Note from CM: I think our discussion has outgrown its usefulness on this post. Comments are closed.
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I believe in God and the whole business but I love women best, music and science next, whiskey next, God fourth, and my fellowman hardly at all. Generally I do as I please. A man, wrote John, who says he believes in God and does not keep his commandments is a liar. John is right. I am a liar. Nevertheless, I still believe.
Since I am going to be talking about sex in this post, it is likely to be highly controversial. Nothing cuts to the quick of our souls like sex. It is where power, pride, pleasure, and transcendence intersect, and that for a reason. Because of the controversy inherent in talking about sex, I want to introduce the post with some unrelated, uncontroversial statements before I descend into the trigger-bait.
I am fascinated by the 6th century BC. This was a time that saw a sort of quantum leap in human consciousness. Among the many luminaries who lived during this century are included Lao-Tse and Confucius in China, Guatama Buddha and Mahavira Vardhamana in India, Spenta Zarathustra and Deutero-Isaiah in the Near East, and the Pre-Socratic philosophers of Greece. Before the 6th century BC, the intellectual products of men appeared to have a dreamlike, childlike quality, which erupted into a greater awareness of human freedom and individuality.
What was common to the political environments of all of these men is that they lived during a period of great turmoil and change. The city-state was the most common form of political entity. This was the Spring and Autumn period in China, the flowering of the polis in Greece, a time of petty kings and kingdoms on the plain of the Ganges. It was a time when you could go to sleep one day and awaken to find that the boundary between you and a hostile neighbor had gone over your roof during the night.
We live in just such a time at the present. Not that most of us live in city-states, but the boundaries that have stood for hundreds, if not thousands, of years have swept over us and left us stranded in unfamiliar territory.
Nowhere is this more apparent, nor more unsettling, than in our current imbroglio concerning relationships between the sexes.
Before anyone comes wandering up with that age-old bon mot, “plus ça change plus ça même”, I would like to point out that some things are just plain gamechangers; the alphabet, the Arabic numbering system, the Scientific Revolution, and modern medicine. Four such gamechangers have completely changed the playing field for that most primordial of all human games; pairing and reproducing. Of these four gamechangers, two have been, one is now, and one is yet to come, but is already looming on the horizon.
The two gamechangers that have come are hormonal contraception and feminism, or more narrowly defined for my purposes, the expansion of female sexual choice. The gamechanger that is currently under development is the replacement of lifelong monogamy as the societal ideal with serial monogamy. This change is complete in the wider society. Indeed in some segments, such as African-American society, the societal ideal has moved beyond serial monogamy towards responsible polygyny. The final gamechanger may yet be the most gamechanging of them all, male disengagement.
The wider Church has, surprise, surprise, not been untouched by these developments. As far as concerns contraception, Protestantism appears to be quite in favor of contraception. I know we got a birth control 101 lecture as part of our premarital counseling package prior to our marriage in a PCA church. Orthodoxy appears to be neutral, and I don’t think we regard contraceptive use as a confessable offense. I’ve never brought contraception up with my confessor, but my wife and I have done things in that arena that trouble my conscience, so it’s a matter of when, not if.
The Catholic Church still holds the line on artificial birth control, but from what I can see, it has lost the power to alter the behavior of its adherents. When I was young, most Catholic families were large, noisy, and unruly, compared to our 2.3 well-behaved kids. <joke> In those days, I thought it was because Italians and Poles were sexier than the Dutch or the Scots, but it sure couldn’t be true of the Irish </joke>. Nowadays, outside of a few Steubenville neo-Catholic types, these old school Catholic families are sparse on the ground.
I don’t want to descend into arguments about feminism or the quarrels over women’s ordination. I belong to a communion that will not ordain women any time before the heat death of the Universe. That said, I notice that official Christianity extends along a spectrum from openly matriarchal through egalitarian through complementarian to openly patriarchal. I have met committed disciples from every line in the spectrum, so the only remarks I want to make here is first, even before becoming Orthodox I was firmly in the complementarian camp, and I view moderate feminism’s hegemony in Protestantism and Catholicism as almost total. Orthodoxy, not so much, but then we are still mostly ethnic and former Protestant converts, who are most likely to consider feminism an issue, are still a very small portion of all American Orthodox.
A major effect of feminism, and the one I want to spend time discussing, is that as women have come to be less dependent on men, they are free to choose men based on criteria other than economic survival. As we will see, this has been a double-edged sword for women. This reduces the number of men they will consider as marriage partners. I think it has made the search for acceptable husbands especially onerous for devout Christian girls. Let’s see how this works.
Follow me here, as I outline the change in the sexual constitution of American society as it has changed over the last fifty years. Somewhere around 1940, orgasms replaced the Blessed Sacrament as the instrumental means of sanctification, so there are three versions of the sexual constitution I would like to consider – The Old Double Standard, the Interim Compromise, and the New Double Standard.
The Traditional Double Standard was very much in place during my adolescence, despite the swingin’ sixties rhetoric that inundated the movies and television at that time. It was still very much the job of a man to compromise a woman’s virtue as it was the job of women to preserve it. Most of the weddings announced in my little midwestern town, a bastion of Christendom in probably the most Protestant area of the country, were the result of an impending little arrival, and nobody was surprised. At the time the unspoken rule for women was, if you let him sleep with you, he better at least be on the road to matrimony. For men the unspoken rule was, if you get her pregnant, you do the right thing and marry her.
Then came the Sexual Revolution. What was revolutionary about the Sexual Revolution was not that it gave men permission to be promiscuous. Men always had permission from the larger society to be promiscuous. Giving permission to be promiscuous to women, which is what was truly revolutionary about the Sexual Revolution, had some unintended consequences.
