Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thoughts On Celibacy, Part 2: The Life

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

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jay wrote:

"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."

What you write here is true in theory, but not in reality. In theory, everyone is happy living under communism.

Jay wrote:

"Though I hate to sound like a right-wing radical, marriage is an essential building block to society."

My son's legos are essential building blocks of his lego airplanes, and yet they don't fail 50% of the time.

The idealism of marriage is some of the most wishful thinking mixed with militant denial in our culture. It's sad to watch you perpretrate it.

Regards,
Jimmy

MR said...

I am celibate but I don't suffer much from loneliness. I really have found happiness in God but also in friendships. Most of my friends are very straight Christian guys who know my SSA and are compassionate. Having a "spiritual boyfriend" with SSA just would not work for me either.

I would say that what has helped me most is taking joy in pleasing God and helping others instead of focusing on my needs. I don't ignore myself, I just try to be MORE concerned about others' needs.

Amanda said...

If I may, I'd like to suggest a book for you to read. It's an easy read and not lengthy. Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality by Rob Bell. I think you'll find a perspective on this stuff that makes a lot of sense and is a little different than mainstream Christianity.

Pomoprophet said...

Is this the same JIMMY that was so pesimistic on someone elses blog in these circles? Because some people cant make something work doesnt mean the thing itself is wrong. I cant get my students to always be quiet and obey. So I should no longer teach? That would be silly. Education (like marriage) is inherintly good and so we continue to work at it day in and day out.

JAY- you offer good ponits. A big frustration of mine is that the church looks at single people as some how less than because they dont fit the cultural norm of being married. I once heard someone say they tell people they are divorced (though they have never really been married) because they get less looks that way than they do being in their 30's and still single! Theres something wrong there!

you're right that you dont have to be lonely when you're single. But our culture also makes it very difficult to build meaningful realtionships. Most guys dont know they need them and we're such a fragmented society.

As for the comment about "sex God" I like anything by Rob Bell but have heard mixed reviews about that one.

Norm! said...

I was "involuntarily celibate" during most of my 20s and didn't really have a serious, steady relationship. I didn't intend to be celibate, just dating wasn't a priority for me and 'hooking-up' lost its appeal after I got out of the ex-gay lifestyle at 22. As I approached the big three-oh, I thought I really should make a more serious effort about dating. It wasn't out of dire loneliness, but really wanting to open a new chapter and try something new.

Now that I've been in a steady relationship for nearly two years, I can't imagine my life celibate -- or without a partner. I really see how some people can become relationship-addicts. For me, the sexual aspect is secondary to sharing one's life with another person. So I think going without sex is the easy part. The harder part is going without the intimacy and shared life.

kurt_t said...

Would the church?

Of course.

There are churches out there that accept and support all kinds of people in all kinds of relationships.

As far as "why do we all still have that aversion to the concept of celibacy?", dude, I'm not the one blogging about how celibacy is such a tough row to hoe. You are. I think the important question is "Why do I have an aversion to the concept of celibacy?"

Jay said...

Jimmy: Marriages fail because people aren't perfect, and we have a habit of bringing our problems into everything we do. That doesn't mean the institution doesn't deserve respect. It does. That's not a cultural attitude to be perpetrated; that's simply how I believe God intended it to be.

MR: I am glad to hear you have found happiness; it's very encouraging.

Amanda: Will do! A lot of my friends keep telling me to pick up his stuff; I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Pomoprophet: More on celibacy and the church in the next post, buddy. :)

Norm: Thank you for sharing your experiences. I'm glad that you've found happiness, and you're totally right: going without sex is the easy part.

Kurt: Well, Kurt, the we includes I. Are you trying to say that I'm the only person who has a problem with celibacy? You might need to check out the comments from a few other readers, then. ;)

As far as churches go, I think I was referring more so to the current, conservative Evangelical churches of which I am a part. Of course there are churches out there that accept people in gay relationships, but those of us pursuing celibacy because we think gay sex is sinful are not likely to be attending them.

Brandon said...

I recently watched a clip off of You Tube, which I probably shouldn't have, where these two guys were lying about on a bed (fully clothed) talking and hanging out, and part of the time, holding each other. To be honest with you, I saw absolutely nothing at all dirty about it. It was loving. And I honestly found myself wishing I could have the same thing--that I could have that experience.

