This morning I told someone I’d never had sex before I got married. He was shocked, obviously.
Then I told him that I thought it was wrong to have sex outside marriage. Of course, he was offended.
Who wouldn’t be? Why should someone take kindly to being told that their lifestyle is “wrong”? What right do I have to say that?
I asked him to be “tolerant” of my beliefs – including tolerating the fact that I believe that morality is more than the “don’t hurt others” style he has. But why should he tolerate that? Do I really expect him to think it’s ok that his friend is “judging” him?
I tried to appeal to his experience of knowing me – was I “judging” him? I am his friend and don’t ram this down his throat, so maybe he is wrong to say I am judging him just because I hold a view about his behaviour.
We argued quite a lot about whether only having one sexual partner was the best way to be happy. This was because I’d said that I believed God made us to be that way and he’d told us to do it because it would make us happy. Apart from offending him a bit more, this didn’t make much difference, since he disagrees with me – he thinks his various experiences make him a better judge of who he wants to end up with.
Of course the whole thing hinges on this one point: do you believe that God made us to be with one person? Since he doesn’t believe in God (the Christian one at least), the idea of this sounds ridiculous to him.
I did talk a bit about evidence in terms of divorce rates, but that’s very weak, and I tried to reason with him about how he’d feel if his girlfriend had had lots of sexual partners, but he wasn’t convinced by that – his girlfriend has had several partners and he’s not bothered by it.
I am convinced that my choice (plus lots of fortunate circumstances meaning God helped me stick to it even in moments of extreme weakness) has made me happier in my life, and allowed me to enjoy my marriage unrestricted by some hurtful experiences and unhindered by spiritual, emotional and physical ties to someone else. Meanwhile, he is completely unconvinced, thinks I’m pretty mad, and is more than a little offended by what I think of him.
We spent the rest of the day making sure we were alright with each other, trying to be friendly and show the other one we were still friends. He seems to have forgiven me or whatever.
It’s pretty rough being a moral absolutist in a culture where moral relativism is the only really accepted morality. No wonder Christians have a reputation for being judgemental.
By the way, yes, I did tell God that I was giving him the day this morning.
And yes, I do regret it.
Actually, no I don’t – I’m glad it’s out in the open. He should know that his friend is “judging” him if that’s how he thinks of it.
I told him I didn’t think my moral standards applied to him unless he was a Christian (i.e. I still think they’re true, but I agree he has no reason to follow them, and I don’t accuse/condemn him for not following them) and we got onto whether I wanted him to become a Christian.
He was offended that I wanted to convert him. And again, of course he was – who wouldn’t be? I tried to use an analogy about pulling your friend out of a well or whatever, but that is so offensive to someone who stepped into the “well” themselves, and likes it there, and thinks it’s morally right to be there.
So I think myself lucky he’s still talking to me and I guess I’ll have to pray that God will use my sorry words for his purposes. Thank goodness it’s God who converts people, not us.
Just thought I’d tell you about my day.
That’s a great article. I think you have conveyed exactly how a lot of people view Christians and Christianity. I was also very impressed at the way you both handled the conversation.
Knowing you, I have never seen you “pushing” Christianity on others but I have never seen you shy away from discussing it either. I think that is a good balance.
This sounds quite familiar. I still can’t get my head round this ‘intolerance’ business though. He was surprised and shocked by what you’d done (getting married without having got experience of sex first), he thinks your beliefs are wrong and your actions are wrong, and yet you’re the one who’s judgmental??!! And presumably he’d prefer you to share his beliefs too.
I suppose he’d say you’re the judgmental one because you believe his behaviour’s wrong, whereas he believes you’re free to do what you like and sleep with people. But he still criticizes you for your behaviour… “THOU SHALT NOT commit yourself to someone for life without getting experience first.”
Coincidentally, the evening of the same day, I was sitting outside a pub with some friends, and one person started ‘accusing’ various others of still being virgins. But then he said “I’m still a virgin – I’m a good Catholic” semi-ironically, and changed the subject. So we didn’t get into a big discussion, I’m afraid.
