Purity: Not an End in Itself

Evangelical Christians had a thing called “purity culture” back in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I’m not an evangelical, so I was never a part of that, but it had to do with spreading word about the dangers of premarital “fornication” and preserving one’s purity for marriage.

A popular book on the subject was titled I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and the author, Joshua Harris, has recently recanted his view that dating in itself is intrinsically bad. I never read the book, but upon hearing the title and reading the synopsis, I wondered how one was supposed to find a spouse if one never dated. You have to know what kind of person you’re looking for, right? And how else can one do that without dating a bunch of different people?

I suppose the author must have advocated, in place of traditional one-on-one dating, group dates or supervised hangouts where young people get to know each other without spending too much time alone, which can lead to a loss of purity. That’s all well and good, but there are certain things that you can only know about a person when you spend time alone with him or her. People tend to behave differently when they are in a group setting. So I can understand why the book has fallen out of favor in even the eyes of its own author.

The “purity culture” made the mistake of having teenagers, especially girls, think that their entire self-worth was based on the status of their virginity. If they were virgins, they were pure and good and righteous. If they were not virgins, they were soiled and damaged and no decent guy would want them.

One can be a virgin and have the filthiest mind on the planet. On the other hand, one can be a non-virgin and be fairly innocent and of course still be an intrinsically good person. A person is more than the sum of his or her sexuality, although in high school, that can sometimes be hard to believe.

The true aim of the “purity culture” should have been on getting teenagers to understand exactly why premarital sex was bad rather than telling them that they will shrivel up and die and go to hell if they have sex. Human beings have intrinsic worth, sex is an incredibly powerful force, and honestly, when you’re in high school or even college, there are very few teenagers who are emotionally mature enough to handle the ramifications of sex.

Obviously, if you have premarital sex, you may not go to hell. St. Augustine was a notorious playboy and kept a mistress, but he eventually had a beautiful conversion experience and became one of the greatest and well-known saints of all time. Salvation is complicated, and purity is complicated. Sins against purity are, at their base, like every other sin. If you choose to continue in your impure ways without seeking or wanting forgiveness and knowing full well that what you’re doing is wrong, then yes, you have a high chance of going to hell. However, if you were once “impure” and even had premarital sex, and you come to an understanding of why that was wrong, and you seek forgiveness and sincerely attempt to turn away from your past behavior, then you have a shot at heaven.

Abstinence or “purity” education needs to be based on not just the fact that premarital sex is wrong, but rather on why it is wrong. St. John Paul II wrote a series of lectures known as Theology of the Body, which explains in detail how valuable we are as human beings, the correct understanding of purity, and much more. That’s the foundation on which we need to be basing abstinence education, so teenagers can get a sense of “why” rather than just a judgmental statement (“premarital sex is wrong and you’re going to hell if you do it”) that only leads to more questions.

Thoughts on the McCarrick Scandal

I apologize for the super-long post, but it’s been simmering in my head for a while. Anyway, I’m sure you’ve heard in the news about (former) Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned from his high post in the Catholic hierarchy because he allegedly abused seminarians. When the sordid news came to light (again), it didn’t surprise me, but I was once again disappointed and disgusted by the abuse of power.

Obviously, something is wrong in the hierarchy if this kind of thing keeps happening over and over. I guess it is difficult for those in power to hold others in power accountable because they all have power, and as the saying goes, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I’ve read several articles saying that we, the lay Catholics, need to be the ones to hold our leaders accountable, which is difficult when there isn’t much transparency. It’s even more difficult when most lay Catholics are Catholic in name only or go to church only on Christmas and Easter, so they don’t seem to have much of an opinion on what goes on in the Church as a whole. In the end, if the laypeople do succeed in overturning this corruption, it will be a victory by the few, the proud, and the extremely devout.

This whole business makes me distrust church authorities. My diocese recently got a new bishop, so I know very little about him beyond what was said in the press releases when he was installed. I don’t know if he is a “good guy” or a “bad guy” in this. The author of another article I read stated that he would no longer be contributing to the annual bishop’s appeal in his diocese, but I’m not sure I agree with that because a lot of that money supposedly goes to charities, Catholic schools, and practical causes, not to line the pockets of the bishop himself. But again, there is little transparency, and for all we know, the money could go somewhere else entirely. I know for a fact that my particular parish does not contribute anywhere near the “suggested” amount for the annual appeal anyway because we’re not particularly “wealthy.” It is ridiculously hard to get people to donate money to a church/religious organization nowadays, and most of the time, appeals to donate more money only lead to a withdrawal of even the small amount the people had already been donating.