You wrote, "Why do we all still have that aversion to the concept of celibacy?" I think it's because of something like this. We all want to feel close to someone else and to be loved. We all want to feel the warmth of another person in our lives. To be celibate, means, to a certain extent, that you will never have that. I'll never find myself lying in bed chit chatting with the man I love, and holding him and being held by him. I won't experience that closeness being celibate. That's why the concept seems so scary. And then there is a loneliness that can come about sometimes. Sometimes I do feel so lonely I just feel like I can't hardly stand it. I wish like crazy sometimes I could have a boyfriend. If for no other reason than to take away the loneliness and to give me somebody I could love and feel close to.

I'll admit that for the celibate person, friends can make life so much more enjoyable. For anyone really. Because you're right when you say that we are social creatures. To quote someone else for a moment, "No man is an island."

I'm glad you're discussing this subject, Jay. Great post!

Brandon

kurt_t said...

Conservative Evangelical churches?

Hmmm, let's see...

"Hello, I'm Jay and this is Ramon, my spiritual b..."

No, dude, I'm not seein' it.

David said...

Jay,

This is a very interesting series. Looking forward to the part 3. :)

As to the issue of celibacy being an irrevocable call (and good Calvinist you, for sneaking Irresistible Grace in there), I'm not so sure. I think that, while most celibate folk do have a sex drive, there is a definite difference between their giftedness and the rest of folks. A high school minister of mine, Dave, totally had the gift of celibacy. And he struggled occasionally with wanting to marry (and he eventually did, near 40, yikes!), but he functioned very well - I'd say ideally for his role in ministry - when he was single. This was not the case for other ministers. And he was fulfilled and dedicated to the Lord. And if you'd talked to him, he'd admit his practical calling of celibacy as a factor of where he was in life and how he'd been designed.

You mention the loneliness of celibacy, and question whether it is loneliness. I think it is, because the sex drive is nothing but whoring around without being coupled (as it is with almost everyone) to that strong desire for intimacy. Why do you think monks and nuns traditionally lived in monasteries? It was to meet the desire for a deep intimacy, which they'd forsworn sexually. So if you choose the path of celibacy, make for darned sure you have intimate, stable friendships. I think these are important for everyone, but particularly so for the celibate.

And I'd caution you against the idea of a spiritual boyfriend if you want to keep your convictions, because if you're anything like me, it'd be ridiculous to expect to share one's soul with a man for years on end and not have sexuality come into it. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Jay wrote:

"Marriages fail because people aren't perfect, and we have a habit of bringing our problems into everything we do."

That's simplistic, of course, and it dove-tails nicely into Christian misanthropy: "You were born FLAWED and BROKEN! Only Jesus can fix you!"

Jay wrote:

"That doesn't mean the institution doesn't deserve respect. It does."

Respect it all you want, but don't call it "an essential building block of society" when it has a 50% failure rate. The vertical supports on my deck are essential to the integrity to my deck. Does that mean I expect 50% of them to fail? Respect is one thing, and starry-eyed, pollyanish gushing is another. To be certain, the vows of "Till death do us part" and "What God has put together, let no man cast asunder" are jokes and even Christians now this now because the divorce rate for Evangelical Christian marriages is also 50%.

Jay wrote:

"That's not a cultural attitude to be perpetrated; that's simply how I believe God intended it to be."

That itself is a cultural attitude. "God bless America" is a cultural expression. "America is a Christian nation" is a cultural expression.

pomoprophet wrote:

"Is this the same JIMMY that was so pesimistic on someone elses blog in these circles?"

In the flesh. But I'm being honest, not pessimistic. Christians frequently lie about what marriage is, you know, "institution" and "essential building block" nonsense. If it were really "essential" then the nation would be destroyed a long time ago.

"Because some people cant make something work doesnt mean the thing itself is wrong. I cant get my students to always be quiet and obey. So I should no longer teach?"

If the student-teacher relationship were called an "institution" and an "essential building block of society" then you might have a point. As is, you are trying hard to change the subject away from marriage. Why? Is it because you are weak on that subject?

50% is an F.

Jimmy

Jay said...

Jimmy, I think you have me confused with some right-wing nutjob who goes on and on about how great marriage is and how that's the only worthwhile life for an individual. If you read the entire post (instead of just selecting one sentence from it and disproportionately attacking me for it), you'll understand that those are the people that I work against.

