|Everybody's Got One
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Friday, August 16, 2002
Dear Prudence at Slate has a stupefying howler this week – most days I'd just let it pass, but the combination of this and today's gospel about one flesh (and an unsettling selection from Ezekiel) were too much to resist. Here's the entire exchange (linked above, but you have to scroll down to the third letter):
I don't think you can help me fix my problem, but maybe you can help me understand. I am in the fledgling stage of a promising new relationship. Both of us are divorced and in our 40s. The problem is that I recently learned my new flame believes physical relationships must be reserved for marriage. I am no biblical scholar, but I did receive six years of religious training as a boy and recently reread the Gospel. Adultery is clearly prohibited in both the Old and New Testaments, but what is the Christian basis for prohibiting all forms of sex outside of marriage? I just don't see it. I think sex is fundamental to emotional and physical well-being. Since I have deep reservations about ever getting married again anyway, I fear this relationship may be doomed. What do you know about this, if anything?
A man of the cloth (one who is allowed to marry, by the way) tells Prudie that your lady friend's wish to put principle before pleasure is admirable, but she should be careful about using the Bible as a guidebook for sexuality. It seems that our biblical ancestors were not nearly as obsessed with sex as we are. Jesus, as well as those in Hebrew Scripture, was much more concerned about building long-term, caring, committed relationships. Sex before marriage with that one wonderful person may help in the building. It is Prudie's understanding that the Bible prohibits sex with animals and those of the same gender. Today, thoughtful people now accept same-sex pairings, so the only remaining prohibition is with animals. This would have nothing to do with your lady friend. There's a possibility that this woman is one of the frigerati and is hiding behind the Good Book. This is what you will have to determine. Her no-sex-until-marriage rule, by the way, would be supportable if she had never been married and was a virgin.
Where to begin, where to begin ... so many misbegotten fish in this barrel to choose among ...
Here's what Prudie should (but never would) have said:
Your lady friend's appeal to authority was ill-considered, particularly since neither of you is a surviving spouse and any remarriage after divorce would be considered adultery anyway. (Surely your reading told you that much.) But if you would like to understand one valid reason not to have sex outside marriage with this woman, try this one – BECAUSE SHE DOESN'T WANT TO. That's the deal with her. If you don't like them apples, move on. If blue's not your color, don't wear it.
Sheesh. Our biblical ancestors were not only less obsessed with sex, they were less fundamentally dishonest about it – and about human nature in general. (And does Prudie really believe that if a woman has had sex once, she's not allowed to say no again on principle, but only as a personal rejection? No virtue left to protect? Really?) This horndog is not only no biblical scholar – any guy whose exposure consists of Sunday school thirty-plus years ago and a cursory rereading of one of the gospels (presumably Fieldsian – looking for loopholes) isn't entitled to claim even a nodding acquaintance with the text.
This also applies, I suspect, to Prudie's clerical "expert". There are clergypersons a-plenty these days who are less pastors than enablers, devoting their efforts and intelligence to finding reassurances that scripture doesn't really mean what it so clearly states. (Some would argue this is only what you can expect when you allow clergy to marry, but I think the two problems are quite distinct and unrelated.) Yes, people are weak and wounded, they make mistakes and suffer painful consequences, they're in need of healing and comfort ... all true. Also true that the way of the cross is both unpopular and incredibly difficult, and not something you can do in your spare time as part of a self-fulfillment program.
If this is so, then it's better not to marry. Maybe so – our unseeing questioner seems to agree (although likely for other reasons.) But Stephen, whose feastday this is, helped Christianize the Magyars by forcing marriages at swordpoint. So maybe it's not that simple. Better to marry than to burn – but worse yet to do both.
He who is able to receive this, let him receive it. And let he who isn't – have the decency not to pretend that he can, or that there isn't really a problem here. posted by Kelly | 2:01 PM link