Passion and Purity, chapter 8: Unfailing Love

In the last chapter we had some unfortunate inklings of what is to come.  Our two lovebirds went on a first date and then Jim sent Elizabeth an email apologizing for…something…and somehow making her think it was her fault.  Instead of communicating (“Hey, what’s up with this vague apology?”), Elisabeth spent days in spiritual and emotional turmoil.

I mean, I get it: the relationship is young and you don’t want to say too much too soon.  Butterflies are confusing!  But this lack of communication, especially by the woman in a relationship?  This is a feature, not a bug.  We’ll see more later.

Chapter 8 starts with this charming sentence:

“But how can I find out what God wants me to do, if I don’t know what I want to do?”  The logic of this question escapes me, but it is one I have heard more than once.  Why not start by simply telling God you’ll do anything He says?  You’re the servant.  He’s the master.

I’ll say it again: why would God give us desires that we are supposed to ignore?  Or, put in biblical terms: why would he give us talents He didn’t want us to invest?  It is obvious to me that this is the heart of this “illogical” question: “How do I find out my talents?  How do I best use my interests and desires to please God?”  I honestly don’t know why Elliot finds this so baffling.

This is not the first time she’s condescended to her audience.  Starting with chapter 1’s “kids these days!” rant about how we don’t value virginity like they did back in the good old days, she loves to throw little digs at those who turn to her for guidance.  Let’s review!

Chapter 2: “A young woman came to me…to ask, “Is it okay to tell God I’ll be a missionary if He’ll give me a husband?”  …She had not yet understood His claims.”
Chapter 3: “A girl wrote to me from Texas, pages and pages about how her first love affair had come to nothing, and how she then met another, a real dreamboat (or whatever today’s equilvalent is)…the stories get very familiar.”
Chapter 5: “I had thought some of [my questions about love] were new.  My correspondents think the same.  They aren’t.”
Chapter 6: The story of the “beautiful girl” who wanted to marry “a handsome and wealthy man” is full of little slights toward the girl, who we are obviously supposed to think is very silly indeed.  And then there’s this: “Good thing I wasn’t on the platform when that question [about singleness] came.  I might have chuckled.  I toyed with the idea of giving a facetious answer: “Three more days, then go out and either ask somebody to marry you or hang yourself.”  (Good grief.)
Chapter 8: “The logic of this question escapes me, but it is one I have heard more than once.”

Reading these little barbs just makes me want to turn into a sarcastic teenager: “Well, I’m sorry we all can’t be perfect like you.”  

Moving on, more of the same:

Speaking of teenagers of the 80s, Joan Schuman, director of Massachusetts’s Bureau of Student Services, said, “It is their selfishness that strikes me most of all.  The pre-dominant theme is ‘What’s in it for me?’ and ‘I don’t care what happens to my fellowman.'”

There are over a million pregnancies per year among unmarried girls under twenty.  This seems to illustrate Miss Schuman’s observation.  What they want they take, any way they can get it.

Good lord.  Where to start?

I mean, the obvious first problem is that every generation says this about every younger generation.  This is so obvious that I’m not even going to cite the many, many, many articles written about how Millennials (or Gen X, or Gen Y, or the baby boomers…) are all just so selfcentered and narcissistic.   Each generation is someone’s “kids these days”.  They were saying this about us when I was a teenager in the late 90’s.  They’re saying it about teenagers today.  We’ll be saying it 15 years from now.  So it goes.

Anyway, what does that pregnancy statistic have to do with selfishness?  It doesn’t seem to follow.  But I think I can parse it out, since Elliot doesn’t bother.  I think it goes something like this:

1 .Kids these days are selfish.
2. Selfish people want things that aren’t theirs.
3. Sex is nobody’s right until they are married in a legal heterosexual union.
4. Therefore, people who have sex before they are married are necessarily selfish.

The flaws here are obvious.  It’s possible to be in a loving, giving, respectful relationship before you tie the knot.  It’s also possible to be a very selfish virgin, or to be a very selfish married person.  An individual’s decision to have or not have sex before marriage may have a lot to do with their religious faith, of course, but it may also have a lot to do with the rest of their lives.  Their economic situation.  Their parents.  Their job status.  Their commitment to their partner.  And someone can be very selfish in many ways and still choose, for whatever reason, to abstain from sex.  (In fact, in some cases, abstaining might be an act of selfishness!)

And this brings us back to our first problem: the exceedingly narrow definition of “purity” is complimented by this exceedingly narrow definitions of “selfishness.”  Neither of these definitions takes into account the whole person.  Neither has a context.  Neither teaches us how to think about situations, or to judge the most loving course of action, or to determine how to minimize harm and maximize good.  In short, it’s a very nice list of dos and don’ts, but doesn’t help us have actual real-life relationships.

Now let’s note how Elliot deliberately distances herself from this generations “selfishness”: what they want they take.  Oh, really?  It’s only the kids who are doing this?  No one in her generation is selfish, no one in her generation ever got his girlfriend pregnant?  Pllleeeeease.  

Let’s talk demographics: current CDC stats say 1.6 million unmarried births in the US, or 40% of all births are to unmarried women.  Doesn’t it seem far too simple to say, “Well that’s because, obviously, these people are all just really selfish”?   Let’s add some more data: college graduates are the most likely to have children after marriage rather than before, implying that this might have something to do with class and education, not religious faith.  There’s lots more to be said here–this is just the tip of the iceberg when we’re talking about changing demographics and birth trends.  But I think it’s enough to call Elliot’s premise into serious question.  

In fact, this whole chapter comes across as amazingly condescending and out-of-touch.  But it serves a purpose, and obviously this book isn’t written for social scientists and demographers.  I think her end game is the same as it was in chapter one, which is to imply that kids these days are so terrible, but you, reader, are not, are you?  We’re the good ones.  We don’t get our girlfriends pregnant.  

And of course, the other problem with this “kids are SO TERRIBLE” approach is that Elisabeth’s generation are the parents and grandparents to these terrible kids.  If we’re going to assign blame  then let’s at least talk about the vast generational shifts in parenting and why those might be.  In fact, she sort of does this:

If a mother or father, by behavior, says in effect, “It’s my life, this is what I want, the rest of you be damned,” their children will follow suit.

Whew!  I thought it was just the kids these days, but it turns out that Elliot thinks that parents these days are also terrible!

Let’s end on a better note:

Does it make sense to believe that the Shepherd could care less about getting His sheep where He wants them to go than they care about getting there?

Finally, a hint that maybe what you want and what God wants could actually overlap!   

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