If you give a man permission to sleep around, he wants to sleep with every woman he meets. Men in their unmortified state tend to want sexual variety. However, if you give a woman permission to sleep around, she makes a beeline for the same man all the other women want. What women in their unmortified state want is sexual quality. Some men unashamedly begin to gather harems. For the less shameless, serial monogamy becomes the order of the day. With the advent of no-fault divorce, no one considered it unusual for one man to commandeer the reproductive capacity of more than one woman.
So, the Sexual Revolution actually resulted in less sex, and less quality sex, for the poor chump at the bottom of the Darwinian pecking order than the old Double Standard. At least under the old regime, because of a survival need that women had for men, any man could expect to be married off at roughly his own level. Patience and persistence won the day.
Feminism destroyed the old Double Standard and replaced it with what I call The Interim Compromise, which was in place from about the mid seventies until very, very recently. The Interim Compromise allowed young people to “develop their careers, experiment, and find themselves” in their twenties, then marry later. What you saw on the ground, though, was young men complaining that young women their age are only attracted to “edgy, exciting men”, overlooking the traditional sober and sensible (read: boring) potential mate.
Young women, on the other hand, complained that it was nearly impossible to keep their edgy, exciting men from cheating. Even though they wanted more commitment, other women were “hitting on him constantly”, and how could they be expected to resist so much temptation? The conventional wisdom given to the young men that the steady, boring guy should wait until a girl “comes to her senses” and learns to appreciate his sterling qualities over the more exciting, superficial guys she is attracted to now while she is “young and silly”.
The trouble is, it usually the case that the superficial, exciting guys get tired of the now-not-so-young woman before she has any epiphanies about the desirability of boring, everyday, faithful men. So she grabs herself a pack-animal while she still can. I wonder how much of evangelical church membership is comprised of these “born-again” ex-virgins and their to-some-degree reluctant mates.
Both the feral male desire for sexual variety and the feral female desire for the best possible man play right into the establishment of Serial Monogamy, usually on the woman’s terms, as the new paradigm for what preachers talk about when they offer Marriage Enrichment Seminars peppered with advice on step-parenting and “blended families”.
When I was on the market for a wife in the late 70s and early 80s, three girls I had dated rejected me (and several of my friends), then married divorced men with children as their first husbands. The churches didn’t bat an eye. Thus did serial monogamy become the default setting for the wider Church.
But the Interim Compromise is breaking down. As internet porn and the glorification of slut-culture lock young women into a biological “arms race” for the gutter in an attempt to snare the flagging attention of the most desirable young men, Christian young women are caught at a true disadvantage. These days, sex is just currency. The most desirable young men demand it as payment for their attention, and the less desirable men are, well, less desirable. That leaves most young Christian women who truly want to be chaste with some very unpalatable alternatives. They can compete for the most sought after young men who share their values. Unfortunately, you have to be really up on your girl game to pull this off. My daughter, unfortunately, is going through this right now. The really pretty girls are sending out the bridal shower announcements. The rest find it hard to get so much as a nibble.
They can date outside the church. This is so common these days nobody bats an eye at it, but it seldom results in a durable marriage. Sometimes, illegitimate issue ensue and the poor tot is trundled up to the font sans Papá.
They can keep their virtue and remain single. This happens much more often than it should. I know churches where never-married women in their late 30s and early 40s are the second largest component in the church.
Or they can pick through the leftovers. This is what Focus on the Family says about the leftovers:
The single men who survive the screening process generally fit one of the following profiles:
- The Bible geeks. Quiet, studious men who love to study theological tomes. Or verbal guys who love to teach.
- The musical. They play in the band. Or they stand on the front row raising their hands during the music.
- The asexual. Guys who are OK with kissing dating (and kissing) goodbye.
- The predators. Guys who know there are plenty of desperate young women in church and enjoy trying to get them in bed.
- The social misfits. Strange men who come to church because it’s the only place women will smile at them.
If you’re into these kinds of guys, then the church dating scene isn’t so bad. If not, then you’ll have to fight over the most rare (and for some, the most desirable) category of single churchgoing men: the late converts. These are men who came to Christ in their teens or 20s, bypassing much of the screening process. Many were saved out of terrible sin. They have been forgiven much and love God much. (These guys get snapped up quickly by the best-looking women.)
Not very flattering, is it? In response, the Church decided that the fault lay with the men, double down on these poor Sad Sacks, and to tried to shame them into Manning Up. For most single men in the church, the ones who have stuck it out thus far, this is insult to injury. Add to this a hostile political atmosphere where women have every advantage in an increasingly aggressive “divorce industry”, and it becomes apparent why men are becoming more and more reluctant to step up to the plate.
Add to this an irritating “men’s movement” in Christianity, starting with that awful Promise Keepers and continuing through a mostly professional- sports-based curriculum in the endless men’s groups that sprang up like psilocybin mushrooms in a cow pasture after a spring shower in its wake, it’s no wonder men began bleeding out of the churches like the Grand Armée fleeing Moscow.
We come now to the final gamechanger, and the one that will likely have the most impact; male disengagement from marriage and family. Young men, one of which I am hoping that my daughter will marry someday, are quietly checking out of the Matrimony Motel and departing for regions unknown without leaving a forwarding address. They have been on the receiving end of a lot of heated rhetoric painting them as the bad guys, mostly outside the wider Church but also inside as well. They have been affected inordinately by the current economic turmoil, and the role of provider and breadwinner, a role which women for the most part still expect them to fulfill, is receding before their eyes like the tide of faith in Matthew Arnold’s poem.
Good Lord have mercy. When Albert Mohler recognizes there is something wrong, you know there is something wrong.
I’m sorry. This post has run away from me, and it sure wasn’t Jesus shaped, was it? With your permission, I’d like to pick up some of these threads next week and see if I can tie them up.