Wednesday, June 21, 2006

With friends like these...

One of Dawn Eden's regulars is a blogger named The Raving Athiest.

With a bloghandle like that, it's not hard to determine where he stands on the existence of a Creator of all things - but he's got a particular habit of considering things on their own merits that sometimes runs him aground with many of his regular audience.

Take the post "
Chastening Thoughts." In it he writes, "I believe that the opposition to pre-marital abstinence (and chastity generally) is a case of good ideas facing rejection because of their historical association with theistic orthodoxy." And rather than leave it from there he spells out what he means and why he means it.

He must have had a point with the original, quoted premise, because some of the commenters demonstrate it, in language not suitable for framing. It must be hard to scroll through such poorly-considered rejoinders and blaring self-contradictions from those who would otherwise tend to agree with him. (And if he should ever conclude that orthodox theism itself is a good idea worth considering, he should expect seventy times seven times worse.)

Rather than leave a 10,000-word essay on his site, I thought it better to handle a selection of the biggest howlers here and track back. The originals shall be in red, with replies below - the number is that of the original comment on RA's site.

#1 - qedpro - "But for religious people, it's not enough for them to privately practice what they believe, everyone else has to be doing the goosestep (missionary style) or it undermines their beliefs."
This is something believers see a lot: religion misunderstood as yet another earthly system of controlling the believer. It's not hard to see why an atheist would think this, either. To them, Earth is all there is, so they assume that, deep down, Earth is all there is to anyone, and thus anyone who talks about God or eternity must be making it up. It's not true. Christians really do believe that there is a God who has made us for Himself, and that therefore His rules of conduct are important. Others' disobedience does not invalidate those rules (or our belief in them) in the slightest. We advocate our side of things vigorously (as
Dawn's book and website show) because we think it true, and that others who follow will see the same (or greater!) benefit in their lives as we see in ours.

#2 - Jahrta - "Saving yourself for marriage is retarded. Your wedding night is no time to find out that your new mate can only get off when you clamp jumper cables to his nipples while covering him in vanilla pudding and reading from 'Horton Hears a Who.'"
Comic exaggerations aside, this is one of the prime practical reasons behind chastity - one's evaluation of a suitor isn't merely as a sexual partner. If one intends a lifetime commitment, basing the relationship on sex alone means possibly blinding oneself to other deep-seated flaws such as a controlling personality, irresponsibility with money, or a violent temper. "Trouble in bed" isn't the only thing that scuttles a marriage, and great sex isn't capable of saving one by itself.

Ok, an extreme example to be sure, but many marriages fail (or suffer) due to sexual incompatibility or dissatisfaction with someone's techniques or equipment.
Given that there are far more couples having sex than getting married, I'd say that the chances of dissatisfaction with a partner are greater for the unchaste than for the chaste. The reasonable reply is that the unchaste are free to simply try again if they're stuck - but so are the chaste, with the difference that they try again with each other. For the chaste, the sex can always improve as the couple learns more about each other and what they're doing. The unchaste couple denies themselves that joy because they simply cut and run. Chaste lovers get the fun of looking ahead to a lifetime of mutual discovery without the pressure of having to act like performers before a critical audience, because their commitment is to each other, not to a particular bodily function. Their impulses are their servants, not their masters.

#3 - HappyNat - I never understood how sex before marriage can be dirty, evil, and make women sluts, but then after 'I do' it is the greatest thing in the world. Are people really silly enough to believe that saying those words in front on people suddenly makes sex OK?
Apparently, some people are silly enough to think that this is what Christians hold, based on 70's era Norman Lear parodies of Catholicism from the mouth of Mike Stivic. It is no secret that theologians, poets, and lovers themselves use fire as a symbol of passion, so let's recast Nat's statement in those terms and see if it casts some light: I never understood how fire in a forest, warehouse, or apartment complex can be destructive, but after putting it in a fireplace it's the greatest thing in the world.

Sex is a fun enjoyable activity that mature adults can engage in, like having a couple beers or snowboarding. ... It is as natural as taking a piss, but it has been put on a huge pedestal and now it freaks everybody out.
It seems that the alternative to "Sex is great when in its proper context" is "Sex is common and therefore deserves no grandeur." I think this alternative settles for far less - it's factual, but it's only one fact - not the most important one, either. Sex as a physical act is common, not only to all humanity but to the whole animal kingdom (and a lot of the plants, too) - but lovers are not. Their fidelity is not to a deed but to a beloved, and there is only one of her in all the world. That's what transforms the common deed into an uncommon experience. I mean, money is common too, does that mean that everybody should have access to your checking account?

