This article is long but well worth reading.
Walter Russell Mead is brilliant and understanding of and sensitive to Christianity – I don’t know, however, if he is a born-again believer.
I don’t agree with everything in this article, but it is full of ”food for thought.”
Some of it I really agree with
Walter Russell Mead
Like everyone who checks Instapundit on a regular basis, I come across all kinds of interesting news; yesterday Glenn offered a link to this National Review Online post by David French where one learns that young unmarried evangelicals are behaving very much like other unmarried young people. 80 percent of them are sexually active, compared to 88 percent of their peers.
One should note that this is a fairly crude statistic; “sexually active” can cover a lot of ground in terms of the number of partners, frequency and degree of emotional commitment. The differences between evangelical youth and their peers are likely to become a little more significant as the questions get more specific. Nevertheless, the statistics are striking.
As French sagely observers, this is partly about the delay of marriage in our society; waiting until marriage means one thing if most people get married before 20. It means something else completely if a lot of people don’t marry until 30. And we do live in a sex-saturated society in which formerly ethical companies like Abercrombie & Fitch advertise their wares with a laser-like focus on sex.
French observes that evangelical youth continue to believe pre-marital sex is wrong — 76 percent agree in the poll he cites. These young people are experiencing a reality of Christian life memorably described by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans. As the King James Bible translates the verse (Romans 7:15): “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.”
They feel that premarital sex is wrong, but somehow there they are at the hook up bar, or in the dorm room of a friend, staying over with their date — or just trolling the web for porn.
Via Meadia has no magic solutions to the ancient human conflict between our aspirations and our urges. Every human being struggles with these problems, some people more successfully and creatively than others. Titans of industry, famous basketball coaches, presidents of the United States, nationally known megachurch preachers and many others fail to restrain their sexual behavior within the bounds of simple human decency; amazingly, 20 year-old college students also sometimes stray. (There are even whispers of misbehavior in the ranks of bloggers, but Via Meadia dismisses these as mere rumors and canards. Uniquely, the world of internet journalism is inhabited by perfect saints.)
St. Augustine’s prayer as he reports in his autobiography (“Lord, make me chaste — but not yet”) has no doubt been prayed many times since. Beyond the remedies St. Paul proposes — patience, faith in God, prayer, an effort to deepen your relationship with God and your love of your neighbor day by day and if all else fails, marriage — we here at Via Meadia have little to say. We do not recommend the approach of Origen, the Alexandrian theologian who many believe took the advice of Jesus about cutting off the offending member a little too literally and castrated himself to remain sexually pure, but neither do we endorse the position St. Paul raises rhetorically in Romans: since human sin brings forth new grace and forgiveness from God, let us sin all the more that grace may abound.
But if we cannot make temptation vanish or inoculate readers to resist it, we can at least help some of those young evangelicals and others understand why this particular problem is so difficult today. The answer goes beyond the delay in the age of marriage and the pervasive presence of sexually tinged advertising and entertainment that surrounds us all. It even goes farther than the effect of the bad examples of incontinence and infidelity among so many social leaders.
The core truth is that premarital sex is less evil today than it used to be. It remains, as moral theologians say, wrong in itself, we Christians believe, and that is a quality that does not change. But premarital sex is less of a sin against other people than it used to be.
In the old days, for example, before contraception, every act of intercourse outside marriage carried a substantial possibility of ending in pregnancy. For women, the consequences of pregnancy out of wedlock were life shattering: disgrace, the loss of any hope of a good marriage, economic and social marginalization. It was very foolish and wicked for young girls to place themselves and their families at risk of all this for a moments’ pleasure; it was much worse for young men to attempt to persuade and cajole girls they did not plan to marry into sex. Young men who behaved in this way attracted the deserved moral censure of the community, and parents were vigilant to protect their daughters from unscrupulous seducers.
Premarital sex under these circumstances was not just a moral crime against God’s law; it was a selfish act of personal gratification that endangered the well being and happiness of whole families.
If we add to that the devastating consequences of sexually transmitted diseases in the era before antibiotics made them treatable, premarital sex becomes an even more dubious phenomenon. Insanity, death, sterility, defective offspring: unchastity brought all these consequences in its wake. The casual seducer who infected a young woman with syphilis might be condemning her, her unborn children and her future husband to madness and death.
Given the stakes, parents, teachers, preachers and the community generally moved heaven and earth in efforts (not always successful) to keep young people apart and to keep the fires of sexual infatuation banked. (Once couples were firmly and publicly engaged, even the most straitlaced communities relaxed the rules. A planned wedding can always be moved up.)
These days, the negative consequences of premarital sex, though real and not to be lightly passed over, are much less dramatic. Some young people may lose their ability to form deep relationships, young women in particular often come to regret the emotional consequences of too many involvements too soon, and the dangers of unexpected pregnancy and its consequences remain, but on the whole young people having sex these days do less immediate damage to each other and to their families and communities than might have once been the case.
This helps to explain the diminished concern that parents and educators feel about the 88 percent. It does not mean that a society in which marriage steadily weakens, abortion is commonplace, and millions of children grow up without a father in the home is a healthy place. But it explains why many parents in particular are more concerned with their children’s grades than with their sexual activities in college and why tuition-paying parents no longer demand that their daughters be kept in sex-segregated dorms with curfews and parietals.