by Klasie Kraalogies
In January 2015, the Washington Post announced that the famed Joshua Harris, author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, announced his resignation from his church, and headed off to seminary. Then, by August 2016 we read that he had started grappling with the reality that maybe he wasn’t quite correct. However, from 1997 when the book was published, the no-dating-no-sex-contact-no-nothing model of courtship blossomed in the US. But…. Let me tell you an older story. You see, Joshua Harris was a virtual liberal hippy compared to the teaching on sexuality (and marriage) of some. Joshua-come-lately was way behind the curve.
In the 1960’s there arose a sect in South Africa that decided, beyond all the normal don’ts of fundamentalism – no TV! no Sunday sport! modest dress! (btw, that is generally meant for the female of the species, more than the male) that all forms of dating and courtship are wrong, designed by Satan to trick the faithful, just like old Potiphar’s wife (see painting by Guido Reni). When the time is right, maybe when you are 19, maybe when you are 59, he will show you your wife (it never goes the other way, mind you), and the, once everyone has prayed and feels that it is God’s will, well, presto, there is your life partner! Some version of the Isaac and Rebecca story – minus the servant.
I can see you everyone, or almost everyone reading this roll their eyes. But let me challenge you thus: Where does this come from? Is this not simply a slightly over-the-top result of the teaching, and more important, the culture around sexuality that has been practised in, well, many societies for ever so long? Some, like Rome, made a fetish of perpetual virginity, somehow imparting the idea that true spirituality excludes all thoughts and actions of giving an inch to our reproductive biology. The multitude of scandals out there (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-47134033) shows how workable that approach is. And it would be unfair to single out Romish fallibility – Rome is hardly unique.
That is all understood. But let’s travel back to the mid-eighties and examine a particular young fellow.
Once the young man reached the age when the nether stirrings are undeniable (about 12/13 years old?), he was suddenly confronted with the idea that sex is sin. Why? He wasn’t married – and still way too young. He was most emphatically not allowed to notice the swelling breasts, the long legs, etc etc around him. He couldn’t even touch their hands. Even briefly thinking about a girl was a horrible thought crime. And, since the preacherman loved to quote the plucking of eyes and the cutting of tongues, he started avoiding contact with the opposite sex as much as possible. Any or all women could be Potiphar’s wife! If they aren’t married, God might have destined them for someone, so looking at them is the same as adultery with a married woman! He suffered unending mental agony – and it is years before he discovered simple things – that “wet dreams” and even erections are involuntary. He felt driven to confess his dreams.
Everything was sin…
The result is a given. At a far too young age, he becomes convinced that he is being led to marry – but he does not know her of course.
Thus he marries. And suddenly his whole universe must flip -up is now down and down is up and evil nature is now godly nature (sometimes), all by the stroke of a pen on a marriage certificate. How to work out this mess? And while this is going on, he quickly discovers the personality of his now life partner – and to his infinite dismay, he discovers he is wedded, death-do-us-part someone his psychiatrist will inform him 2 decades later is likely suffering from NPD (narcissistic personality disorder). More about that another time.
You, see, he wasn’t allowed to have a friendship even – purity was understood and preached as if one was running a sterile laboratory. Not as respect – the word didn’t come into it. Respect was for parents, government, and especially, preachermen. So he walked headlong into a nightmare, in the agony (as he now understands, with the wisdom of time and suffering) of seeking an outlet to the natural desire for friendship, companionship, and romance, bequeathed to him by one-and-a-quarter billion years of evolution.
And of course, by ecclesiastical and parental decree, that is where he must stay, because anything else is sin. Which of course leads to hellfire.
Yip, as you have probably guessed, this is autobiographical. And much has been left out. But I am by no means unique. If we return to the after affects of Harris’ book, we discover testimonies like this:
Instead of protection, these teachings led to suffering, to dysfunction, and yes, to abuse. And as one discovers the more you dig into this, the damage is much worse for the young women than the young men. For some, normal intercourse remains an impossibility, as years of shaming and teaching have left psychological scars that precludes true intimacy.
I would close with the observation that much of this is cultural – but the church is culture, by and large. I am not a Christian, but it would be a fairly easy task to put together a positive and informative sexual ethic that is not incompatible with the basics of the faith, that does not rely on ancient instincts of power, control and shaming. Other wise the damaged lives will just keep on proliferating. I, for one, have had enough.