

          • Is there any evidence that the RCC has actually improved? Just asking because I don’t know.

            • Aside from the evidence readily available online, I can tell you from personal experience that the culture has changed at local parishes. My wife worked as a supply musician for two years at a local parish, and in order to even be in a room where children were present (she wasn’t teaching kids, only playing for services), she had to get a criminal background check, get fingerprinted, and pass a certification class training her in the definitions of sexual misconduct and her legal obligations in reporting those she suspected to be in violation. Zero tolerance and the obligation to report are now policy in the national Catholic Church. That goes for treatment of children and adults.

    • Those who do listen will likely end up leaving. Those who don’t will likely end up doubling down on the whole package, because “Satan is attacking us for Standing For Truth”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      In the last decades, activists had warned the Southern Baptist Convention leaders that these kinds of things were likely happening given the unhealthy culture surrounding sexuality and clerical power in many of the congregations, but the church leadership refused to institute reform

      Instead, they pointed fingers and piously intoned “We Thank Thee, LOOOOOOOOOOORD, That WE Are NOTHING Like Those FILTHY ROMISH PAPIST PRIESTS Over There…”

  3. I, too, bear scars from such teachings, multiplied over by my natural introversion and social awkwardness.

    Unfortunately, I am not optimistic about this problem in general. Given their innate conservatism and reflexive “abstinence good, (liberal) culture bad” mentality, evangelicalism isn’t going to be too inclined to change. And given their definition of biblical truth as eternal, propositional, and transcendent, even those so inclined to change will find it much easier to leave than get the ship to alter course.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I, too, bear scars from such teachings, multiplied over by my natural introversion and social awkwardness.

      Same here. I’m 63, never married, had only one girlfriend some 35 years ago.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        One oddity in my life is that I was NOT raised in Christianese Purity Culture, but ended up internalizing most all its tropes. I’m not sure how or why.

        My only explanation is growing up isolated and socially retarded with nose in books and parents who had time-stopped culturally around 1950-53 when outside our house’s walls the Sixties were in full swing. Very introverted, very socially awkward, very much an outcast, a walking IQ score/giant brain in a jar.

        Possible “Conservation of Neurological Energy”, advanced in some traits and behind in others; could not swallow a pill or run like a boy instead of a girl until I was around 20.

        Purity Culture tropes (primarily Virgin/Whore Dichotomy) plus bad experiences (borderline-Aspie Fifties kid sledgehammered by the Sexual Revolution) in both high school hell and after left me InCel (by base definition, not by getting in the news) with a deep distrust of women. Only exception to this constant striking out was Ann, the only girlfriend I ever had (early Eighties); things broke up in the mid-Eighties and I never did get over her.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Though I wonder if the one thing in common to both Christanese Purity Culture and my childhood — MYTHOLOGIZED NIFTY FIFTIES CULTURE — is the key.

          IF Ozzie & Harriet Mythic Fifties = Godliness…

  4. It would also be helpful to note that the basis of this purity culture – the Bible, and a particular way of approaching it – reflects the values (and realities) of a very different culture and time. A truly ‘biblical’ marriage is one that is arranged by the parents (with the primary concern being to protect or enhance the honor of the family/clan/tribe), and the happy couple becomes hitched in their mid-teens (at least for the girl). In that happy family, the wife will always be treated as an outsider, and the most affectionate relationship she has will not be with her husband but her oldest son. Desire is considered evil – and never the basis of marriage, and usually discouraged within marriage. ‘Lusting’ after any woman (even if both the ‘luster’ and the ‘lustee’ are unmarried) is dangerous (and wrong) because EVERY woman is spoken for – either she is married or promised at an early age to someone. She is, or will be, the property of another.

    Given that we now marry for different reasons (based on values other than honor/shame culture), marry much older (often late 20s or early 30s rather than mid-teens), and are more concerned about mutual happiness, perhaps trying to impose iron-age values and marriage models on modern Americans is not the wisest use of the Bible.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      It would also be helpful to note that the basis of this purity culture – the Bible, and a particular way of approaching it – reflects the values (and realities) of a very different culture and time.

      Already anticipated you, Greg.
      “JESUS CHRIST — THE SAME YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND FOREVER.”

