A while ago, a gay man living a celibate life shared something with me. He said that, in the congregation he was from, men were not supposed to be alone with women they weren’t married to. Because he was gay, though committed to celibacy, he was not supposed to be alone with a man either. I was shocked. That group had destined him to a life of loneliness because of their view that people were like rabbits and could not refrain from sex. It was the first time I’d heard of anything so extreme.
A different young man that I know said to me once, “Our culture is defined by Puritanism and the reaction against it.” He said that both sides have the same problem: they are way too focused on sex. That statement rang so true in my heart that I could feel the bells for weeks. There are people who want incredible restrictions against even being human because they think that everyone will sleep with everyone else if not prevented from it. There are others who agree but find this a good thing, thinking everyone should give in to lust and “be free.” This is causing much pain and abuse. But really, both sides are causing pain.
There is an answer to this. Part of this answer is friendship and restoring the human. I was amazed the last time I was deeply interested in someone. I realized that if we remained only close friends I would be OK. So much more than a desire for physical intimacy was a desire to talk, a desire to take walks, a desire to share all my thoughts and a desire to learn the thoughts of the other. There were amazing conversations about science and beauty and story. I didn’t know before then that life was like this. It opened my eyes.
At the basis of romance is friendship; and whether you are married or celibate, what is really important — that friendship intimacy — can be a part of your life. An author named Eve Tushnet wrote an article for Commonwheel magazine about a movie where there is only extreme loneliness or romance. There is either romantic love or the desert; there is nothing in between. So many movies are like this. Much of the media paints a picture that sex is everything; and of course they do. It makes them money. If you can convince someone they need something and that they won’t get it without your product, you make money. A culture is defined by its stories. And this has been going on for decades at least. People think of it as normal and many have gotten so addicted that they don’t know that there is any other way. They don’t know that there even exists a free fulfilling life where one is free to choose sex or no sex, and that no sex can also be beautiful.
There is a deeper richness to life. Google famous single people and you will see that these are great artists and scientists. A spouse is amazing, but there is a richness still without it. There is thought, art, science, story, creativity, logic, community, friendship, intimacy of the heart. We just celebrated the feast of Saint Pope John Paul II who was committed to celibacy and one of the best examples of pure love in someone only human. He had the best intimacy there was, intimacy with the person who is love itself, and he gave to others from that. He spread joy and moved the world. There is a deeper richness to life.
I have been grateful lately to see people from both liberal and conservative camps (though I don’t really ever know what those words exactly mean), having the conversation. This world is too focused on sex. Everything has come apart. How can we change this? People who you’d think would be fighting are both waking up to the same truth. The focus on sex has gotten dangerous and depressing on the free-love side. It is keeping people in isolation and from being truly human on the almost Puritan side. The focus on sex from either viewpoint (or is it really all the same thing?) isn’t working, and people are waking up to it. There is an answer.
What can we do? It is easy to get lost and depressed isn’t it? We see violence and using and it seems it will always be this way, and we begin to want to give up. But there is a lot we can do. We can teach the value of friendship. We can bring culture back into our lives, not just a culture of looking good and being successful but a culture of learning about truth, beauty, and goodness through science, literature, art, music, theater games, play, hard work that accomplishes something. Tell the stories of your ancestors. Sing the songs your mama taught you. Well-loved children know what it is to be truly human. They know that life is amazing in and of itself. They know that family and friends are enough. So many teens are obsessed with looking good and dating to the detriment of friendships and their own joy. (I like the way “Girl Meets World” pointed this out and chose something different.) Somewhere in growing up, something got lost. We can learn a lot from young children. We can rebuild culture, we can support friendship, and we can pray, connecting with God and fighting the darkness. A family that teaches their kids theater games is teaching them that life is about more than social status and hooking up. A family that passes down family recipes is doing the same thing. Families and single people can be friends and share culture and community with one another. There is so much more to life than romance and sex.
In the midst of what seems to be a depressing world outlook, I see people coming together and discussing friendship and social change from a culture where things are loved and people are used, into flipping that over again and saving what is truly human. It gives me hope. There are many points in this blog, but the main one is this: people are having the conversation. I praise God for that. Come join us.
May God bless your day.