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.

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