  5. Do you have to be Canadian to get a guest column?

  6. Iain Lovejoy says

    Having had the good fortune not to grow up in this kind of subculture (this subcultute is pretty rare in the UK AFAIK, and even rarer 40 years ago) I didn’t have this problem, so natural introversion and social awkwardness had to do their thing unassisted.
    I can get my head round (sort of) the purity mentality, and sort of see how you can end up thinking two people can have sex “accidentally” in the sense of being carried away in the moment, but have great difficulty understanding this business mentioned in the testimonies above about the subculture’s (purported?) incomprehension of the concept of consent. How does this even work? Even without any comprehension of sex at all it is surely self-evident that making someone do a thing they do not wish to do or doing to them a thing they do not wish you to is bad, and to inflict a serious wrong on them? If you then add in a notion that sex is horrible and defiling and will somehow “ruin” the other person this would surely make it more, not less, comprehensible that this would be a very bad thing?
    Can anyone explain the thought processes involved here?

    • I saw this up close and personal on several occasions, and usually some form of determinism (if out outright Calvinism) plays a role in the thinking. After all, if God ultimately decides your eternal destiny with no input from you, why shouldn’t He also determine your spouse in the same manner?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        From the above, Klassie was in an Extremist sect in South Africa, and Boer/Afrikaaner Christianity was Reformed(TM), descended from Dutch Calvinism. Probably More Calvinist than Calvin.

    • If you’re a girl who’s been told your whole life that your body is shameful and sex is taboo, the irony is that speaking up for yourself and having an adult conversation about what you do or don’t want can seem a whole lot more daunting and embarrassing than just saying nothing and letting it happen.

      And if you’re a boy who grew up in that same culture, you’ve been taught that any immodesty on the part of a girl *is* implicit consent and that you’re helpless to resist your feelings in any case. (And, you’ve also been taught to view women as objects to be used, exploited, or controlled by men, rather than as equals.)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Especially when Christianese Purity Culture bribes the boy to save himself for marriage(TM) with tales of Barn-Burning, Swinging from the Chandeliers Dynamite Married S*E*X starting on the first night. Add in “Don’t Think Pink” vs puberty supercharged by (sexual) Purity teaching after (sexual) Purity teaching and osmosis from the outside, and the Christianese Purity Boy is getting married with some REAL unrealistic expectations.
        Like expecting his bride to morph from Virgin Unto Death to Personal Porn Star (fulfilling years of pent-up frustration-turned-paraphilia) the instant she says “I Do”.

        Having to do such an instantaneous one-eighty flip through Virgin/Whore Dichotomy can’t be good for the female in the mix, either. Bummer all around, all Commanded by GAWD under pain of Eternal Hell.

      • I don’t deny this happens (young boys having their lack of impulse control rationalized), but that is only where fundamental purity culture intersects with sexism. That is not always the case.

        The purity culture I was raised in was surprisingly egalitarian. While women were held responsible for what was considered their realm of influence in terms of dress and consent, they were also very hard on the men. To even attempt to initiate was considered a failure of masculinity and an abdication of the male role of protector.

        Sure, they divided the roles up neatly and evenly (there wasn’t much of a context for male consent, it was assumed they were always willing, and neither was there much consideration of female initiation), but the level of responsibility was put on each of us equally.

        Which is to say that, having lived through it, I identify much more strongly with the girls in your first paragraph than the boys in your second. And I think that is very common in places that aren’t run by a good ol’ boys club devoid of chivalry.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          that is only where fundamental purity culture intersects with sexism. That is not always the case.

          Though from what I’ve read on other spiritual-abuse blogs, it’s often enough the case.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > and sort of see how you can end up thinking two people can have sex “accidentally”

      This part always baffled me in the time I existed in that culture. Just, Huh?

      > incomprehension of the concept of consent.

      It is DEEPLY problematic, as we bear witness too nearly every day now. See your first comment on the “accidentally”; sex is something that “happens”. It is very damaged.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The pattern seems to be “Who Needs ‘Consent’ when We Have SCRIPTURE?”

        With a lot of “The ENEMY teaches ‘Consent’ SO WE HAVE TO BE AGAINST IT!”

        Culture War Without End, Amen.
        (Coming to a head in The Age of Trump.)

  7. Thank, this is me too, only difference was the nature of the psychiatric problem.

  8. FYI, comprehensive list of Bible verses talking about sex. There’s no commentary, just the verses themselves.

    https://www.openbible.info/topics/fornication

    [ I like primary sources.]