Interesting conversation! Your perception that God made us to have only one sex partner “made us that way” was something I held up in view of the Biblical stories we have recorded for us. Just a question or two … as examples of ‘marriage’ (your context for one sex partner) there are over 16 different concepts of seemingly acceptable marriage paradigms in the context of the recorded Biblical stories. Many of them allowed for multiple sex partners … at least allowable for the male gender. The Biblical writers never record any objections by God to any of these as they emerge over the course of recorded Biblical history. Ever wonder why? Seems God has not exactly been a ‘moral purist’ himself in this regard !?!
I’m not advocating a “side” here, but dialogue that doesn’t take into an honest account of the whole story is a bit dishonest, perhaps? Considering all the sex partners that the male ‘heros’ of the Bible had, perhaps a dialogue of God’s interaction with humanity in a particular culture time frame is at least worthy of discussion.
I agree that God hasn’t been a “moral purist” in all kinds of areas, for example the way he commanded ostracising lepers and people with other diseases doesn’t seem to fit a purist ideal, but was presumably necessary for basic survival.
He certainly deals with us as he finds us, and seems to take one thing at a time. Another example is Jesus’ attitude to the Pharisees: he didn’t question their law-abiding-ness, even though it was doubtless flawed, but instead attacked the much more important problem that they had elevated keeping the law above compassion, mercy, love and justice. What I’m trying to say is that he doesn’t confront everything at once. That’s certainly been my experience in my life.
I feel that God’s attitude to sex over history implies that he has wanted us to move towards the situation of single partnerships. That’s what appears to be shown as the ideal for Adam and Eve. Solomon’s overabundance of wives was criticised by God, although mainly I think because he married lots of non-Jews. My personal opinion of God’s attitude to the multiple sex partners marriages is that he tolerated, rather than allowed, them.
Ultimately my opinion on this comes from my own feeling of what God wants for my life. I feel that he has actually changed me and brought me around from a resentful compliance with this rule to an understanding and enthusiasm for it.
Could you suggest how God might be interacting with us in our particular culture time frame?
I’m always intrigued by the dialogue between humans that ultimately leads to accusations of “I’m right and your wrong.” What would discussions look like between equally goofy and struggling human beings in a tough and unfair world if the dialogue had a template of seeking the needs and fears of what makes each of us choose and make decisions as we do? Why the tremendous need to feel “right”? Every decision we make has components right and wrong when considering the totality of our being … our head, heart, motives, hopes, etc. Ever wonder why it was so important for females to be virgins throughout history, but not males … including in the history of the Hebrew nation? And, ironically, there are Biblical narratives where females lament at ‘still being virgins’ … they are pleading for anyone to validify their value in ancient Hebrew culture to claim them by ‘undoing’ their virginity. Interesting.
God’s interaction with humanity in regards to sex and marriage, especially with His chosen Hebrew nation seems to fluctuate considerably and it’s always puzzled me that there is a lack of implication toward any particular ‘perfect look’. From Abraham selling off Sarah TWICE (Pharoah had more concern for integrity than Abraham) to David’s multiple wives, there is a wide tolerance for ‘union’ imagery in the Biblical narrative. David’s concubines (female sex slaves) and how he uses them to test to see whether his son wants to overthrow his government by leaving them exposed on a roof top and waiting to see if his son rapes them, is never reprimanded, or even addressed by God. There seems to be a lack of movement to any particular form. When did multiple sex partners for Hebrew men become ‘not the norm?’ Was it a cultural shift … one cannot really find a spiritual mandate for the shift from BC to AD. If there’s a shift spiritually, seems like it actually went even further towards marriage not seeming to be a very good idea at all. Jesus praises the eunuchs as being a praise worthy idea for honoring the Kingdom of God and Paul’s view of marriage is at best ‘tolerance’. He even uses the imagery of uniting oneself with a prositute (rather than using a marriage) to understand union with Christ. Perhaps Paul could have used a good dose of “Focus on the Family” to really communicate in his writings what we wish would really be there!
