Abstinence and Fidelity: Yeah, We’re Still Here

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So here’s a shocker: as a Latter-day Saint, I believe that sexual relations should be reserved to husband-wife relationships. It has been quite popular to make arguments against this type of worldview for some time – since my parents were children, at least. However, as a student, a professional, and a watcher of television, I have found that more and more people not only disagree with this worldview but flatly do not believe that people actually live in this way. Even among young Christians, it is true that it has become quite normal to have sex outside of marriage. But after a recent discussion with my wife about where society is going, I felt a need to express my feelings about the passel of completely ridiculous arguments that people make in favor of flagrant immorality. I know that most of these points may seem obvious, but they are obviously not obvious enough.

The Freedom Fallacy

“Heavy moral codes never made anyone happy. It’s better to be free.”

In the tradition of courtly poetry, poets spent centuries expressing the feelings of utter torture brought on by their love. This torture came from a fundamental contradiction that they saw in what they felt to be one of the most important things in life: “I want to have sex with her because she is pure and perfect. But if I do, then she will not be pure and perfect any longer, and I will not be able to love her! Oh, woe is me! What shall I do?” Of course, most of us today will feel that we see the obvious contradiction in such musings, but the truth of the matter is that many of us continue to harbor exactly the same contradictory sentiments – we just lack the forethought to see it coming and the introspection to realize when it is happening. An example can be seen in an exchange that occurred between my wife and one of her coworkers before she met me. He took her aside and told her that he was concerned about her happiness – that he felt that she, because of her belief in strict abstinence before marriage, was completely missing out on an entire aspect of human experience. Of course, his intent to help her in this regard was more than academic. She responded by pointing out the obvious fallacy in his concern: he was so interested in her not just because she was pretty, but because she was so obviously happy and good; and yet, the first thing he wanted to do was tell her how to be happy and stop her from being good. If she were to do exactly as he wanted, the very thing that made her so attractive to him would be gone, and he would still be ultimately unsatisfied. He had no response to this. Like those old courtly poets, he was caught in a great contradiction simply because what he believed about human sexuality was wrong. As for the belief that sexual “freedom” makes people happier, while there is no statistical data anyone can cite either way on that matter, I can say from what I have seen in the people around me that the misery that profligacy brings is obvious, while the supposed misery of voluntary abstinence is something I have never seen in anyone.

The Obsolescence Fallacy

“These old moral codes don’t mean anything anymore. Get with the times.”

If you talk about moral issues in terms of old-vs.-new, conservative-vs.-liberal, progressive-vs.-reactionary, East-vs.-West, ours-vs.-theirs, etc. instead of right-vs.-wrong, it is probably because you are advocating something immoral. As silly as it seems to need to say it, we need to say it: the amount of time an idea has been around says absolutely nothing about how correct or effective it is. Whenever someone suggests that the Biblical commandment against fornication should be ignored on the grounds that it is so old, I wonder how they feel about the Biblical commandments against murder, theft, and lying, as these are just as old. I am certainly not arguing that we must always do what has always been done, as blind compliance with convention is the fuel for all great conflagrations of human injustice, but let us remember that such errant social conventions can arise from new ideas just as easily as from old ideas. In fact, every bad idea that the moral revolutionary can cite from human history was at one point quite revolutionary in its own time. True progress requires us not to ignore or reject what previous generations have developed, but to refine and build upon it, accepting what has been proven to work and rejecting what has been proven not to work.

The Traditional Family Fallacy

“The monogamy argument is based upon the fact that monogamy is required by a society that is founded upon the traditional family. However, the traditional family is not the only way of doing things.”

Some opponents of the “traditional family” suppose that the entirety of human society up until this point has been constituted of families with one husband, one wife, and children living together in a household. Other opponents correctly argue that the “traditional family” is actually not so traditional, in that there have been many instances in human history in which people have had different social models. Some ancient societies practiced polygyny or polyandry. Some housed the majority of their populations in gender-separated barracks, with homosexual behavior being quite normal. Some looked at marriage as a time-limited contract instead of a lifelong commitment. However, the reason for which so many people think that the “traditional family” defines virtually all families throughout human history up until this point is because all other experiments with different social models ultimately ended in failure. The “traditional family” appears to be definitive of human history because the societies that tried other models failed to maintain the strength necessary to pass down their influence to our own. They lacked that strength because their family models were inferior. So yes, there are other ways of doing things. However, again, if we are truly concerned with being progressive, we should not be driving our society into social experiments that have already been conclusively carried out many times over just because we want an excuse for entertaining our favorite sins.

The Difficulty Fallacy

“It is too difficult to live like that. No one can actually do it. Trying to just makes people unhappy.”