At this rate, the only authorities I really follow in terms of the Church are God, Mary, the saints, and my parish priest, whom I know fairly well and who is not a diocesan priest but a missionary from the Philippines.* To be honest, I don’t follow what Pope Francis does unless he makes an ex cathedra statement. Sometimes I feel like he crafts his words to be applicable and relevant to the majority of people everywhere and to keep up with the times, whether it is in agreement with Church teaching or not, and Jesus surely didn’t do that. I don’t pay that much attention to what the bishop does unless it’s going to affect me directly. Sure, that probably makes me a “bad Catholic” to some degree.

But I didn’t join or stay in the Church for the pope, the bishops, or a particular priest. The pope, bishops, or priests won’t make me leave the Church either. I don’t join their cults of personality. We typically get a new priest in our parish every 10 years or so, and I have never wanted to stop going to church because my favorite priest is now being transferred to Arlington or wherever. I don’t even stay for typical sentimental reasons like “this is the Church I grew up in” or “my entire family was Catholic.” I stay in the Church because of the truths it stands for and still seeks to uphold, even in the midst of all this earthly drama and corruption.

The role of the Church hierarchy has never changed in all the 2,000 years the Church has been around. It is ultimately to enforce and share the teachings of the Church as laid out in Scripture and the catechism. That is a hard task in today’s world, especially when it seems like hardly anyone goes to church anymore. Many of them sit back in glee and rub their hands together. “Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Those rules were so ludicrously difficult to follow that not even the bishops and archbishops can be chaste! Why should lay people bother?”

Nevertheless, the Church has had a great deal of influence in the world over the years (and still does), and it is a grave error to underestimate that influence. When the last objective standard of truth goes, we’ll all be cast into confusion with no real authority to look to. How can God possibly be an authority to guide people as a whole when anyone can interpret “God” however they like? Maybe people don’t need to be guided as a whole because we are all so “diverse” that what applies to you has no relevance at all to me. Or maybe people don’t need to be guided as a whole because scandalous stuff happens when great power is abused. But overall, we are social animals, “no man is an island” and all that, so we do need some kind of binding force, and what better force than the natural law as laid out by God himself? No human being is exempt from natural law, although we often try to convince ourselves otherwise.

These are truths that are being diluted in the eyes of the faithful (and even those who don’t trust the Church but hold the same kind of beliefs nonetheless) because of the sins of a comparative few. So the real question is… how do we excise these poisonous roots from the hierarchy once and for all? Honestly, I believe at this rate, the answer lies with the faithful laity.

As for the punishment of these crooked cardinals, bishops, and so on, I don’t agree with the typical approach: reassign them to other unsuspecting parishes and/or send them to retreat facilities to be “rehabilitated.” They did criminal deeds and should be treated as criminals, so if that means time in prison, then so be it. If you choose to abuse your power and act like a lowlife, then a punishment fitting a lowlife is your lot.

*I’m sure that doesn’t mean anything, as the scandal is not restricted to just diocesan officials. And sadly, I don’t believe I would allow my child to spend time alone with any priest beyond, of course, the confessional.

Aftermath of Lent

This year for Lent, I gave up music as I usually do. I also gave up excessive Internet use, which was fairly easy because I’ve been so disgusted with almost everything online these days. I also picked an unusual goal: giving up complaining, because I realized that I complain almost all the time about almost everything,* even if it’s not really a serious gripe.

I failed miserably.

As a matter of fact, I think I complained even more during Lent than I usually do outside of Lent. Or maybe I just grew more aware of how much I complained when I was actively trying to reduce the amount of complaining.

Even though it’s the Easter season now and I can technically start complaining again, I’m still trying to quit. What I learned about the whole matter is that I have to actively try to think positive. Find the humor in something that went wrong. Instead of complaining, find something to be grateful for. It’s OK if something’s not perfect or doesn’t go my way. Even my personal journal tends to be a bunch of bitchery and self-pitying melodrama, so I have been trying to write about positive things only, or put a positive spin on what I perceive to be negative things. At first, it felt unnatural, like I wasn’t being realistic or honest with myself, or like I was trying to be a happy, bubbly, super-enthusiastic person who’s all “Happy Monday!” and uses fifty million exclamation points at the end of every sentence.

Later on, the happiness started to sink in and my journal felt less fake. I remembered the old mantra that goes something like “You may not be able to control the situation, but you can control your reaction to it.” So I have tried to react more positively to things, or at least not immediately launch into Bitch Mode™. The most helpful thing has been to actively put in place what I should have learned in elementary school: If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. (Or at least wait until you’re calm to say something. Don’t just say the first impulsive thing that comes into your head.)

Anyway, here’s to an Easter season full of happiness!!!! (Ugh, I still hate multiple exclamation points.) 🙂

*Maybe it’s an inherited thing. Or a New York thing. I’m not really sure. Doesn’t matter where it came from; all that matters is that it needs to be stopped.