Wednesday, January 14, 2015

So Who's Biased?

Image source.

In this post, Bob Jones University’s Reported Attitude Toward Assault Reflects Fundamentalist Theology, Dianna Anderson presents the idea that shame is a foundational component of purity culture (and of evangelical Christianity in general). She writes:
Ingrained in its evangelical DNA is a belief in shame as an essentially positive thing, which manifests in its reportedly condemnatory attitude toward survivors of sexual abuse and violence as well as those who engage in consensual sex.


Engaging in sexuality in unapproved-of ways—as in, anything but heterosexual intercourse within a marriage—is considered a descent into sin. And so, after such a failure, shame is regarded by proponents of purity as good: It is God “convicting” us of our sin, and in turn, God prompting us through negative feelings to turn back toward God’s love and grace.
And that is why I did not recognize that crying whenever I'm alone and constantly feeling like I'm a bad person is not a normal and reasonable thing. Like, of course I feel like I'm a bad person- I am a bad person. I do impure things with my boyfriend.

I felt awful, which meant my conscience was working as it should. Right?

But, as I said in the previous post, Let me tell you about my "God-shaped hole", I eventually realized that no, this is not normal and right and good, this is depression and let's get treatment for that. For the past several months, I've been talking to a therapist, which is really helping.

Or, Perfect Number went to find a doctor who would tell her it's okay to have sex. So she could deaden her conscience.


From my doctor's perspective, there's nothing wrong with anything I'm doing with my boyfriend. Statistics show that most Americans start having sex way younger than I am now. (Though this isn't even about sex, it's about all the other things that are definitely dirty and impure but not past that line. And actually it's not even about that, it's about the fact that I don't trust myself to be able to make my own decisions.) So he wants me to think about why I feel shame, and why I believe the things I do about sex/dating, and is there actually any evidence for it. And I'm getting better. I'm not depressed anymore.

But according to purity culture, that's not the right approach at all. Clearly, the problem here is my sin. And the fact that I have a background in purity culture and I know very clearly that this definitely IS a sin makes it that much worse. This is willful defiance against God.

Obviously, from the perspective of purity culture, there is one clear solution to my depression. Repent of my sin, and go back to God. Quit living with my sweetheart, maybe even break up with him. Obviously, the problem here is that I've broken my relationship with God, and the only solution is to repent. All of this "going to therapy" stuff is just a distraction; at best, it will delay my returning to God and experiencing true healing, at worst, the therapy will work so well that I'll come to actually believe there is nothing wrong with having sex outside of marriage, and of course everything in my life will go to hell as a result.

How dangerous for me to be trusting a worldly doctor who is so biased, right?

And that's the problem. We have here 2 completely opposite ideologies- how can we determine which one is reasonable and which is biased? Each looks unbelievably extreme and dangerous from the other's perspective.

How can we know?

How about from seeing the actual real-world effects of these competing ideologies?

The fact is, in modern American culture, most people have sex outside of marriage. That's normal. And it seems that clinging to a belief that premarital sex is absolutely infinitely bad (that's what "sin" means, yes?) causes things like shame, fear, and depression for a lot of women.

It looks like believing in purity culture adds to one's problems, rather than solving them.

Let's suppose we do a lot of research and find this conclusion is true. Still, supporters of purity culture could argue that the problems caused by purity culture were actually a result of understanding it incorrectly. (This is the "no true Scotsman" fallacy.) No no, if you were following it right, you wouldn't have that shame and fear. Yeah. Okay. Sure.

Or they may argue that deep in their hearts, those who have "lost" their "purity" have such dark and wide-reaching problems that they don't even realize people weren't meant to live that way. So it wouldn't have shown up in the survey results.

If all else fails, they could claim that those who don't follow purity culture are on their way to hell. Sure, you think your life is fine, but you've chosen sex over God. Maybe you live your whole life thinking this is normal, and then you go to hell. Conveniently, this is impossible to prove or disprove.

Image source.

So which side is "biased"? It's impossible to prove, so maybe I'll always have this little bit of doubt- "maybe by rejecting purity culture and rejecting abstinence, I actually am rejecting God." Overall though, it seems to me that "yeah sex is normal" is a much more reasonable view that's grounded in reality.

To believe otherwise is to say that shame is good and my depression is a blessing from God.

1 comment:

  1. From your post, it seems you do feel conflicted about your relationship with your boyfriend.

    I would suggest that you imagine, for a moment, that you and your boyfriend are married. Now it's perfectly OK for you to live together and have as much sexytime as you want.

    How does this thought exercise make you feel? Happy? Trapped? Anxious? What feelings come to mind?

    How do you feel about the things you call both "sexy" and "impure": More "sexy" or more "impure"? A little bit of both? Do your feelings change when you imagine you are married? How does this make you feel?

    Feelings can be guides, but sometimes it can be hard to know what they are saying, especially if easy answers are given to you, either by purity culture or by secular culture. Good therapy can help you sort out your feelings and find your answer.