I'm not a neo-con. I don't say America is a Christian nation or that God blessed it above anywhere else. I just believe that the stable home environment that functional marriages offer is the best environment for raising children. The end.

What's more, I no longer think that allowing gays to marry would be detrimental to the institution of marriage, meaning I support equal marriage rights. So, your problem with me lies where, exactly?

If it lies in a bunch of assumptions and stereotypes that you created about me, then the problem is your own.

Anonymous said...

Jay,

Thank you for your response. It is not my intention to get under your skin, though it's clear that I'm succeeding in that goal without trying. I do not think you are a right-wing nutjob, so please don't confuse me with a left-wing nutjob. My goals here are honesty and respect, and that is precisely why I take exception to what you wrote because I see your words as dishonest and disrespectful.

I think that it is dishonest of you to call marriage "an essential building block to society" because it fails catastropically hundreds of thousands of times per year. If it really were an "essential building block", then how in the world could society have survived? I think your words are wishful thinking mixed with militant denial. I think you praise marriage as something it not: as if marriage were some kind of magical, powerful relationship when it is much, much less. It is a partnership of convenience to be shedded at whim whenever the fleeting feelings of love subside which is granted a boatload of special rights by the state. Honesty, Jay, not pollyannish idealism in spite of all conflicting evidence.

I think it is disrespectful of you to claim that a heterosexual partnership is inherently superior to a homosexual one when it comes to parenting. You are calling me an inherently deficient parent. I would like to you explain to me, in detail, precisely why you think gays will make inherently inferior parents.

Dr. Laura used to say on her radio show that she didn't think that gays should have kids, but that she was okay with them having mentally retarded children. In other words, the deficient parents and the deficient children deserve each other. Perhaps you agree with her view in this regard?

I can understand if you feel guilty and ashamed of yourself for being gay -- that's your problem. But don't project your problems onto me and challenge my ability to parent my child. When Christians are feeling honest and open, then they sometimes admit that they would like the state to seize my children from me. Perhaps you agree with this as well? Perhaps your words encourage those kinds of ideas?

And one more question for you: Do you think it's possible that my love for my partner is as deep and as serious as a man's love for his wife?

Jimmy

Jane said...

Jay,

I must sit and think about these things just a little too long and little too much. Oh well.

Ya know, I like the idea of a "spiritual boyfriend/girlfriend". I don't know if it would work for me either, but it's possible. The most obvious concern would be temptation and whether it can be resisted in such a relationship. This might be pushing it, but it's alright if temptation occasionally gets the best of us. We are constantly giving in to our homosexual temptations daily in one way or another anyway. So that kind of relationship could offer a safe outlet if and when things don't always go as planned. God still forgives.

Would the church approve? I'm the kind of person who doesn't always care what other people think. The church might have to open it's heart and mind a little bit.

I actually think there is a bigger concern than temptation or church acceptance in a "spiritual boyfriend/girlfriend" relationship. That kinda of relationship would get undoubtedly close (if it works). You talked about the possibliliy of one day meeting a women and getting married in Part 3. Ok, so most of us don't think we could meet someone of the opposite-sex and marry. But it's always possible (we'll be scratching our heads for sure), it just doesn't look probable. The problem is, what happens when we do meet that "special someone" of the opposite-sex while in a "spiritual boyfriend/girlfriend" relationship? That would get very tricky because the other member of that relationship is going to feel jealous, hurt, and generally left out in the cold. This situation could arise. Then what? I think a "spiritual boyfriend/girlfriend" relationship would work best if it were mutually exclusive and committed. It's more than just being best friends. However, to lock ourselves into that kind of relationship could block the potential for marriage and a fulfilling sex life later. These are just thoughts, but it would seem to me best if that kind of relationship were considered later in life as the chance of marriage fades as opposed to earlier. This potential conflict is actually the only thing that bothers me about the "spiritual boyfriend/girlfriend" thing.

Maybe it's because I've kind of had a little personal experience with a similar situation. Details aren't important, but I know all about the hurt, jealousy, and left out in the cold feeling that comes when you watch someone you deeply care about develop a more close and intimate relationship with someone of the opposite-sex. It's not pleasant!

