January 19, 2013 by lucieromarin
If you’ve ever seen a woman go spare in a fast food joint simply because she heard she’d have to wait an extra three minutes for her dinner, you’ll understand why the ability to delay gratification is a strength, and opposite inability is a weakness. This is why my traddie friends and I, far from resenting Lent, Advent and the Ember days, get something like a kick out of them; it’s empowering to find yourself ruled by something other than your digestive juices.
However, this training has its limits, and this is today’s theory: that much of what passes for chastity apologetics these days is actually only delayed-gratification-training, which is not really chastity at all, and explains why some supposedly chaste people are just weird and creepy, while others, who are not weird or creepy, suddenly go nuts and throw the whole thing in.
A lot of chastity apologetics focuses on the benefits of Waiting Until Marriage. A lesser proportion focuses on the dangers of not doing so. In between, there’s some stuff about your relationship with God. Now, I’m as pro-chastity as the next pro-chastity person, but there are some problems with all this:
1 a) Teaching people that abstaining from cake during Lent and saving it for Easter is good training for saving sex for marriage is a disastrous idea, because:
i) it trains them to believe that marriage is as inevitable as Easter, thus collapsing into nothing when the promised day of marriage never arrives;
ii) they really only learn to delay pleasure for the sake of a promised greater pleasure. This is probably better than leaving a trail of broken hearts and fatherless children behind one, but it still isn’t chastity. And because it’s not really chastity, it turns into a whole bunch of other problems (hence this post, and the problem of guys thinking that chastity means talking about sex in a particular way, rather than talking about something else).
b) It trains some men to be delusional. Women, knowing that they have a use-by-date, face the end-of-the-dream trauma somewhere between 35 and 45, depending on the woman. They know that, even if by some miracle they do marry after a certain age, it will be so unlike the story told them in their teens and twenties that their preparation from that time will be largely irrelevant to it. Men are not thus trained. Someone showed me, with equal parts horror and fascination, a selection of men on a Catholic dating website, all of whom were over the age of sixty-five and had written that they wished to have many children who would be home-schooled. That’s right. There are seventy-year-old Catholic men in the world who really think that a girl in her twenties is going to have sex with them and raise their children. Why? Because no one ever told them that chastity might lead to something other than the dreams of their twenty-year-old selves.
c) What we really want is a Catholic who can wake up at the age of forty, say, “Dear God – I really, really am never going to be loved or have sex or hold my own child in my arms” – and not feel betrayed the persons who helped him or her to choose chastity. Or, perhaps, if you can imagine an angel visiting someone in prayer, saying to that person, “I’m just here to tell you that there will be no reward for chastity in this life for you – no perfect honeymoon, no religious vocation, nothing,” what you want is someone who replies only, “Hush! I am talking to God.”
2) On the dangers of unchastity: well, if you’ve ever heard the heartbreaking words, “Nobody ever told me this could happen,” you’ll agree that people deserve to know the dangers inherent in a choice – how else could it properly be called a choice? We expect doctors to tell us all the possible side-effects of our medical choices; the same goes for chastity. However, as preparation for a lifetime’s commitment, it’s a problematic strategy, for these reasons:
a) For fear to be a motivator, the thing feared must always be casting its shadow over the one fearing. This is unhealthy, and, hagiographers notwithstanding, you never saw a saint living in perpetual fear of anything.
b) If you train people to believe that the apocalypse is about to happen, the chances are that they’ll leave your cult when it doesn’t. If you train them to believe that unchastity will necessarily lead to a disaster of some kind, they only need to see one person experience otherwise in order to start questioning your entire apologetic. Similarly, some people just get over being scared of everything – and if that’s all you’ve given them, chances are they’ll throw your virtue out together with your threats.
c) What we really want is the sort of Catholic who could be visited by the aforesaid angel (though maybe in this case it would have to be a demon), to be told, “Look, God is going to make an exception for you. You can do this, this, and this, and none of the usual bad stuff will happen – you even won’t go to Hell,” and who could still say, “Thanks, but no thanks. I prefer the virtue.”
Well, having written at length about the problems with what everybody else is doing, I suppose I ought to propose some alternatives to delayed-gratification training and fear-based training. Let me think some more about it. There’s a hint in the title of this post. Mwa ha ha.