I think the reason that celibacy is a scary concept for most people is because we are all naturally social creatures. Sure, some of us are wallflowers and some of us are social butterflies, but despite the varying degrees, we all require social contact to keep us, well, intact. The desire for companionship is as natural to us as the desire for sex, and I don't think I'm stretching it when I say that it is the more important of the two.
Marriage is seen as the ultimate form of companionship, and indeed it is. Two people commit themselves to each other and vow to stay with each other for the rest of their lives, and together they raise a family and help build a community. Though I hate to sound like a right-wing radical, marriage is an essential building block to society. Though it is far from perfect, it's the cornerstone of the extremely social environment in which we are raised. But, is there nothing else?
For those pursuing celibacy, for whatever reason, there very well better be something else. Though I may be swearing off sex, I still need all the companionship that a normal person gets. Whether I achieve it through marriage or other "normal" means is up for debate.
There are a few images of celibacy (or, more specifically, singleness) that we are used to. One is that of priests, nuns, or monks, who have in effect taken Christ as their bridegroom and live lives fully devoted to Him and His service. Then there is the not-so-pleasant image of lonely bachelors and old maids who live alone with ten cats or so. Think of "Eleanor Rigby" from that classic Beatles song.
But if those are our only images of celibacy, aren't we selling ourselves a bit short? Of course there are shut-ins and lonely people, and our prayers should go out to them, but I'd chance to say that everyone knows at least one celibate person who is happy, successful, and has built a life for him or herself that does not include the traditional model of husband, wife, or kids. I, for example, have an aunt in her fifties. She never married, and never even had a steady boyfriend for all I know. Yet she has a great group of friends, she loves to travel, and she has been an essential part of my family. Though she worries about who will take care of her when she is elderly, she is content with her life and how she has lived it.
Better yet, there is a single woman at my church who adopted a child a few years ago. A few people didn't appreciate that, because there is a bit of a taboo against choosing to raise a child on your own. I didn't have a problem with it at all, though. She is a wonderful person and a wonderful mother, and she has the means to raise a child by herself. Adoption is something that I also have considered, should I ever earn a salary that can support a child by myself.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that the celibate life is often viewed as something that either must be of total service to God, or is one of emptiness and pity. But the fact is there are tons of celibates out there. Most of them probably don't identify that way, because they probably didn't "choose" celibacy as I have. They either never found the right man or woman, or were focused on a career instead of family, or simply never had the desire to marry. But marriage isn't the only way to happiness. Sex definitely isn't. Friends, family, work, worship, ministry, travel, joy, comfort, companionship, happiness: they're all still there for you even if you don't get married or find that "special someone." So why do we all still have that aversion to the concept of celibacy?
I guess for some people friendships just don't cut it. They want companionship and intimacy. I can understand that, and I'm even open to the possibility of a "spiritual boyfriend." Someone who is a partner in every way but sexual. I've heard of those types of relationships, and I don't see anything morally wrong with them. Personally, I'm not sure I could do it. But if two people are sure they could make it work, then I'd support them in it. Would the church? Well, we'll leave that for the next post.
Thoughts on Celibacy, Part 1: The Calling
Thoughts on Celibacy, Part 3: The Church