First, while abstinence/fidelity is certainly difficult, it is not too difficult. And if you think that no one can actually live that way – that anyone who claims to is necessarily a hypocrite – you probably just have the wrong friends. As for the idea that difficulty leads to unhappiness, if that were true, no one would ever climb a mountain, win a race, learn a language, master a musical instrument, give birth, or even read a book. Most of the happiest experiences in life are actually tied to great difficulty. When faced with a potentially difficult prospect, the question is not whether or not it is difficult, but whether or not the benefit is worth whatever difficulty exists. And in the case of sexual morality, it is.

The Hypocrisy Fallacy

“Setting up such impossible codes of conduct just makes everyone a hypocrite.”

One of the greatest lies that people can tell to advocate a sinful lifestyle is in saying that anyone who acts contrary to what they profess to believe is a hypocrite. Certainly, if one professes to believe something and then puts forth absolutely no effort to actually live in that manner, that person is a hypocrite and a liar. However, anyone who is trying to become a better person must advocate a belief that runs contrary to what he or she may have done in the past, and this does not make that person a hypocrite. And even after that point, if a moment of human weakness results in a moment of hypocrisy, it is unfair to ignore all of the moments in which that person was strong by hanging a scarlet “H” around his or her neck. A single instance of hypocrisy is always less objectionable than an entire lifetime of shameless sin. When humans throw around accusations of hypocrisy, it is usually only because we want to excuse ourselves in doing that which we know we should not be doing. If you think that anyone advocating a higher standard of sexual morality is necessarily a hypocrite simply because you do not know anyone who lives according to such a higher standard, again, you probably need to make some new friends.

The Judgment Fallacy

“Don’t judge me.”

When it comes to being obnoxious or mean because someone is doing something we disagree with, I am absolutely against that. However, it is my responsibility as a human being to voice concern about the things going on around me that I feel are detrimental to society. Every human has this responsibility. In expressing my views about how I feel the world should work and how people should act, I usually welcome intelligent criticism. I have, at times, said “Don’t judge me!”, though, and it was because I knew I was doing something wrong.

The Love and Commitment Fallacy

“We are in love, so it is okay.”

Real love always comes with a sense of permanence. The attitude of “I will love you now, but I can’t say about later” is not love at all. As for the argument that commitment does not require marriage, the conversation on that point can easily go like this:

“How dare you tell us we are committing sin?! We are every bit as committed as any married couple! In fact, we are more committed than many married couples are!”

“If that’s the case, why not just make it official and get married? After all, you already live as if you were married anyway. It wouldn’t be a huge change.”

“Are you crazy?! I’m not ready for that level of commitment!”

The Compassion Fallacy

“Compassion requires us to be tolerant of things that we consider to be sinful.”

Of course it does – to some degree. I am certainly not advocating scarlet letters and stoning for fornicators. However, a society cannot be truly compassionate without a strong sense of sexual boundaries. A society of “free sex” is one in which imbalanced relationships are rampant – relationships in which one person feels a strong sense of attachment, brought on by sexual intimacy, while the other does not. Such situations always lead to pain – and a compassionate person does not knowingly cause pain. As much as our pop culture glorifies the idea of proving one’s desirability by leaving a string of broken hearts in one’s wake, there is nothing compassionate about such behavior. It is selfish and shallow. Even if you are a compassionate person, if you have sex with someone you do not love, you will find yourself in a situation in which there is no possible course of action characterized by compassion, creating pain for you both. As for the idea that two people can keep having casual sex without ever developing such a sense of attachment as long as the relationship is honestly defined, that simply is not how humans work. If you are a halfway-decent person, you are eventually going to get emotionally attached to whomever you are having sex with.

The Nature Fallacy

“Monogamy is not natural. We are primates, and primates are promiscuous.”

Primates also eat their own feces. And in human terms, their promiscuity would often be defined as rape or incest. As soon as we start stooping down to use animals as our standard for morality, we have lost the argument, regardless of what we are advocating.

The Health Fallacy

“It is good for the body to have sex regularly with various different partners.”

If you really believe this argument and put it into practice, let’s have a little competition: we’ll go down together to get our blood tested, and the one with the fewest STDs will be declared the healthiest.

The New Car Fallacy

“Don’t buy a car without driving it first.”

Aside from the obvious problems stemming from the fact that you are comparing a prospective husband or wife to a car, this argument shows a fundamental lack of understanding for how relationships work. People do not get divorced because the sex is not good enough: they get divorced because their relationships are not good enough. If you want to see if you can live with someone for the rest of your life, try taking sex out of the equation first. If you really love someone, and if your personalities really fit, sex is not going to be an issue. But if you make your early-stage relationship largely about sex, your vision is going to be clouded, and you are not going to see the obvious warning signals showing that you may not have long-term compatibility.

