June 27, 2005

STRUCTURING REALITY:

The Young & the Sexless: A new generation of young men and women is embracing celibate life (Jeff Sharlet, 6/23/05, Rolling Stone)

What if the true face of the Christian right in America is not that of Dr. James Dobson or Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson; not that of an aging, comb-over preacher orange with pancake makeup, smiling orca rows of ungodly white teeth on The O'Reilly Factor or Hardball? Nor that of spittle-flecked Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kansas, roaring that God hates fags? What if the true face of the Christian right is, instead, that of a twenty-four-year-old religious-studies graduate student at New York University?

Matt Dunbar is a handsome young man, though his face is still ruddy with acne. He has rounded cheeks, a soul patch beneath his lips and soft eyes that hold yours like he trusts you. He's not a prude. He will say the word "f***," but he will never, not even in the wedding bed he hopes God has prepared for his future, embody it as a verb. He will make Christian love. What most of us call sex he calls communion, and he believes it can happen only within marriage.

Chastity is a new organizing principle of the Christian right, built on the notion that virgins are among God's last loyal defenders, knights and ladies of a forgotten kingdom. Sex outside of marriage is, in the words of D. James Kennedy, pastor of the influential Coral Ridge Ministries in Florida, "an uprising against God." But if sex is the perfect enemy of the blessed lifestyle, it is also the Holy Grail for those who wait: "A symphony of the soul for married couples," according to John Hagee, author of What Every Man Wants in a Woman.

"Abstinence," says Dunbar, "is countercultural," a kind of rebellion, he says, against materialism, consumerism and "the idea that anything can be bought and sold." It is a spiritual war against the world, against "sensuality," according to one virginity manual popular with men like Dunbar. This elevation of virginity -- especially for men -- as a way of understanding yourself and your place in the world is new. It's also very old. First-century Christians took the idea so seriously that many left their wives for "house monasteries," threatening the very structure of the family. The early church responded by institutionalizing virginity through a priestly caste set apart from the world, a condition that continues to this day within Roman Catholicism. Now, though, the Protestants of the Christian right are reclaiming that two-tiered system, only they're projecting it onto individual lives, making every young man and woman part of an elite virgin corps.

"The world hasn't yet seen what God can do with an army of young men free of sexual fevers," write the authors of Every Young Man's Battle, one volume in a hugely popular series of "purity" manuals. "You can remain pure so that you might qualify for such an army."

It's a never-ending war, and not one that can be fought alone. Which is why virgins like Dunbar tend to travel in packs, to church and to Bible studies but also to parties and even to bars. Dunbar and his friends help one another stay "pure," which they consider "authentic." He lives with three close friends in a warehouse apartment in Williamsburg, a Brooklyn hipster neighborhood of artists and slackers. Two of his roommates are virgins; the other, a Mormon named Edd Lewis, is a "recycled virgin." He's had sex but won't again until he's married.


Everybody's so organized nowadays.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 27, 2005 12:00 AM
Comments

"Recycled virgin"? Isn't it a comfort to see religion is keeping up with the times?

Posted by: Peter B at June 28, 2005 7:52 AM

What's the point of spending thousands of dollars to live like a sardine in a dillapidated former slum in a neighborhood of dubious safety if you aren't going to get laid on a regular basis?

Posted by: bart at June 28, 2005 10:12 AM
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