Really … until the Kingdom is consumated in fulfillment, God is working with His goofy, lovely creation and it all comes to tolerating as we struggle with some successes and some failures to live in an honest relationship with Him. He will always allow us to make choices and continues in grace to work with us in that context.
My suggestion for thought is this, … I think God is accomodating our culture/church culture in the area of our huge emphasis on “the perfect family”? Church history suggests that there has not always been this focus on the family in the spiritual life of the church … in fact, quite the contrary. And, I would suggest, that there are few (to none) examples in the Biblical narrative of this ideal 20th – 21st century model of the family … especially of our concept of the “Christian father/husband.” For example, outside of Joseph … Jesus’ earthly father, who is only in the picture for a short time … who was a our concept of a model father with the fruit of our concept of ‘model Christian kids?’ And, how about our ‘modern’ concept of the “Christian husband?” Any Biblical examples here?
What is this modern concept of a Christian husband? What is the difference between this and a more Biblical concept if that’s what you’re suggesting?
I’ve tried to think about these questions. It strikes me that everyone has an inescapable natural feeling that some things are right/wrong and that some of these values are worth heated argument about. It’s important to consider people’s reasons and motivations for making the decisions they do, but I can’t see it satisfying people in the end. I can imagine a conversation like this:
A: I believe in ‘open relationships’.
B: That’s cool. I believe in monogamy.
A: That’s cool.
But people all draw the line somewhere. I wouldn’t like a situation like this:
A: I believe in beating my wife. I’m goofy and struggling, but I know it makes me feel good.
B: That’s cool.
And less extreme, the real world often ends up like this:
A: I believe in ‘open relationships’.
B: That’s cool.
C: No it isn’t.
So yes, we do need to consider what makes each of us choose and make decisions as we do, but part of that is a sense of right and wrong that feels like more than personal taste.
What do you think discussions would look like?
On the other hand, as I’m always saying, I think there’s definitely a need for people to attempt more to understand what motivations other people have for their choices and values. Often the conversation goes something like this:
A: I’m not sure about abortion on demand / I think it’s best not to have sex except inside marriage / I think multifaith services are a good thing…
B: You fascist/liberal/etc. / You’re brainwashed by your parents / How dare you presume to know what God thinks / I don’t like people shoving their views down other people’s throats / How dare you speak on behalf of all Christians / How can you believe in an ancient book written by Arabs etc. etc.
Too often, people don’t take the time to find out why the other person thinks that way, and they assume that the other person is 100% certain that they are right. It’s possible to think something’s right but be quite uncertain and open to the possibility that it’s not.
Of course, we need to try and understand their reasons for acting that way and say “Ah – maybe they’ve had bad experiences at the hand of Christians etc. in the past.” Maybe they have – maybe they haven’t. But it’d still be better for everyone concerned if they learnt how to be more considerate / patient.
As for the Biblical passages about lamenting virgins, which ones were you thinking of? I can only think of Judges 11.
Hey … not fair to not answer a few of my questions! Let me ask you again … who in the Biblical narrative (let’s start with ‘father’ before moving on to mother examples) exemplifies a ‘Focus on the Family” father/husband? Let’s just assume that you and I would have some similar cultural values put forth in our Christian culuture today what that looks like basically … not something I want to split hairs over because that would be an easy detraction from the point.
Do you mean a father who only has one wife and spends time with his children? I genuinely don’t know what you mean, especially the “husband” bit.
I’ve talked to a few women about this. Regardless of how we as men feel it is important to understand how our partner(s) would feel. The massive majority state that they would be devistated by a man who was seeing women other than themselves.
I can totally understand this – or have I missed your point?