    • I find it telling that you described that as a list of verses about sex, but it’s actually a list of verses about sexual immorality. If it were actually a *comprehensive* list of verses about sex, I would expect at least one or two verses from the Song of Solomon. 🙂

      I also find it telling that some of those verses don’t even mention sexual immorality, but were apparently included just because they mentioned “bodies” (Rom 12:1-2) or “temptation” (1 Cor 10:13) or “sin” (1 Jn 1:9) or “passion” (2 Tim 2:22). That’s actually a really great illustration of how conservative folks can be so focused on sex that that’s the *only* sin they ever think the Bible is talking about, and they end up straining the gnat and swallowing the camel when it comes to sins like racism or misogyny or violence.

      • senecagriggs says

        So M.Z., only conservatives are focused on sex sins? Puhleese

        Liberals/progressives are every bit as focused – just in different directions.

        “they end up straining the gnat and swallowing the camel when it comes to sins like racism or misogyny or violence.”

        Well thanks goodness the progressive community is never guilty of racism/misogny/violence – sarc

        Is there any group more “holier than thou” then Christian progressives? – the very same sin they accuse evangelicals of?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Is there any group more “holier than thou” then Christian progressives?

          Born-Again Bible-Believing Evangelicals.
          (Quit handing me such perfect straight lines…)

          • I was coming in with exactly the same line – except to add ‘particularly when they are talking about progressives – or indeed, any other Christian group than themselves’.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          Even if everything you say is true: So what? It does nothing to validate your position/ arguments.

          Is the defense of your epistemology really: “oh, yeah, well they suck too!” ??? That’s juvenile.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      Exodus 22 – raped women have no choice but to marry their rapists if he wants. Some morality that!

      No- purity culture does selective reading – texts out of context turn into pretexts.

      • thatotherjean says

        Raped women had no choice but to marry their rapists–and the rapists had no choice about marrying the woman they raped. And they couldn’t divorce them. After all, defiled women had no value to their birth families, and SOMEBODY had to be responsible for seeing to it that they were fed, clothed, and housed. Ancient Israel was a tough culture in which to be female.

        • Klasie Kraalogies says

          The rapists had a choice of not marrying – it just cost them some money. But yes, it was a bad place for women. The only ancient civilization that gave women a fair bit of rights was, ironically, Egypt.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          It was also a Bronze Age Tribal version of “You take responsibility for what you did!”

          Sometimes in a certain time, place, and culture there are NO good alternatives and your only choice is the least bad of a bunch of bad ones.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      These days the word “Fornication” is found ONLY in Christianese.
      Speak English!

    • Grab a long list of verses that have the words you want in them, yank them completely out of context, string them together, and claim they have God’s Eternal Sanction to them.

      That canine won’t pursue the game, son.

      • +1

        Utter Ridiculousness! And it’s why this brand of Christianity is dying out. And it’s why those who are a part of that form of dying Christianity continue to wave that particular banner of Truth, because they are a dying breed, darn it, and when they go away, so will God and Christ!

        Bah, humbug!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Grab a long list of verses that have the words you want in them, yank them completely out of context, string them together, and claim they have God’s Eternal Sanction to them.

        It’s called “I KNOW I’M RIGHT — I HAVE A VERSE! AND ANOTHER VERSE! AND ANOTHER! AND ANOTHER! (ad infinitum)”. And it’s the only way these Christians can argue — out-Quote the Other.

        Calvary Chapel calls this “Bible Bullets”.
        The Moonies call it “Thoughtstoppers”.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Yep

  9. Life and relationships are a joy at times and a sticky wicket at others. No matter how you slice it, it ain’t easy. I had some beautiful dating experiences under both regimes (touchy/no touchy), so to speak, and some heart ache as well. At this point I’m very glad to not be dating.

  10. To me one of the most disturbing things about conservative purity culture is the double standard: the same people who preach about the importance of women being modest will say that it’s excusable for a man to commit adultery if his wife hasn’t been bothering to keep up her appearance, or will make excuses for “locker room talk” rather than denouncing sexual harassment and assault.

    Similarly, all the talk about how men can’t control themselves tends to be used as an excuse for men, putting the burden entirely on women to maintain their own purity. That is sometimes taken so far that even if an adult man in a position of authority takes advantage of an under-age girl (e.g. some of the Southern Baptist stuff), the church will blame the girl for seducing him or even demand that she give the man’s wife an apology.

