Monday 17 August 2015

People, Not Acts

Not just a handsome face.
Probably not a good post for men who know me to read. Read at  your own peril, boys. Potentially disturbing-to-men imagery ahead for illustrative purposes.

It's been at least twenty years since I attended a chastity talk, so I can't claim to know much about the current state of chastity ministry. I did go to a Theology of the Body talk ten years ago or so, and the one thing I remember the speaker saying, after all this time, was that he honestly didn't think prolonged kissing (aka making out) was a good idea for anyone unless they were married. Or engaged. I forget exactly when he thought making out was okay; I was more interested that this married man who had been talking ToB for an hour without turning a hair, finally blushed at the "How Far Can You Go?" question.

I felt sorry for him, too. He had done is very best to talk about the connection between the body and the soul, and the body and God's plan for humanity, and who knows what else, but at the end of the day, what his hearers still wanted to know was "How far can we go?" 

At least "How far can we go?" is a step in the right direction. It beats "How far can you/I go?" because at least there is a recognition that we are in this together. Not we Catholics or we humans but we girlfriend and boyfriend ,or we man and woman. Once we can get from "How can I avoid annoying God and deserving God's punishment?" to "How can I avoid assisting this person beside me to annoy God and deserve God's punishment" , we have taken a step forward. It's a very radical step, too, because it means (A) stepping out of self-absorption (B) taking responsibility for how other people react to us--which is incredibly scary, as if flies in the face of the whole "I can wear whatever the hell I want" philosophy, which includes women who proudly wear cloth prisons on British streets and women who bicycle topless in Ontario. 

The most poignant email I ever got was from a reader who was chosen for rape because she was the only modestly dressed girl at a party she had very unfortunately attended. She had been uncomfortable, and in trying to figure out why what happened had happened to her, she came to the conclusion that it was because she looked vulnerable, and the monster who singled her out guessed correctly that she was vulnerable. So I want to make it very clear that by the very definition of rape, 100% of responsibility for rape is on the rapist's head. If I were to throw off my clothes right now and go for a naked stroll around the grounds of the Historical House, astonishing and annoying the dog-walkers, the gardeners and the lost tourists I would do so knowing I had the complete and unalienable right not to be touched by anyone---except the local fuzz when they turned up to arrest me.

Naturally, I will not do any such thing, for I do not want to annoy the dog-walkers, the gardeners or the lost tourists, to say nothing of B.A., whom the gardeners would at once call on their walkie-talkies. "Ehmmmm.... Ben, yer missus is aff her heid." Also, the sun is shining, and I fear for my complexion. I fear for my complexion (and B.A.'s job) more than I do a sexual assault resulting from my naked stroll because I have too good an opinion of the intelligence of local men to think they would go near a woman who looks so obviously aff her heid at 11:30 in the morning.

So when I talk about taking responsibility for how other people react to us, I am not talking taking responsibility for the wicked behaviour of rapists. I am talking about remembering that we are not invisible and that other people have to look at us and interact with us. I am talking about doing our best to see ourselves as others see us. I am talking about consideration for others, community standards, projecting our best selves, recognizing that public space is shared space, and understanding that everyone is hardwired to reproduce. If those silly girls in Ontario think they can "correct" male sexuality with signs reading "They're just boobs" as they march topless through the streets, then they are beyond stupid. 

Sexuality is one of the strongest powers I can think of, and if you are not troubled by sexual thoughts and feelings, as a Single woman, then you are very lucky indeed. Don't go around asking people "Am I weird?" You're not weird. You're lucky. Meanwhile, starting conversations with others about sexuality is rarely a good idea, especially if they are men, for most men are troubled by sexual thoughts and feelings from puberty until death. Have a heart. You may feel all sophisticated and noble in your discourse, and he may seem positively philosophical about whatever you are saying, but you cannot read his mind and you probably can't read his face either.