I agree that the massive majority would feel that way now, and understandibly so. My question was, is this more a cultural norm that God is okay with, rather than a Biblical Moral of all times? God definitely seemed okay with multiple partners too… which is very weird to us now. I contend that there’s not one easy ‘right’ way to view sex, marriage, relationships, etc. from looking at the whole of the Biblical narrative. S.
Midge … from your sample discussions, I perceived that you took some of my thoughts toward relativism, not my intention. (#1 example) And, it’s never easy to enter into a discussion when tough issues are taken to the ridiculous extreme (#2 ex.)
Perhaps discussions could look more like …
A: I believe in Open Relationships …
B: Hmm … why is that?
A: Because …. blah blah blah …
B: (And then respond to a few things said, maybe more questions than being the Bible answer person having all the answers) Didn’t Jesus ask many questions, often those were enough to allow His Father to begin a work.
Lives have stories. Listen … probe, question, explore with people not “at people”.
Just some thoughts.
This was my point … You’ve stated it well.
I was thinking of Judges 11 … It’s inferred other places as well, but not so specifically. S.
About male & female virgins, it’d be interesting to hear more about the things you’ve found in the Bible. Some random thoughts of mine:
Judges 11 seems to me to show that Jephthah’s daughter wished she could have married, that it was considered a big aim in life (as it is for a lot of people today), and that it gave women more status and value in society. I’m not sure it’s directly about someone “undoing her virginity” to “validify her value”.
For men in the OT, on the other hand, it seems to be a big aim in life to have children so that their name can be carried on.
I imagine the reason some cultures emphasize female virginity more than male virginity is because of men’s attitude to women in those cultures, where women are regarded as ‘belonging to’ men more than vice versa.
Asking for two months to mourn WITH FRIENDS before her father makes good on his rash promise is very strange for sure. I don’t think we can even come close to imagining the lack of value that men placed on women in this culture. As Rabbinic men confessed everyday in Jesus’ day as part of their daily prayers “I Thank you God that I am not a gentile, a woman, or an uneducated Jew.” And this is thousands of years after this story in Judges! One would have to make a little assumption that the status of woman had improved over time! Gosh, how bad was it before this wonderful daily prayer??
So, I have a hard time placing myself in this horrific cultural context (Judges 11) in order to really understand this young women’s perspective in the narrative.
According to my studies, the ONLY value associated with Hebrew woman was to breed … and specifically to breed a male. Females did not count. Look at the desperation in stories of Rachel, of Sari, of Hannah. Just to give birth successfully to a male child validated their whole existance … whether they raised the child or not was not the issue, was it?
Yes, virginity was a matter of value of females as property. Female Property that was owned and traded to bring money and the hope that with the purchase of a woman there came a guarentee of continuance of male family name that was associated with property rights … very important in an agregarian culture.
Have you ever read the novel “THE RED TENT”? If not, I highly recommend it for a perspective on the Hebrew culture that permeates the OT.
One more thought … back then, “life” was in the males seed only … women were just a breeding incubator … any contribution to life was impossible from a female.
A quick reply – on the other hand, what about Deborah and Miriam? Didn’t they have status in their own right? And the view from Genesis 1-2 seems to be that women were equally made in God’s image.
“One would have to make a little assumption that the status of woman had improved over time!” Could it not have deteriorated? OT history seems to be full of repeated decadence and turning to evil, with God and the prophets ordering them to repent. And between the OT and the rabbinic prayer of Jesus’ day, there were all kinds of social changes. So I wouldn’t say the Hebrew culture was purely as extreme as you portray it.
Someone I know said people at his work couldn’t understand him, saying “You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive, would you?”
I couldn’t work out how I would’ve answered for a while, but then I realised I’d agree with them. Where I disagree is that they’re assuming the essential thing to check out, the key to happiness, is good sex – whereas I’d say the essential thing is being able to really love and trust each other. It doesn’t matter how good things are physically if you can’t be totally open and vulnerable and trusting and dependent.
Or maybe I’m just naive, idealistic and romantic.
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