Thursday, September 04, 2008

Going It Alone

I usually am better about updating my blog when a new month rolls around. Sorry this has taken a while, but life has been hectic recently, especially considering that Tropical Storm Hanna has her eyes on the Carolina coast, and Ike and Josephine appear to be right behind her. I've had a lot of work to do when it comes to helping prepare my school for the possibility of a mandatory evacuation, so I've been a little stressed.

Still, I've been wanting to blog. I've had a list of different topics to write about and I thought I'd go ahead and try to knock one out, so here goes. I read this article by Debbie Maken in the Boundless webzine a month or so ago, and I really had some problems with it. I suggest reading the whole article, but if not, my best summary of it is that Mrs. Maken wants Christians to "rethink the gift of singleness."

In other words, she seems to take on the attitude that the Church isn't hard enough on people who "prolong the single years." I could start, I suppose, by asking what church she is attending, because as far as I know the idea of people being content, holy, and single for long periods of time is a pretty new one for Christians... and most still haven't caught up with it.

Mrs. Maken goes on to talk, somewhat favorably, about how singles were viewed and treated in the 1950s, mentioning how bachelors were seen as "eccentric" or "late bloomers" and unwed women were pitied as "old maids." I'm not sure how much we've moved beyond that, to be honest, though I can see where Mrs. Maken is coming from when she mentions how the Church is getting to be more understanding and kind towards singles. The only problem, of course, is that she doesn't really see it that way. She thinks a healthy dose of '50s shame is what churches need to get their singles in line. I can't say I agree.

Look, I understand that marriage is important. I really, really do. And I will agree with Mrs. Maken in that someone who has all the opportunity in the world to marry, but doesn't out of fear of responsibility or something equally trivial, might need to put themselves back in the game just a little. However, I disagree with her strongly when she says that the "supernatural removal of sexual desire" is the only reason one can remain single. For one... does that even happen? I don't think so.

Two, she calls this "supernatural removal" celibacy. Any person with a dictionary can see that celibacy has nothing to do with desire and everything to do with behavior (and, specifically, the lack of sexual behavior). Lack of sexual desire is called asexuality, and I don't think that's supernatural. Anyway, I think anyone who feels called to singleness, for one reason or another, should have the freedom to pursue that calling without being judged. Period.

I personally take great pleasure sometimes in the thought of going it alone. I've always been a bit more of a loner by nature and, though I sometimes fear total abandonment, I can get by with much less social interaction than your average guy. I think this gives me some unique abilities when it comes to potential for service and travel.

It's certainly not out of fear of responsiblity that I'm pursuing singleness. It's because I really feel that that's where I should be, based on my circumstances. I'd rather be single than force myself into a marriage I don't want (and due to my homosexuality, wouldn't be able to fulfill properly), simply to satisfy others around me. Will this desire for singleness change when I'm older? Possibly. Of course, Mrs. Maken seems to imply that if your'e a young single Christian, you need to get married right away.

What I find funny about that particular line of thinking is that later on in the article she quotes C.S. Lewis, a man who didn't marry until he was 58 (and in the 1950s, no less, so there goes the "later bloomer" argument as well). Lewis was married for a short four years, after which his wife, Joy Gresham, died of bone cancer. Lewis had been single for his entire life before that.

I don't think any Christian nowadays would say that he was "immature" or not fulfilling his Christian obligations by remaining single, although he certainly didn't have the excuse that Mrs. Maken would have wanted for a man in his position (i.e. he wasn't a monk and there's no indication he was asexual). So maybe she just needs to take a look back and realize that some of the best Christian thinkers and leaders of our time didn't have the perfect little marriage thing down the way she thinks they should have.


MR said...

I saw the same article and skimmed it. I could not bring myself to read the whole thing.

You saw it right. Mrs. Maken was unfortunately encouraging old-fashioned guilt manipulation to motivate people to marry. I do not remember her even mentioning same sex desire as a reason for avoiding marriage. Many Christians unknowingly use similar pressure tactics on singles and I certainly forgive them. They usually don't realize how difficult that makes it for us.

I struggle with same sex desire but live celibately with God's help. I have dated several women, once where we even talked about marriage. Things quickly and totally fell apart when she found out about my attraction to men. I learned a lot from what she told me then and thinking about it later. In general, it is DEVASTATING to a straight girl to be in a relationship with someone like me. Because of Christian love for my sisters in Christ, I need to refrain from marriage.

Besides, as you pointed out, there are many ways we can happily serve God that would be difficult if we were married. Celibacy does NOT equal unhappiness!

Kitty said...

Dude, I know you suggested reading the whole article but I just couldn't do it. I don't know what this woman is on, but it obviously destroys brain cells.


Norm! said...

Hi Jay,

Wow, Maken's bizarre hostile view of singleness, skewed Biblical understanding (Wasn't Jesus one of those irresponsible 30-year-old single men?), and ignorance of recent history (Pre-1960s culture was far from great for women) is unbelieveable.