How far can we go? Well, for a start, who are we? Are we a girl and a guy who have just met?  Are we a girl and a guy who know each other vaguely from class, or work, or parties we've attended? Are we a girl and a guy who have had real conversations? Are we a girl and a guy who have intentionally met up together to share time together, over a coffee, or a meal, or while watching a film? Are we a guy and a girl who have been intentionally meeting up for shared time together for a year? Are we a guy and a girl who are talking about the possibility of marriage? Are we a guy and girl who are engaged to be married? Are we a guy and girl who ARE married? Are we a guy and girl who are married but using NFP? Are we a girl and guy who are married, but one of us is ill? Are we a girl and guy who are married, but one of us has a porn addiction? Are we a girl and guy who are married, but one of us has the libido of a slice of stale bread? How far can we go?

I would say that, contrary to what you might think, the closer you get to a person, the more you must think about respecting his or her sexuality and being careful of your sexual behaviour, and what your sexual behaviour "looks like" to the other person. If you get drunk and make out with a stranger at a party because he's cute and it feels sooooo good, that's bad, using, behaviour, but it's not as bad as if you get drunk and make out with a guy you've gone on  a couple of dates with because he's cute and it feels sooo good. The first guy probably isn't going to be hurt that badly if you don't call him  The second guy is definitely going to be hurt if you don't call him. Meanwhile, the long-term boyfriend is going to be devastated if, after a year of making out, you dump him.  Just as you would feel if, after a year of making out with you, he dumps you.

I completely understand why you would dump a guy after making out with him for a year (or two, or three) instead of ignoring your feelings of boredom and disenchantment and marrying the poor bloke. I get that. What I don't get is why you thought it was okay to make out with him for a year, as if making out was as harmless as telling jokes or singing songs together.

But I lie. Of course I get it. The Chastity Circus is not all that worried about so-called non-genital sexual acts. The Chastity Circus is primarily worried about the mass conception and slaughter of innocent human beings, and no wonder. Therefore, the chastity speakers of the world can be forgiven if they give you the impression it doesn't matter what you do, as long as you don't take your pants off. Having sex with a complete stranger, having sex with your fiancé--it's all the same (they imply) because you are committing a Mortal Sin which is a Mortal Sin that leads to the creation of little human beings who will be denied either a proper family life (e.g. with a dad in the house) or their very lives. Even if you are as sterile as a polyester carpet, you will add to the culture of "Everyone is Doing It", which has led to highly fertile unmarried teenagers and college students doing it too, which before 1950, they usually didn't. So whatever you do, DON'T DO THAT.

I think the Theology of the Body provides a corrective to this genitally and reproductively centered point of view. It puts the PERSON at the center of considerations about chastity, not The Act of Acts through which babies are conceived. Who is a person? A person is a rational creature whose ultimate happiness is union with God, the source of all that is good. A person is also--whether he or she knows it or not--a creature redeemed by Jesus Christ, who died a particularly horrible death for that person, and therefore should be sacrosanct---neither murdered nor used as a means to an end, including the end of "feeling good."

Making out really feels good. If you don't know that, you're lucky in a way. Apparently the first high ever off heroin feels really good, too, the best thing over, which I don't know personally, but I don't want to know personally, as heroin is a Class A illegal drug and highly addictive, leading to horrible deaths--and worse lives--for all kinds of people. A woman I know told me about it, and I thought, "However good heroin feels, I am sure the Beatific Vision feels better."  Anyway, making out does feel really good, and it should, as the whole biological point is to get a fertile female physiologically ready to have sex. That's just something to think about the next time you have to give the Speech to someone you have just made out with. But of course you still have to make the Speech. I'm just saying that the Speech will be less embarrassing if he doesn't point out that you have just had half an hour of pretty rapturous sexual enjoyment. My advice is to say (should this ever happen), "Gosh, I guess you're right. I've never thought about it that way. You have a point. Gosh, you're smart. But you have to admit that actual sex sex is a much bigger deal, and it's time I/you went home."

The effect making out has on both men and women is why I think--if you are bored with all the abstract arguments, philosophy and noble sentiments of Theology of the Body lecturers--the one sentence answer to "How Far Can We Go?" is "One chaste kiss on the lips."  This is the ideal, not my expectation of my little Singles, but I think we should be aiming high, right?*  We are, after all, talking about living, breathing, human beings loved by God but manipulated by Satan. We are part of the problem, but also part of the solution, and we have to ask ourselves, which side would we rather be on?

