Saturday, June 24, 2006

Don't me forget about you

As is par for the course, your narrator has screwed up.

To recap, in brief - Raving Athiest suggested that chastity had something to recommend it, and that people ought to look past its association with religion to consider its merits. I sampled the replies in the comment section and posted on them. Early on I mentioned Thorngod's teaser, but by the time I was done, I'd forgotten to come back to him. Turns out that he hadn't even posted his thoughts yet.

That reply is finished. It's much higher caliber than the ones I'd pulled, as he himself promised. So now it's time to keep my promise and respond.

[RA's] comments I found interesting enough, though the Dawn/Jill dispute as such would not have captured my interest sufficiently for me to have taken one side or the other. [Thorngod is referring to this - NF] I can agree somewhat with RA's judgement that Jill got overheated, but almost all of us who like to contend will often contend too hastily.

Boy, he got that right. In the near future I will be sharing a recent example of my own.

-- The point that RA attempts to make regarding "...some point in a relationship that Jill would consider to early for sex..." seems lame to me--and unfair. We all must draw somewhat arbitrary lines constantly, and we draw them at different places according to our individual judgements or needs.

So far, so good.

Dawn's line for sexual intercourse is drawn at marriage, which is the church-sanctioned and therefore traditional, "safe," and, in this country until a few decades ago, the quasi-legally-enforced point of sexual entitlement. It remains the easiest and safest line to choose (and to defend), but Jill has an equal right to select some other.

And this is even better. The discussion, as Thorngod rightly understands, isn't over enforcing chastity (a mistake many other commenters made) but in why one ought to choose it freely over the alternative. I think Jill's position on sex is wrong, but I'm not about to blockade her bedroom door.

As messy and risky as casual sex and non-marital arrangements often are, marriage is no less messy and risky, and I trust I need not offer statistics or examples in order to convince you.

Sadly, he doesn't. But I would contend that a large contributor to the current condition of marriage in our society has been caused by the loss of respect for chastity; in other words, marriage is no less messy and risky than unchastity precisely because so many married couples are unchaste. They never leave behind the attitudes they had while they were "still looking" and as a result, they find that the non-sexual ties within marriage are too constricting when the sexual tie no longer holds their interest.

The only serious problem I see with non-marital sex as opposed to marriage is in the production of unwanted and unloved children, and there are far too many of these in traditional two-parent homes.

I'm reminded here of a poem a fellow writing student wrote back when I was at Rutgers:

"But staying together for the sake of their kid
Was surely in their mind the best thing they did."

I wish I still had a copy. It was a strong poem, if depressing: the couple in question clearly loathed being together and took it out on the narrator (the kid), each using her against the spouse. But while powerful, the poem thus tends to contradict itself, since this couple clearly wasn't staying together for the child; their treatment of her is evidence enough. I see the same problem with that as Thorngod.

Chaste marriage strongly implies welcoming the children that result, so I would put this down as another reason to encourage chastity. Thorngod's observations are spot-on, especially his notice of the consequences of pulling chastity out of marriage - but I think his conclusion is incorrect. The solution to the problems of unchaste marriage is not to give up on chastity altogether.

-- On another tack, RA contends that "...most people, if asked whether they believed that it was preferable to engage in loveless sex, would answer in the negative without debating whether inappropriate judgmentalism were involved." Preferable to whom? To all those who would disparage "loveless sex," of course! But so-called "loveless sex" can be a unique and uniquely rewarding experience, and unless I'm misunderstanding something, it's the kind of sex I hear most guys, married and single, constantly talking about and obsessing over!

If that's so, I feel sorry for most guys. They are not standing against the tide of the times but allowing the undertow to suck them out to sea. But this does introduce an idea that Thorngod carries to its fully-logical conclusion - based on his observation of the divorce of chastity and marriage, he pushes for a similar divorce of love and sex everywhere.

-- And now, the sharpest point of all: The phrase "loveless sex" refers, of course, to sex between people who do not love each other. I would contend that that accounts for most sexual experiences.

He may well contend correctly - but this is precisely the sort of thing that chastity seeks to prevent, with all of the attendant problems that he so succinctly describes. If one doesn't care for the results, I'm not sure why one would argue strenuously for the cause.