    I’m not in favor of “anything goes” ethics by any means (I waited until marriage, and I was 31 at the time). But it concerns me that by treating everything related to our bodies and our desires as shameful and taboo, we don’t actually provide young people with the tools to make good decisions. If we focused less on instilling shame and fear and more on instilling self-confidence, better communication skills, and a healthy sense of their own worth, we’d see fewer people making bad choices just because they’re unable to examine or discuss their own feelings or boundaries. (And we’d see more people learning from bad experiences and moving forward with their lives instead of just giving up on themselves if they make one “mistake.”)

    • “If we focused less on instilling shame and fear and more on instilling self-confidence, better communication skills, and a healthy sense of their own worth, we’d see fewer people making bad choices just because they’re unable to examine or discuss their own feelings or boundaries.”

      THIS! Throw in a constant diet of preaching that continually reminds us how sinful we are, how angry God is about our sin, how every intention of our heart is evil, how we are never committed, sold out, on fire, or surrendered enough, and the mix becomes toxic. Is it any wonder young people (especially girls) will do just about anything to get some sense of value or worth, including sex? Then add more guilt once that young person ‘falls’ and purity culture becomes truly toxic, perhaps even deadly. What a mess!!!!! Having spent 30+ years in that culture, I can’t imagine God is pleased with what it does to his children (regardless of all the verses seneca can throw out).

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Throw in a constant diet of preaching that continually reminds us how sinful we are, how angry God is about our sin, how every intention of our heart is evil, how we are never committed, sold out, on fire, or surrendered enough, and the mix becomes toxic.

        Toxic as Sarin or VX.
        I wonder how many suicides came from this constant Worm Theology drumbeat?

        • thatotherjean says

          I have often wondered how fundamentalist Christians reconcile “And God so loved the world. . .” with the idea that God hates sin and casts sinners into eternal hell, except for the few who say the right words and believe the right things.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Gnosticism of the Inner Ring.

          • Hello ‘That Other Jean’,

            I think that fundamentalists might be doing some kind of ‘projecting’ of their own awareness of their personal sinfulness ON TO ‘THE OTHERS’,
            and in the ‘I’m saved’ thing, they feel not just above it all but empowered to cast stones down on to ‘the others’. . . .

            Maybe it IS a form of hyper-Calvinism, with ‘the chosen’ able to judge ‘the others’ . . . only I never understood how ‘the chosen’ KNEW they were ‘saved’ exactly. . . . . but I have no doubt that they feel very comfortable pointing the finger and throwing stones at ‘that other sinner’

            I do agree with Headless that the ‘Gnostic thing’ is reflected in the dichotomy of the Pharisee-type superiority of the ‘saved’ versus the contemptible ‘that other sinner’ . . . .

            so much better the sinner’s prayer of the Publican: “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner”
            and so much better is the Sinner’s Prayer of those whose faith allows them to ask for mercy, knowing their own need for a Savior every day of their lives:
            “JESUS CHRIST, SON, SAVIOR, HAVE MERCY ON ME, A SINNER’

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              Maybe it IS a form of hyper-Calvinism, with ‘the chosen’ able to judge ‘the others’ . . . only I never understood how ‘the chosen’ KNEW they were ‘saved’ exactly. . . .

              For a long time, such Proof of Election was “material blessings”, i.e. Getting Rich. (You can see where that could lead.)

              With the current crop of over-ripe Calvinjugend, it’s Perfectly-Parsed, Truly REFORMED, Utterly CORRECT Theology.

              And One-Upmanship Counting Coup applies to both.

    • I think a lot of what you talk about gets played out in spades in the Muslim community. Like:

      –> “…putting the burden entirely on women to maintain their own purity.”

      Isn’t that pretty much why Muslim women in fundamental branches are fully covered? And they’re the ones who get stoned should they cause a Muslim man to stumble.

      Has anyone ever been on a flight to the Middle East? Amazing what happens as you approach leaving international airspace and begin to enter a country’s airspace. Everyone who is drinking puts their drinks away; the women get their “dress” on.

      Likewise when flying OUT of a Muslim country, the second you enter international airspace… out come the drinks!

      What I’ve seen is this: the more fundamental a person’s view, the more hypocritical they will be. (This goes for far left liberals as well as far right evangelicals.)

      • Best way to keep a Baptist from drinking all your beer on the fishing trip is to bring another Baptist.

      • Some defend women wearing a hajib or even fully covered, but I agree, to me, it’s just more of the purity culture. A woman, or man, can dress sensibly without being fully covered or showing everything.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        What I’ve seen is this: the more fundamental a person’s view, the more hypocritical they will be. (This goes for far left liberals as well as far right evangelicals.)

