Passion and Purity, pg 30: Unnecessarily Gendered, and a summary

Passion and Purity, pg. 30

We’re moving through chapter 3, still laying the groundwork for the forthcoming romance between Elisabeth and Jim.

If times have changed, I see no signs of confusion having lessened.

Sigh.  Again, the times didn’t change in order to eliminate romantic confusion.  They changed to give women equal opportunity in life.

Women still dream and hope, pin their emotions on some man who doesn’t reciprocate, and end up in confusion.

Men do this too.  Unrequited love is a human experience, not a female experience.  Why does this need to be gendered?

The stories get very familiar.  In the woman’s, always the ancient longing–“and her desire shall be for a husband”–the inextinguishable hope for recognition, response, protection.  In the man’s story, always the restlessness to wander, experiment, conquer, even though inside there is a: “hunger not of the belly kind…but the gnawing hunger of lonely men for a home and all that it means.” (quote from a poem by Robert Service)

Again, this is unnecessarily gendered.  Women also have wanderlust, like to experiment and conquer, and long for home “and all it means.”  Men hope for recognition, response, and protection, too.  What’s more, “and her desire shall be for a husband” was part of the curse, not part of Eden.  What should that tell us? What about the translations that say “for her husband” rather than “for husband”?  Does Elliot really think that a poem about lonely men wishing for wives and home-cooked meals supports her claim that men just naturally like to do things and women like to stay at home?  (If so, I have a few poems that I would like to submit for her consideration.)

But Elliot doesn’t dig any deeper.  It’s certainly nice to want one’s husband, but it’s awfully simplistic to take that line and use it to sum up the entirety of female desire!

From the perspective of years, I find it easy to marvel at my own silliness when I was twenty.  I listen now to contemporary stories of love hoped for, gained, and lost, and am reminded that it was in these matters of the heart that my own heart was sifted and scoured and exposed, the process of purifying begun.

It’s always easy to look back on yourself from the distance of 10 or 20 years and think “Wow, awkward.”  Everyone cringes at old diary entries.  And because of that, it’s hard for me not to read “sifted, scoured, exposed…” as simply spiritual-ized words that may well describe any 20-year-old’s love life.  When I think about my relationship when I was 20, scoured and exposed are pretty good words, not because God was doing something to my heart (although I certainly could have chosen to frame it that way), but because I was growing up and learning about heartache and bad decisions.  I keep wanting Elliot to dive into exactly how this spiritual purification works and what makes it different than simply growing up.  So far I don’t feel that she’s adequately addressed that.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Must the vision cost so much?  Isn’t the heart pure enough that has no more than the usual measure of slyness, conscious covetousness, or prurience?  Wasn’t it sufficient that I honestly desired to love God and do what He wanted?

She never actually answers these questions, but the answers are obvious to anyone who’s read this far: yes, no, no.

And that’s chapter 3!  Before we start chapter 4, let’s go over some main questions and problems.  So far we know what Elliot thinks about feminism, modern dating, and (when to have) sex.  She’s set the scene, she’s at college deciding between medicine and linguistics and waiting for a man of God to sweep her off her feet.  She hasn’t really told us about what she wants besides that he’s a godly and a virgin–and that none of the dudes interested in her so far are very appealing.

–I want details.  So far there’s been a lot of talk about spiritual refinement and purifying and struggles and lessons learned, but not much in the way of actual advice for actually how to have actual relationships, and how this experience differs in any substantial way from simply getting older and wiser.  I hope that this will come in future chapters when she talks about specific decisions she faced.

–A lot of time in these first three chapters has been spent putting “purity” in opposition to modern dating culture.  Unfortunately, Elliot has populated her book with straw-men, not to mention straw-feminists, and I have a hunch we’ll see more of this later in the book.

It’s frustrating because I don’t think she even needed to make these straw-men arguments to have a case.  In other words, she didn’t need to say “things used to be so much better; feminists have ruined sex!”  She could have simply said, truthfully, “It’s pretty hard not to have sex before marriage, but here’s why I think Christians should.”  It would have been more honest and refreshing, that’s for sure.

–Besides, suppose a Christian feminist (however you define that word) picked up this book?  She’d be offended within 25 pages.  Why should she read on?  Elliot hasn’t really given her (or anyone who doesn’t agree with her take on Sex These Days) a reason to keep reading.  It comes across as preaching to the choir, and the choir is young adults already very familiar with evangelical gender roles and dating expectations.

–And on that note, there are many parts in the book so far that aren’t terrible on their own, but reinforce damaging norms of evangelicalism / purity culture.  An average teenager in purity culture will not have the tools to dissect Elliot’s argument because s/he has never heard anything but what she’s prescribing: traditional gender roles and virginity as utmost importance.  Besides, Elliot is revered for her husband’s martyrdom!  And who is going to challenge her book about romance with that very man?  I sure didn’t when I was that teenager.  So her jabs at feminism will go unchallenged; her dog-whistles to evangelical culture will not be questioned.  And that’s a pity.

–Let’s talk hermeneutics.  I’ve spent a lot of words talking about Elliot’s reference to Song of Solomon and why it bugs me.  I want to summarize.

I think that many of evangelicalism’s problems with hermeneutics come from a notion of sola scriptura, which, to an average evangelical, means that we only need the Bible to understand the Bible.  (Note: this is not actually what sola scriptura means.) Combine this with a blinding reverence for literalism and a disdain for “interpretation”, even though we value personal applications (go figure), and you get the oft-repeated phrase, “The Bible clearly says…!”

Unfortunately, the Bible “clearly says” a lot of things that we wish it didn’t “clearly say.”  The Bible clearly says that God condones genocide and women as property.  But we never say “The Bible clearly says that mass murder is a-ok!”  We all read with our own hermeneutic.  We all interpret.  And it bugs me when people say they don’t.  When people say, for instance, that the way they talk about Song of Solomon is the obvious and only way to talk about it, because the Bible clearly says right here…

Although Elliot has not written the Bible clearly says…, the tone is the same, the method is the same, and the message is the same: “Here is a verse that, in American English right now, means something very obvious.  I am not going to entertain the idea that the author of this verse, over 2000 years ago and in an entirely different cultural and historical context, could have meant anything different.”

Onward to chapter 4!

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