There is great confusion concerning "love" in the contexts of sex and marriage. The term "love" is always misused when used as a synonym for sex. People do not "fall in love." They are consumed by sexual desire (lust, if you will). Do you disagree?

Hells yeah!

Then I ask you what is meant by "love at first sight"! You can experience an overwhelming sexual urge on first seeing someone, but can you actually love someone instantly?

Looking back at the moment they've met, many true lovers do say "it was love at first sight." Nor do I think they're dishonest, though of course their memories may be coloring the outlines of the facts quite differently than an outside observer. And being around so many other hockey players at bars after games, I've naturally heard a hundred variations (all equally vulgar) of the phrase "I'd do her in a second."

The difference is, the lovers actually have a past to look back to. The unchaste generally do not; their devotion to the deed rather than the beloved works itself out and soon their fires fade. They move on. The chaste couple has much better odds in this case. Thorngod correctly sees that love is different from sex, but doesn't seem to give it credit for being able to do what sex cannot do alone. In this case, love has the power to reach back and lend all sorts of meaning to events that hadn't seemed to mean anything at the time. To use a common turn of phrase, love "blooms" - the initial meeting is the seed, watered and pruned and tended by the subsequent events and the lovers themselves. Looking back the couple themselves see the seed and immediately recall all the rest, and conclude that "it was love at first sight."

This is necessarily poetic and no doubt many would dismiss it haughtily on such grounds; however, it all holds together. It is a description of what, in fact, does often happen between couples in love, and what nearly never happens between mere sexual partners unless love starts to intrude on what had previously been solely physical interaction.

When two people engage in sex, the couple for the sake of sex, not for love. Sex is not the expression of love, but the fulfillment of sexual desire. A woman who is "not in the mood" for sex may submit to husband or lover because she loves him, but the sex act is performed for the purpose of sexual pleasure--for the man's whether or not for hers. It is not performed so the man can express his love for the woman!

This is where I lost Thorngod's argument entirely. He's totally pulled sex and love away from each other to consider them in isolation - the very definition of unchastity. Everything he writes from this point out works out along those lines. It's quite logical in its way. In fact, it winds up answering the question on hand: "Why is chastity preferable?" If Thorngod's description is the only alternative, then sign me up for the chastity NOW.

So why do we confuse sex with love, and use the word "love" when we mean sex? Because that usage encourages the notion of "true love" and "meant-for-each-otherness," which encourages marriage, which in turn offers the best protection so far devised for the next generation of our species.

I disagree here. Anyone can confuse them, of course, chaste and unchaste alike, but chastity, by insisting on love (in the form of commitment) before sex, is meant to safegaurd us from the error of reversing the process: from thinking "This is love" because the sex is good, and then bailing on both love and sex once the passion fades, as it always does by its own nature.

The chaste may say one when meaning the other, but they recognize not the difference, and they also know which must come first for both to remain special. Chastity puts sex into harness, as Thorngod clearly understands. The chaste love, and therefore sex is a gift to the beloved. Since no chaste couple is perfect this isn't always so. There's plenty of "not tonight, I have a headache," and "All you care about is," and times when the sex is dull and distracted and uninteresting. But there's also "make up sex" and "thank God you're home sex" and "you remembered Aunt Gladys' birthday! sex," and given that the act itself may be the same each time, sex itself could not account for the difference in interest or quality.

Even saying, "well, they're just more into it sometimes" doesn't really get to the heart of it - why are they more into it? The answer is love. They are renewing their commitment to each other, and as a result all the other things in their life are renewed - all the things that, without love, would quickly become drudgery: their appreciation for each other, their passion, their desire to talk and pay their bills and walk their dog and raise their kids. One of the great rewards of a loving and chaste relationship isn't just "love at first sight," it's that so many of the other sights are just like the first.

We have never been conscious, of course, of our reason for using the term "love" in the contexts of sex and marriage. The reason is not exactly "ours." it is another Darwinian effect.

I agree that the reason isn't exactly "ours," but at this point we get into an entirely different discussion - Whose reason it is. In any case, I'd like to thank Thorngod for a thoroughly rewarding discussion. (In fact, I congratulate him on being a better evangelist than I am.)

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