But other than that. Everything you've said is something good to think about.

Jane

Anonymous said...

Hey Jay,
New to your blog; It's quite interesting. My 2 cents are that the spiritual boyfriend thing just doesn't fly. Even if you don't fall into sin, the temptation easily becomes almost unbearable. Then you have to cut things off completely, and you're worse off than you were when you started. Maybe I'm just weak; of maybe I just don't like playing with fire. Blessings,
-Nic.

U.T. said...

Jimmy

All jay wrote was that he believes marriage is the essential building block to society, which reflects his Christian views, and he has clarified that he doesn't believe that sanctioning gay marraiges will be detrimental to the institution of marriage.

In no way did he ramble on at how gay couples make an inferior couple. His reason for mentioning that is, I would even suspect, reflecting what most people (Christian or not) think, you gotta get married if not you will feel lonely and terrible. Why are you so ruffed up and rude in your language when you reply?

We are in no way homophobes, we have SSA ourselves and we know the pain. We are just suggesting alternatives to marriage, which could be a life of voluntary celibacy. You feel that having a domestic partner works for you, sure by all means, none of us here are saying it's bad. I believe you feel loved, that's great for you. But for us, as much as we like for that, we know that is not an option for us because we are Christians. So we are just saying, hey, being celibate, it may not be as bad as what most people think! We are not saying being celibate is the option for everyone (Christian or not) just because you're gay, because gay marriages are inferior. It's just not an option for us Christians.

Is it possible for your love for your partner to be as "deep and serious" as a man's love for his wife? Of course we can't make an objective and accurate comparison, but I don't see why not. I used to like guys so much that I would die for them, albeit it usually ended up painful because the guys were straight. Again, it is possible. Just that it is not an option for us Christians. But if you truly think it works for you we are not here to ask you to leave your partner. Notice 99% of us here are Christians with SSA, who acknowledge that homosexuality is not God's plan and just trying to follow it and go on with life. We are really not here to talk about how bad homosexuality is, we are here to talk about what plans are there for us as Christians with SSA, so there is no need to get all defensive and all, and indirectly discouraging some of us here. It is mean.

Travis said...

Okay, three things.

1. Adoption is great but a child really needs both parents for their best shot at Godliness.

2. Spiritual Boyfriend? That's absolutely unscriptural - if thine spiritual boyfriend betrays you cast it from you... There would surely be temptation and sins in the heart.

3. Celibacy? Are you telling me that you're not looking at gay porn and masturbating? That means you're not really being the sort of celibate that we assume Paul was. Better to marry than to burn? Are you really not burning?

Jay said...

Wow, this is an old post. Had to read back through it to see what I once said here! I've certainly changed some parts of my thinking since then.

Well, you're right about the spiritual boyfriend. Although I do seriously hope for some great male friends in my life, I agree that it would not be wise to be a longterm roommate with another man who struggles with homosexuality. There would be too much temptation. However, just for the sake of mutual care and protection, single people do often have longterm friends who they live with. If I did have such a friend, I wouldn't call him a spiritual boyfriend, and he would probably be straight.

As for celibacy, well, I certainly have struggled with masturbation and porn. I praise God that it's a struggle that I'm winning, thanks to Him providing me self-discipline and control. I don't think it's right to assume that all celibate people are non-sexual or don't have sexual temptations. I don't think it's right to assume that Paul had no sexual passions. He simply loved God more. I still have attractions to men and I have a sexual side, but I can honestly say that I am not burning.

And even if I was burning, it's not like a heterosexual marriage would solve that burning. After all, I'd be burning with a desire for men, not for women. Many married ex-gay friends of mine have learned the hard way that sexual intimacy with one's wife does not necessarily lead to the sexual release that their desires for men call for. Same-sex desires can't be fulfilled or released. They simply have to be given to God. So even if I was burning with homosexual desire, heterosexual marriage would not be the best idea. Self control and submission to God would be. Then marriage would possibly be on the table, if I desired to be a husband.

As for adoption, we'll just have to disagree. I do think that children should have two Christian parents, but unfortunately there are more needy children than there are Christian couples to adopt them. I'm not sure if I'll ever have the chance to adopt, but if I did I would make sure that my son or daughter would have a strong female influence in his or her life to complement my own male influence, even if it wasn't a wife.