Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Christian Revolt Against Christianity

Last night, May at Religious Forums revived a thread that I started some time ago. The thread asks, "Is Abstinence From Sex Before Marriage Really Best?". May, who is a pleasant person and a Jehovah's Witness, posted a link to a JW article, "What's Wrong With Premarital Sex?". Of course, the JW article takes the view that a great many things are wrong with premarital sex.

It seems if you go back far enough in this country, you will arrive at a time when very few couples had sex with each other before marriage. That's a finding reported in The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices In the United States. The generation that married in the 1920's and 30's very infrequently had sex before marriage. That is, they very infrequently had sex with their future spouses before marriage. Bordello's absolutely flourished back then, and it's a reasonable guess for that and numerous other reasons that many of the men who married in the 1920's and 30's were not virgins on their wedding nights. Yet, that generation actually did practice abstaining from premarital sex with their future spouses.

The scene changes during the 1950's. There are still plenty of whorehouses in the country, but they are on the wane, and premarital sex with your future spouse is on the rise. The rule of the day was that if a boy got a girl pregnant, they married. Because that was the rule, rather than the exception, the 50's saw more underage brides, and more pregnant brides, than any decade since. Contra the Religious Right, it was the 1950's, not the 60's and 70's, that firmly established premarital sex as the custom in America.

Today, a whole slew of surveys agree that nine out of every ten married American couples engaged in premarital sex. Thus the custom shows no real sign of waning. In my opinion, premarital sex between loving, committed couples -- couples planning to marry -- is also openly accepted as a good thing by most people now. "Testing the waters" is thought prudent as a way to prevent marrying someone you are sexually incompatible with.

So, the Jehovah's Witnesses -- as well as many other Christian denominations -- are a bit out of step with the American consensus on premarital sex.

Cynics will point out that to be out of step with the overwhelming majority of Americans is usually a sign of sanity, but the cynics might not be right this time. It could be the overwhelming majority of Americans are evolving a sane sexual morality -- without much help from Christianity.

When my former neighbor Hannah was 17, she decided to, as she phrased it, "terminate her virginity with extreme prejudice." Although she was raised Southern Baptist, it never occurred to Hannah to ask her preacher for advice. Instead, she called up an older female friend and asked her for help.

Hannah's friend took a day off work, took Hannah to Planned Parenthood for birth control, then to Victoria's Secrets for lingerie. The two later went to lunch for a long girl chat that answered the sort of questions Hannah needed honest answers to but couldn't expect to get such answers from a Southern Baptist preacher.

The church later lost Hannah from its flock, and part of the reason she told me she quit attending was simply because the church had become irrelevant to her on sexual matters. "If they lie about sex, what else are they lying about?", she said.

In so many ways, traditional Christianity is having a hard time adapting to the world today. Even many believers are finding their religion is largely irrelevant to them in crucial areas of their life. To be sure, most are not dropping out of Christianity like Hannah. Instead, they are remaining nominal Christians while increasingly reinterpreting the Christian message to suit them. Americans are not going to give up Christianity any time soon, but they will almost certainly continue to quietly evolve their own values and views despite it.


BrandonE said...

This precise issue is one of several that helped me to break from traditional Christianity. I think that the OWL program developed by the UUA and UCC is an exciting approach to sex education outside the home (though of course much of it should occur inside the home).

matt said...

I see you r logic but try looking at it this way. Social studies are showing that children are becoming more and more anti social and that lack of multiparent households is the greatest contributing factor to juvenile deliquency. Single parent families are on the rise because no restraint on sexual activity is recommended in today's society. Do you actually think that teenagers who have been shown how to use condoms are going touse them 100% of the time? Preganancy and STD rates tell a very differnt story. It does not amke a person better if they abstain until they find a mongomous partner, but it sure can make everyone's life a lot easier in the long and the longer run.

Paul said...

Hi Brandon! I've heard a great many good things about the OWL program, including that it's honest and sensible. But I've never really looked into it. Do you care to say any more about it?

Hi Matt! Welcome to the Cafe! I've heard that children of single parent families are at risk of juvenile delinquency, but I have not heard that pre-marital sex makes any significant contribution to breaking up marriages. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding your point though. Thank you for an interesting post!