The Extremism Fallacy

“The old way of thinking about sexual purity is an extremist way of thinking, and extremism is never good.”

“Extremism” is a relative term. One cannot assume that the eternal truth is always going to be the central point between society’s extremes, as the extremity of those extremes is constantly in flux. Moderation is usually the best way to go, but not always. If all of society goes off the deep end in one direction, a stance of true moderation and pragmatism will appear extremist. If we are going to walk the path of moderation, though, a model of abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage would be the way to go. An extreme conservative position would be one of complete celibacy, as seen among various monastic orders and (chronically) small religious groups like the Shakers of the 19th Century. The extreme liberal position would be what the bulk of America currently advocates.

In short, as the children of God, we owe it to ourselves to value ourselves – and demand that others do the same. While some may say that a lifestyle of abstinence and fidelity results from blindly following authorities with no logical foundation, those same people actually cannot make a single rational point in support of their position. Ironically, while they say that we are the slaves of convention, they are the ones who assume something to be true simply because everyone around them does the same. The wisdom of the world is not as wise as it thinks it is.

FairTax and the Unconstitutional Constitution: A Note on the Constitution Party

In recent years, a growing number of people – largely conservatives and libertarians – have arisen in support of the FairTax initiative. Put simply, the FairTax, if implemented, would do away with federal income tax and replace it with a federal sales tax and a monthly household “prebate” to compensate for the taxes paid on bare essentials. Having previously familiarized myself with the Constitution Party to some degree, I had assumed that these people, essentially super-Republicans, would be very bullish about the FairTax. Therefore, you can understand my surprise when I recently stumbled upon a page on the Constitution Party website dedicated to criticisms of the FairTax initiative. As the page says:

Why replace one unconstitutional tax system with another unconstitutional tax system?

After my initial amazement stemming from the realization that the Constitution Party’s position on the matter was exactly the opposite of what I had expected, I mused a bit more about something I realized a while ago: The Constitution Party does not believe in the Constitution of the United States. Seriously. At least, they do not know what words like “constitutional” and “unconstitutional” mean. A glaring example of this fact would be the aforementioned quotation. By saying that federal income tax is unconstitutional, they are saying that the 16th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is unconstitutional. Similarly, any constitutional amendment establishing the FairTax system would also be unconstitutional. The problem with this line of thought, though, is that any constitutional amendment is constitutional by definition. That’s why it’s called a constitutional amendment. If the framers of the Constitution had not wanted us to be able to amend the Constitution, they would not have included a mechanism for doing just that.

Of course, one could say that, by “unconstitutional”, what they mean is “not in the 1787 Constitution”. It becomes clear that this is what was meant once one reads on the Constitution Party’s website that the FairTax “is not authorized by the 1787 Constitution”. Just to be clear, no constitutional amendments were part of the 1787 Constitution. Thus, by this logic, all of the following are also unconstitutional:

  • The Bill of Rights.
  • Sovereign immunity (which protects states from lawsuits by foreigners).
  • Universal suffrage.
  • Election of U.S. senators by popular vote.
  • Presidential term limits.
  • Etc.

It is worth noting that the Bill of Rights was, in fact, something that the framers intended to add later. However, such is not the case for the other items mentioned.

One could say that some of these amendments do not depart from the “intent” of the 1787 document, but merely enhance it. I wonder if the Constitution Party thinks we should count black people as 3/5 of a person instead of 5/5. Because that is how the Constitution was originally drafted, right? After all, unlike little details such as women’s suffrage, this seems to have been something they considered pretty carefully.

I believe that the Constitution of the United States is and was an inspired document. I think its drafting was a huge step forward for humanity. However, it was never a perfect document, and those who feel that it ever was would have been laughed out of the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

The Thousand-Dollar Candidate

We hear it every day: The great problem with American politics is the money. Why should it cost over $1 million to run for Congress and nearly $1 billion to run for the Presidency? It is a valid concern. But some say that this is not the actual problem. They say that the real problem is actually the fact that elected officials have too much power. After all, why bribe an elected official who is powerless or whose every move is thoroughly scrutinized? Those making this argument continue by saying that passing campaign finance reform bills does not actually take money out of politics, but actually only invites the involvement of specialized intermediaries who know how to bring about the same results under different constraints. Also, even when sound laws are in place to prevent corruption in political finance, incumbents tend to benefit from asymmetrical enforcement…as the IRS recently showed us. Still others say that the biggest issue is actually term limits: legislators stay in office for profane amounts of time by doing the things that the people who keep their campaign coffers full tell them to do, which leads to an obvious but seemingly unstoppable cycle of corruption – one that the elected officials in question may not even realize they are participating in.