        The more rigid something is, the more likely it is to Fail Catastrophically (i.e. SNAP!) when over-stressed.

        Here’s an additional Momento from classic Dr Demento on the subject, specific application Far Left Organic/Natural Dogma:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glY31qBcwAM

    • Excellent comment, Michael. I happen to think (from personal experience and as a dad and a pastor) that a healthy approach to sexuality has more to do with emotional health and maturity than it does with spirituality, especially as defined in a lot of religious circles.

  11. Klasie Kraalogies says

    ” If we focused less on instilling shame and fear and more on instilling self-confidence, better communication skills, and a healthy sense of their own worth, we’d see fewer people making bad choices just because they’re unable to examine or discuss their own feelings or boundaries. (And we’d see more people learning from bad experiences and moving forward with their lives instead of just giving up on themselves if they make one “mistake.”)”

    Yes – this indeed.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      Meant as a reply to Michael Z….

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      We also know, scientifically, that less stress and more confidence, results in people making better – not worse – choices. People engage in LESS risky behavior when they feel safe; contrary to what many a fire-n-brimstone preacher believes.

      If we want people to be More Good, than make being Good easier. Doubling down on people does not accomplish that.

  12. Thanks for your openness and honesty, Klasie. I assume that wasn’t easy to write, nor easy to share. Thanks for the insight into how a fundamental take on purity can have very unhealthy consequences.

  13. it would be a fairly easy task to put together a positive and informative sexual ethic that is not incompatible with the basics of the faith, that does not rely on ancient instincts of power, control and shaming.

    Have you ever checked out John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body?” I haven’t read it myself, but from what I’ve heard, it sounds like it might come as close to what you’re calling for as the Catholic church is ever going to get. It’s on my list of things to read. I believe the basic idea is that what is material is not necessarily evil, but rather, the human body with its sexuality reveals the divine.

    Also, if you guys haven’t seen this free documentary on Evangelical purity culture, it’s a great watch! At time harrowing, at times hilarious?
    https://vimeo.com/137784146?fbclid=IwAR0XnnoHszzvVueNLEOK-4H4_42damOJp3o-jrWSZbRHv4ojJRwEGoFPzxQ

  14. Adam Tauno Williams says

    “”” but it would be a fairly easy task to put together a positive and informative sexual ethic”””

    Agree. But why bother? Does anyone aside from The Evangelical Statement Brigade believe assembling ethical statements accomplishes anything? Ok, maybe some “Leftists” somewhere, but they are no less obnoxious; and you have to really dig to find them in America.

  15. I got most of my early sex education from studying the Shakers. As a child of the 60’s I was there and as a young man fully endorsed the whole concept of sexual liberation for women , when they were with me. I am sorta just kidding. The “pill” and the liberation of women changed every thing.

    As times and the economy changed so did the “need” to stay pure and the only pressure really was from family social values and the religion one practiced. The best birth control method for unmarried people before the pill was the you had to marry the Mother of your child. This was a powerful antidote to sexual activity but not that effective.

    I think, looking back, a lot of the women imitating the men of the 60’s lived a somewhat active lifestyle but returned to a
    more traditional mono relationship when they were engage/marriage. This may be hypocritical , silly, whatever but it worked. Sort of what you do in Vegas stays in Vegas.

    I would just say I think that there has to be some “rules” for people in society to ensure that the family unit is provided with a stable, loving , economic viable and constant environment .

    This is a tough subject for any group trying to instill a healthy, viable and workable teaching to young people.
    I know from 13 to about 28 it was hard for me to think with my brain. So whatever works for the good of society as a whole is fine with me but the pill changed everything and we are were we are and everyone does right according to what they believe is right or something like that but who are we to Judge or even to quote the book. Tough issue and the social pressure on young people today is staggering

  16. This seems like a uniquely American, and to a lesser extent Anglo, problem. I grew up on the mission field with a mix of Americans, British, Europeans and local people. Almost all were faithful believers. The Europeans seemed far less uptight about the human body and about sexuality than the Americans, particularly the more conservative ones.

    This tells me the whole mess has little or nothing to do with actual matters of faith and a whole lot to do with cultural influences and subcultural expectations.

    And the fact that most of the church in America has not matured from what I saw decades ago as a missionary kid says a lot about America’s brand of Christiantiy.