Heigh-ho. I hate chastity lectures. But I also hate it when nice Catholic girls and boys use each other when thinking that they aren't, and generally lying to themselves and each other, and ending up wounded and cynical and afraid of each other instead of being healthy and happy and good pals helping each other to find the right person to marry.

*Naturally you would all be horrified if B.A. or I kissed anyone else on the lips. At least Catholics still have super-high standards for the way married people treat each other and other people. And you see I have alluded to, but not discussed the fact that married people ALSO have "How far can we go" questions. Of course we do, but I am not going to write about chastity for married people. It's bad enough talking about chastity for Singles, for to write about chastity is to write about sexuality, and I do not want to become the Catholic D*n Sav*ge. Perish the thought.

Update: The chap who illustrates that a good-looking young man is not just a handsome face grew up to become Benedict XVI. Just saying.


  1. Great post!

    In light of this, and in light of the Tinder discussion last week, I'm curious: Does anyone know people who have left an unchaste/promiscuous lifestyle and embraced Church teaching? I'm thinking less of someone who believes they will someday marry the person they are sexually involved with and more of someone who is more casual about sex. What's their story? their experience? What changed their mind/heart? What support did they get or wish they'd had?

    It occurs to me that we are supposed to be witnesses to the beauty of the Church's teaching on sexuality...not necessarily as chastity speakers, but just in our friendships with people of a different mindset. But we have to witness in a way that they understand. And that means we need to hear (and try to understand) where they are coming from. People who have lived both ways probably have some valuable insight about how we can more effectively reach those who need the Church's message, and don't even know they need it.

    Seraphic, you've linked us to Hilary's story before. That's the sort of thing I'm thinking of. Are there other instructive stories out there?

    1. At the risk of outing myself as one of those guys reading a blog for girls: I was a lapsed-Catholic-turned-secular who had the party-days of his early 20s abruptly put to an end when I 'reverted' on account of the influence of a pretty Catholic girl with whom I was very taken. She was strong in her faith, and signalled clearly (but kindly) to me that she didn't see the point in dating (never mind marrying!) anyone who wasn't a nice Catholic boy. That's what gave me the push to revisit my notions about Catholicism, which was obviously incompatible with how I was living at the time. Long story short: I now read Edinburgh Housewife.

      The young Catholics in our community were super-welcoming and supportive. The only thing that was hard was that it seemed as though most of them were 'cradle Catholics' from very strong Catholic backgrounds families, and even if they themselves had a history of sexual sin, it seemed to be of a different character from my own history, and so it was hard to find anyone to really relate to on that level. For most, thankfully, it was an alien experience. No one else had moved from 'night-clubbing philanderer' to 'Catholic!' in that circle.

      I say 'even if' because there was also a 'don't ask, don't tell' attitude concerning those subjects in the group which, being a mix of young men and women, was, per Seraphic's advice, for the best. Still, it would have been nice to have been able to open up to some of the other guys about these kinds of things.

      Hope that helps some.

    2. Dawn Eden, who is lovely and brilliant, talks about a conversion to chastity in her book The Thrill of the Chaste. The original edition, published in 2005, was rather generic on her spirituality angle. The revised "Catholic Edition," just published recently, is much more clear about the role the Catholic faith (and specifically the saints and the sacraments) played in her change of heart. It's beautiful (so is her other book, My Peace I Give You, which is about healing from the wounds of abuse through the intercession of the saints)

  2. By Hilary's story, I am sure you mean Hilary's blog and her posts about feminism and cancer. Normally I do not link to instructive stories by women who have been terribly damaged by their sexual pasts because I strongly believe such stories interfere with the women's ability to marry. I have heard some VERY sad stories--heartbreakingly sad stories--about women who discussed their sexual sins as a way to help others and found themselves rejected--not because they had committed sexual sins, but because they had told large numbers of people about it.

    I never recommend that my readers tell their sexual revolution revelation stories if they are unmarried.

    Frankly I am not as interested in reaching to those who need the Church's message as much as I am interested in reaching out to those who think they have already heard the Church's message and are living their lives according to it when they actually aren't. That sentence needs reworking. But then so do most of us.