But regardless of whether the problem is the money, the power, or the term limits, the problem behind the problem is the same: our elected officials are not going to change a paradigm that has worked in their favor. After all, why would incumbents want to place limitations upon themselves unless they know how to circumvent those limitations (and apply them to challengers)? And even if a challenger truly wants to change the current paradigm, he or she will have to work within that paradigm to do so – and either forsake all principles of real reform or lose the election.

It does not have to be this way. It is true that the same basic political conundrums causing corruption have been around for generations, but the environment in which they must operate has changed significantly. Because of the advent of new technologies, the current model cannot continue indefinitely any more than a warlord can arise and conquer the world with an army of charioteers.

The revolutions that have rocked the Arab world in recent times may have been fueled by long-standing frustrations, but one of the elements that made them so influential has been the use of digital media. (One Egyptian girl was actually named Facebook to honor the effectiveness of that social network in organizing the populace there.) Seeing how the political frameworks of these nations have been turned upside-down by popular movements empowered by digital media, how can we miss the implications for our own nation? With an even higher percentage of our population using digital media, it is only reasonable to think that we could be even more successful in mounting a fundamental – though non-violent – change in the way our political mechanisms function.

With so much focus on the cash flowing behind the scenes in American politics, many of us seek reform on the assumption that we can either force candidates to use more ethical methods of raising their millions or convince them to somehow do without while campaigning in the same way. What we must demonstrate, though, is that the vast adoption of new communication technologies has made those old and expensive methods of campaigning – and the donor bucks needed to fund them – largely obsolete. It is now reasonable for a conscientious and articulate person without any connections to the political establishment to mount a competitive campaign without accepting a dime in donations. This is because, between social networks, web video, email, Internet radio, and blogging, one can reach 90% of the electorate with an establishment-busting platform that 90% of the electorate agrees with – and spend less than $1,000. Technology has done what technology always does: it has drastically increased efficiency and decreased cost.Of course, people will have some doubts about such an approach, but these doubts should not be exaggerated. For example:

  • “If it were so easy, it already would have been done.”
    There always has to be a first time. The arrival of the printing press in Europe almost immediately resulted in the publication of pornographic material, but it was not until centuries later that the first scientific journals were published. Someone has to be the first to find a practical use for new technology, and once that happens, a wave of others will follow.
  • “Digital media is important in campaigns, but it is only one of many tools used.”
    It may not be the only tool available, but if you have the right message and present it in the right way, it can be the most effective, and it may be the only tool you will need.
  • “Even if you rely solely on digital media, you will need a team of people to execute a digital campaign, and that costs money.”
    High production levels are not necessary. A video captured with a webcam can be just as effective as a video costing $100,000 if you say the right things. Also, current political figures need help largely because they do not know how to use social media effectively.
  • “You will not have ballot access.”
    That depends on the race. In some cases, a candidate can get on the ballot just by getting a certain number of signatures. Even if you have to run as a write-in, imagine the sensation you will cause when you win!
  • “Even if people want to support you, they will not waste their votes on you.”
    Such a candidate can help people overcome third-party syndrome by making statements like this: “If you like what I have to say, give me a ‘Like’ on Facebook and share my posts with your friends. That won’t cost you anything. If I don’t reach X ‘Likes’ by Election Day, vote for one of the other people. If I do reach that goal, vote for me.”
  • “Third-party candidates are never successful.”
    That would be because they keep trying to play the same game according to the same rules – but with a lot less cash. The idea is to change the game and the rules.
  • “Face-to-face interaction is always better than interaction through the Internet.”
    Of course it is. But when you have an electorate numbering in the millions, reaching just 1% of them in this way would be quite a feat even when you have millions of dollars in your campaign budget.
  • “It will take more than one person getting elected in this way for us to get the real reforms that the establishment will not pass.”
    Of course it will. But we will start with one.
  • “No one will pay that much attention to something they saw on the Internet.”
    What are you doing right now? Even if you disagree, you are obviously paying attention.

Our current political system – particularly when it comes to its electoral processes – is a relic of a bygone age of telegraphs and typewriters. Just as we are beyond feudalism, so are we beyond political campaigns that rely on country club fundraising, convention center rental, and prime-time television ads. The yacht-infested monstrosities that we call our national conventions have similarly become obsolete in their button-studded opulence and brazen privatization of public policy. The party is over. Someone just needs to let everyone know.