#5 - Thorngod - Chastity is its own punishment. But I think the taboo and the shame trip laid on illicit sex by religion also serve to make the experience even more exciting. As to the "love" recommendation, there is a lot of confusion involved in the sex-love equation. More later.
He's not kidding with the "more later" but multiplying by zero doesn't increase his contribution. [see below - NF] "Sex-love confusion" is a problem among the chaste, of course, but who is more foolish - those who make the mistake, or those who think the mistake proves that there is no difference at all? The real solution is not only to know the difference, but to know which is the cause and which is the effect. Sometimes I suspect that those who are all for sex without restriction realize these things just as chaste lovers do, only they fear the implications. Love has a natural desire to promise fidelity - it focuses on a particular person rather than an action - so some choose to confine themselves to sex without love, and they slander love's tendency to commitment as "a shame trip laid on illicit sex."

update, June 24 - Thorngod answered with something that turned out to be far more than zero. It's posted above with my reply - not surprisingly, my rebuttal there runs very much along the lines in the paragraph you've just read. But Thorngod's original is excellent, a far greater effort than anything else on this original list.

#9 - Mookie - Chastity makes priests molest children.
My absolute favorite on the list - there are nearly as many errors in this sentence as there are words.
1. Chastity prohibits molestation, so it is false to state that it causes it.
2. Mookie may well mean to say "celibacy" rather than "chastity" - but making that substitution doesn't make the statement any less self-refuting.
3. Married men molest children as well, so obviously neither chastity nor celibacy is the issue.
4. If priests' desire to escape celibacy were the issue, well, why not simply leave the clergy and get married? For that matter, why go in for ordination at all?
Seems obvious to me that child molestation is nothing more than a straw man in this discussion, meant to equate depravity with self-discipline regarding sex. Wrong on every possible level. For efficiency, concentrated illogic, and spite, it's hard to top those five little words.

#18 - it's unfair to Ms. Tressider to have her on this list: we've had our share of debate and it's always been friendly and honest. She is neither a frother nor a fool, as the majority of the comment demonstrates. I just feel it's important to make a point about the Church by highlighting the final sentence: "Part of it comes from the cultish attitude of Catholics to sex - that its special nature is only available to the initiated because of their inside knowledge."

This is a great description of gnosticism, but not Christianity; the Church has always explicitly rejected gnosticism. Every believer is described in Scripture as "the elect," not merely those with some secret esoteric knowledge - indeed, knowledge is secondary to love and commitment to Christ. (It is no accident that marriage is one of the symbols of the relationship between Christ and His Church.) The important "inside knowledge" is about the first thing you hear: "If you believe in your heart and profess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, you will be saved." Everything else, including sexual morality, is merely a description of how that decision impacts our everyday lives; by definition, this means everyone, not only "the initiated." #19 makes much the same case in reply, (nicely done, Lily!) and Ms. Tresidder agrees - again, friendly and honest.

This seems to start a trend, where people actually start putting up points and counterpoints in a calm and reasonable fashion. But there are flashes of non sequitor, such as Genghis Dirt at #37: "It is certainly true that the words "chastity", "marriage", "virtue", etc. are enormously loaded terms, rightfully associated with misogyny, slavery, oppression, and really bad psychology. But this does not automatically dismiss RA's point! ... Without the age-old shackles of religion distracting us (hopefully), atheists are uniquely able to see clearly about sexuality." It really deserves its own post - one in which I'd probably wind up repeating a lot of the above. In brief: chastity is not misogynist, marriage is not slavery, virtue is not oppressive - the only term-loading going on here is in this commentary. I strongly suspect that this clear sight about sexuality will result in the "age-old shackles" being replaced with shiny new ones, each chain forged in logic and machined to economic and political specifications.

And to cap it off, #39 - Mark Plus - "That way of doing things has fallen way out of step with other trends in our society, along with fealty oaths to the local lord and lifetime employment in corporations. These days it makes a lot more sense for men and women to treat one another as temp workers or free agents you can make short-term contracts with for mutual convenience. See, for example,
Intimacy in a Fluid World, by F.M. Esfandiary."
The best reply is an idea one often finds in CS Lewis - believing something only because it is in fashion means being doomed to changing one's mind on everything every decade or so. Given enough time most ideas, good or bad, have a renaissance. This suggests that something other than the calendar is in play here - in fact, it implies that human nature is consistent, since in every age and culture we see many of the same competing theories vying for our attention, enjoying their recurring status as a fad.

If human nature is consistent, then something may simly be true for all humanity, regardless of its unpopularity, in spite of superstitions and excesses - and that brings us right back up to RA's original post. One of those somethings, by his reckoning, may well be chastity. It has something to contribute to anyone, across age and culture. That's why we still find relevance in a Lewis or an Aquinas or a Plato - they stuck to immutables. An example of the alternative is the foolish residents of the City of Claptrap in Lewis' Pilgrim's Regress, who had to come up with a new opinion every week lest their masters cut off their food - and isn't it peculiar how we can readily point to people in our day who live exactly like this, even though Regress was written 70 years ago?

By now there are probably more than the forty comments that were there when I started, but if I keep going I'll never finish.

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