Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

To text and self be true

To summarize yesterday’s post, I don’t find it very troubling for SBC to suggest my view of sex sounds derivative (which hardly differentiates her position from mine). Such is the nature of thought, particularly for those born into such a legacy of history as we possess. Nor am I even riled at comparisons to the “conservative Christian view” (whatever that is). Granted, I don’t much like being lumped in with the over-hairsprayed folk whose wives are wont to wear denim muumuus … but shuddering at their fashion sense isn’t to say much about their character, opinions or value as human beings, is it?

Of course, it’s rarely other women who bring out my contrariness; over the years men have been far more successful. The classic case is the embittered male cynic who, based on a few bad experiences with women has decided certain damning generalizations can be applied to all of us ... and who (based on a peculiar matrix of recklessness and folly) is also slightly attractive to me. That summer of ’99, Poster Boy was on some sort of “women are the devil” kick; I of course felt that, aside from my mad baking skillz, disproving my correspondence to this profile stood to move me from the “hell no” class he put most women in to the “she’s not half bad” pool where some hope still survived.

The chance to negotiate my standing came one night when the posse was at a video store. As they weighed the script-light aggression flicks available for rental, women’s taste in movies came up. Ah, but here was my chance! What movie was still a recent mass phenomenon of weepy women, bad taste, and wimpy male leads? Precisely the very movie I had not seen as a point of proto-hipster honor. Even against the disagreement of my family who claimed Titanic wasn’t half-bad I had stood firm. Not seeing that movie was a notch on my belt I made sure Poster Boy got acquainted with.

For a moment I seemed to be winning. Then he moved to other female clichés, the musical, and I was doomed. True, I own less than ten videos, but one was indeed (gulp) Sound of Music. In Poster Boy vs. Broadway, the battle was over: Broadway, guilty as charged just like all the other women-are-the-devil.

Mustering such a zealously defensive posture sets you up to be judged and defined by the other’s standards rather than on your merits (some of which the other may disregard) and greatly weakens your position. Moral of this tangent: ladies, don’t be dismayed when some guy tries to diss you because of your movie taste — even if you have seen or owned Titanic. Just practice a careless shrug and make your best “whatever” face. Even if reshaping yourself to be the girl you think he’ll like wins him over, he’ll discover the fraud eventually and then where will you be?

In much deeper, in his bed, maybe in his will. Well, OK, maybe not the last part. But what if you are in his bed in a trusting moment when, unbidden, you reveal those many Titanic movie stubs buried away in some journal? If he’s superficial enough to call it quits on account of that, part of the reason leaving will hurt so much is that (according to the Bible) sex is meant to be part of the glue in that interdependent, whole-self-giving commitment we call marriage — as typically symbolized and formalized not just by sex but by legal marriage. Common-law marriage also speaks to this view of sex as a covenant- or commitment-making act.

So now we are back to the central issue SBC has raised. For those who didn’t read last week’s lengthy comment thread, the key question was whether or not the Bible expressly forbids premarital or merely extramarital (adulterous) sex. SBC argued from one of the Greek words often used by the New Testament writer Paul, porneia, that he was actually referring to perverse forms of sex rather than premarital sex per se. However, as she herself noted, part of the English translation of porneia is fornication. There is simply no way fornication can be parsed to mean a special subclass of sex between unmarried people that is particularly casual. Its conventional meaning — as surely most of us know — is simply sex between people who are not married, regardless of their relationship.

I’m not particularly interested in debating this point in terms of one word, though, and I doubt anyone’s mind on the matter would be changed by learning Paul included semi-committed premarital sex in his use of porneia. Many Christians — conservative or otherwise — are frequently inclined to use proof-text passages or word definitions in their defense or attack of actions. From a textual standpoint, however, this often entails very sloppy exegesis. Word study can be very helpful, particularly to clarify how the original audience understood the passage, but the context of the chapter, the book and the Bible as a whole logically have to be the key resources in interpretation. Likewise, this blog as a whole should give you a much better sense of how I really feel about the whole chocolate-vagina shopping trip and whether I’m particularly proud of it.

Context is particularly important, then, in instances where the Bible reports actions some claim it condemns. For instance, SBC noted the frequency of concubines and multiple wives, particularly among those very kings God had chosen. Is this a contradiction? An endorsement of their marital habits? Far from it. If one were to take the life of David as an example, by the same reasoning the Bible endorses murder (despite the 10 commandments prohibition of this) by reporting how he planned the death of Uriah.

That God chose Bathsheba — David’s partner in adultery — to bear the son through whom God’s blessing would continue to the promised Messiah is not an endorsement of that sexual union but a measure of God’s grace and willingness to use people utterly apart from their sin. Note that David eventually legitimized that relationship before the community by making her his wife. And yet, polygamy is by no means upheld in this. It is quite clear that Solomon’s many wives — particularly the concubines he drew from other kingdoms — led to his spiritual degeneration and downfall. The Bible is also quite frank in reporting the tension which often exists between wives in such cases — witness the competition between Rachel and Leah, and the misery of Hannah.

Next time I’ll say more about the texts I consider crucial to laying out the Bible’s view of sex/marriage. Meanwhile, don’t forget to enter this month’s contest! Nine days left.