I think she has some legitimate criticism that some people may delay or avoid marriage and long-term relationships due to immaturity. However her prescription isn't to empower and equip people to seek marriage, but to regress society to a time in which people were externally pressured to marry.

Camerin Courtney's article raises some good criticisms of Maken's views from a conservative Christian perspective.

Brandon said...

As I recall, Jesus never married. Nor did the Apostle Paul, and a great many other Christian leaders. Paul himself, I believe, even promoted being single. Catholic priests don't usually marry. To me, the whole "you must get married argument" is just so bogus. I think it shows something about the person who pushes that line of thought more than the ones who they're talking about (single people).

There's nothing wrong with anyone being single, especially if the person feels it's what they're called to. I mean, where in the bible does it say we all have to marry to be good Christians? I've yet to find such a passage.

Keep on your path, Jay. There's nothing wrong about it. :)

Jay said...

MR: I think in her book Mrs. Maken mentioned that having physical reasons which would prevent you from fulfilling your, um, marital duties was a reason to stay single. Maybe SSA would fall under that. Either way, this wasn't really about me. I know I have a good reason. I just think plenty of straight singles do too, and either way, we shouldn't have to go around looking for excuses to why we aren't married (or aren't looking for marriage).

Oh, and Amen about not wanting to put a woman through dating guys like us. Unless she really wants to (and is aware of everything it could bring), I wouldn't even come close to considering it.

Kitty: Ouch. Still not as rough a critique as the Christianity Today review of her book, though. :) Thanks for stopping by!

Norm: Yeah, Ms. Courtney's article was a much better critique than mine. I only just realized that Mrs. Maken had written an entire BOOK of this. Wow.

And yeah, it always concerns me when Christians who didn't live in the '50s say that the attitudes (on marriage, homosexuality, culture, etc.) were better back then. They really, really weren't.

Brandon: Thanks, Brandon. Hope you're doing well.

Arnold said...

Amen to all the above.

Also, I don't see Mrs. M. dealing in this article with Matthew 19.10-12, where Jesus seems to suggest that singleness can be a noble state. (No doubt, she does refer to this in her book - no doubt, dismissively.)

As a 51-year old lifelong single, I love the freedom that my singleness gives me to be involved in Kingdom work. I have nothing against marriage - and at times have desired it - but there's no way I could do all that I do now if I were married.

kurt_t said...

Honestly, Jay, where do you find this stuff?!

If you were my kid, I'd buy you a stack of Chaka Khan* records and make you dance in your underwear until you loosened up a little bit.

*or whatever the young people dance in their underwear to these days.

Jay said...

I'm plenty loose. I just don't blog so much about being loose (but hopefully my monthly music and books feature can show that I do have some interesting facets to my life).

I just don't think that I should stand by quietly while people like Mrs. Maken are making claims about my life (and, more importantly, God) that I think are untrue and harmful.

And though I like Chaka, I will always be a fan of Miss Diana Ross. "Upside Down" is on my playlist for the month. :)

chang3andrew said...

being single makes you more wealthy, just thought I might break the seriosity for a split second with a bit of stupid wittiness

bryan said...

What? I was under the impression Boundless was a magazine that encourage singles. So why is it publishing this article, which is critical of singles, in the first place? I find that just strange.

One of the things I like to say is that 'Gay people complicate things'. Not to sound negative or harsh, but for better or worse, it's true. And I just love how gay people complicate things for Christian writers, because in a way it reveals a lot. It shows who's paying attention and who's not, who's showing real love and compassion and who's only pretending. Mrs. Maken's article demonstrate that she is not paying attention. And based on her article, it doesn't seem that she's showing much love or compassion to singles either.

P said...

Jay -it may be a good idea, for your own sanity, to avoid reading all Focus on the Family publications until you are of legal drinking age.

Kitty said...

What does this article by Maken have to do with Focus On the Family?

Selly said...

I am with P. here, Jay. Maybe your first problem might have been in reading anything associated with FOF. (Kitty, Boundless is a Focus on the Family affiliate.)

I must apologise to anyone who reads/likes this webzine but my personal distrust/dislike/disgust of James Dobson will not allow me to read anything he is associated with. I find that anything I read makes me want to bang my head against a brick wall, really hard!

Peterson Toscano said...

Jay, I agree with you too. And your thoughts about C.S. Lewis got me thinking about how little the "church" values friendship. If we look at Jesus and the disciples and even C.S. Lewis and the crew he hung out with, we see intimate friendship on a level that often goes missing in the world today.

The elevation of married bliss seems to push down the necessity for close friendship.

It's not good for man (or woman) to be alone and not all of us will find a life companion, but it is much easier when we have intimates in our lives. In his essay "The Four Loves" C.S. Lewis writes most passionately about friendship above all over loves.

Since the 50's we see a cooling off of deep friendship, a distancing particularly when it comes to men being close for fear that the love be construed as homosexual. Love is love and sometimes it is expressed by men through friendship.