    1. Ok, I should clarify. I don't want anyone to detail their sins or indiscretions, or those of others. I absolutely agree that's not helpful. I'm interested in why people decided to change, and what did or could have helped them along the way. Was it a feeling of emptiness? Did they want some kind of support from others, and if so, what was that support? In short, I'm wondering how we can facilitate conversion, and I was thinking of people not reading the blog because I was assuming readers were here having accepted the Church's message (at least intellectually, even if there's matter for Confession in living it out) and wanted to spread it.

      If this is a line of discussion you don't want to go down, I totally respect that and your reasons for it. Feel free to delete my comments. You just got me thinking...

    2. Nah, I don't want to delete your messages. But I don't want my main point to be derailed, either: chastity is more than not-having-sex. Chastity is a way of seeing others for who they are, and how God sees them, and not interfering with their path to marriage (or religious life or the celibate priesthood). It's about going out hoping to make friends, not "to meet men" or "pull birds". It's about not kissing a guy until you are really so fond of him, you'd like to marry him or, not kissing a guy unless you know he would like to marry you. But it's not about the kissing as much as it is about the care--caring for oneself, caring for the guys around.

      We need to start with the attitude, not the acts. There are virgin girls who treat guys like playthings, and presumably there are virgin guys who do the same. I've even read about a priest who enjoyed making married women fall in love with him--without laying an hand on them--and only pulling away emotionally when the women were at the door with their suitcases.

    3. Your main point is spot. on. I couldn't agree with you more. Thanks for writing it and for staying focused on it. It made me think, "How do I help others to adopt this attitude? I don't have a blog. But I do frequently interact with lots of people who don't get it, to one degree or another. How can I best convey it to them? How can I help them see this is the more beautiful, fulfilling (if challenging), happy way? Are there others who have successfully conveyed it, or who have been surprised by the truth of it? How I help them along as they are trying to change?"

      Maybe that's what I should have written in the first place! :)

      And yes, ExNCP, that's exactly what I wanted to know - thanks so much for sharing.

    4. Domestic Diva, the writer Dawn Eden wrote a book on exactly what you're asking about. It's titled "The Thrill of the Chaste."

    5. That's true, and there is a Catholic edition of the book that came out in January this year with Ave Maria Press.

      The original "The Thrill of the Chaste" was heavily influenced by the confessional style of the American Protestant traditions, and Dawn's Protestant publisher made her stuff it full of Biblical quotes that must have been to her target audience like garlic to vampires, unfortunately.

      Given all the work and study Dawn has done in the past nine years--plus the praise she has received from no less a star than Alice von Hildebrand--I'm believe this new edit will be superior to the original.

      Once again, I don't think Single Catholic women should write books about their sexual sins unless they are willing to accept the cross of lifelong celibacy ever after. This is not a crack at Dawn, by the way. I met Dawn, and I like Dawn, and I follow Dawn's career with interest. It's a cold hard look at Matthew and Mark and Patrick Catholic.

    6. Great book suggestion. I read the first edition many years ago, when it was first released. I'll check out the second to revisit the ideas.

  3. Thank you, ExNCP, for providing an example of Catholic female courage and candor to my readers. I'm delighted to read a contemporary example of "a good woman" inspiring a guy to do better.

  4. Ex-NCP, what happened to the Catholic girl? Did you date her in the end?

    1. I went on one date with her a few years afterwards. Life pulled us in different directions for a little while. When I caught wind one day that she was back in town and still single, I rang her up and asked her out. And although we very much had fun seeing each other again, during the course of the date I discovered that she was shortly to be out of the country once more--for the better part of a decade this time, if not longer, because of school. Which, to my mind, put a second date out of the question, since I don't really have the means presently to pull off something long-distance.

      But I would certainly ask her out on another date if, for whatever reason, we ended up in the same neighbourhood again. In the meantime, I'm not sweating it. As Tolkien wrote in one of his letters, life and circumstance are also tools of God. If now's not the time, now's not the time. And if one date is all that ever comes of it, then I am still spoiled for having had it.



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