    • I think you probably hit the nail on the head. It is a uniquely American evangelical approach to the ‘problem’.

    • Klasie Kraalogies says

      Note though that my experience, though evangelical, was very much not American – the sect that I grew up.in had influences from German pietism, revivalism, and not a little indigenous (Zulu) culture. We used to view Americans as horribly liberal, and pastors often preached against American influence.

      • (shudders at the damage caused by people “spreading the Good News of the gospel”)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        More Afrikaner Reformed Than Thou?

        (Didn’t that church justify Apartheid as Commanded by GOD?)

        • Klasie Kraalogies says

          Yip they did. On the other hand, the sect was very much not part of the Dutch Reformed world.

          There are soooo many fundamentalisms….

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            On the other hand, the sect was very much not part of the Dutch Reformed world.

            That’s why I referred to it as “Extreme Afrikaner Reformed” instead of “Dutch Reformed”.
            (Probably following the pattern in a lot of belief systems where each split increases the Extremism.)

            • Klasie Kraalogies says

              True – but these guys weren’t Calvinist. Origins in pietistic Lutheranism, moral teachings of strict Mennonites, Finney – like Revivalist theology, and a understated, almost Pentecostal love of Miracles…

  17. no doubt, the ‘patrilineal’ inheritance thing made it a priority for men to know that their children were their own in the times before DNA could be confirmed,
    so now that we have ‘Paternity Court’ scenes, men no longer have to be so fearful that they are being cuckolded and betrayed by their spouse and that they are raising the result of an adulterous liaison . . . the NAME is secure

    so ethically and morally, maybe we can get away from the ‘purity/virginity’ thing to thinking more about a marriage that is a real Christian marriage as was seen among the early Christian people according to this account:

    “From a letter by Tertullian, an Early Church Father, to his wife, ca. 202 A.D.
    ” How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice.
    They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in Spirit. They are in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit.
    They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another.
    Side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another, they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts… Psalms and hymns they sing to one another.
    Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present, and where He is, there evil is not.”

    • just a thought:

      St. Joseph intended to ‘put Mary aside’ after finding that she was with Child, and it took the intervention of an angel to convince him to wed her and to be a foster father to Our Lord. . . .

      an old story, the insecurities of men which then turn around on them because the ‘purity culture’ they inflict on women comes back to haunt them in ways that are destructive

      I do think a lot of the ‘purity’ culture is more ‘culture’ than ‘religion’, yes. Maybe the Annunciation tells us something we need to ponder.

  18. Dan from Georgia says

    A few thoughts…

    1. I read “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” book back in it’s heyday. I thought it had some good points, but overall thought it wasn’t a worthwhile read. The book overstepped it’s boundaries (see what I did there?). “Not all dating relationships are sexual, or end up being sexual, Mr. Harris” was my primary thought. Also, since when was “courting” christened as the only way to find a spouse? And not all relationships, however pure, end up in marriage. Even more, Mr. Harris kept hammering away at the problem, in his mind, that somehow pain in relationships was to be avoided and prevented at all costs. Well, guess what? Life is hard Mr. Harris, and all real, deep, and true relationships will have pain in them.

    2. I was fortunate to have not been too deep into the “purity culture” although I spent a number of years in men’s accountability groups. No, we did not spend one second in blaming women for our struggles, and that is the absolute truth. We knew deep down that this issue was ours to own, and not to be placed on anyone else. The thing that bothered me, though, was that many of these groups were only temporary, and I can guarantee you many of the men went right back to their vices. No real lasting change for many of the men.

    3. I was also fortunate to have never been indoctrinated into the belief that “women are asking for it” in regards to their dress, behaviors, etc.

    4. Here is where I suffered in the purity culture. As one who didn’t get married until my early 40s, I spent years listening to the likes of Focus on the Family constantly tell me to not have sex before marriage. What the hell was I supposed to do in the meantime with raging hormones??!?! Not a peep. Just don’t have sex before marriage. No help from those who were down the road on how to get there safely…just don’t have sex before marriage. Geez…no wonder so many men in the Church (single’s and married’s) struggle with porn, etc.

    5. In regards to my long single years, I was told my a well-meaning, but mistaken friend, that I was supposed to just “wait on God” for a spouse. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wow. That sounds SOOOOO holy!

    Um, yeah. Just ignore those raging hormones and the apostle Paul’s admonition that it’s better to marry than burn. Wow. I must have been really REALLY holy because I waited for God to bring me a spouse to my front door!