The Personalist Project

I just read the blog-post “I don’t wait anymore” ( where the author describes taking off her purity ring at the age of 25, after having worn it for 9 years. Contrary to the first impression the initial sentences might give, the author does not go on to say that chastity is too hard, repressive or unrealistic.  She’s actually not giving up chastity at all. But she took off her ring, since the way chastity was promoted in her Protestant church was wrong, by making false promises and representing God wrongly.  She was told: “Be the woman God made you to be, focus on that, and then the husband will come.” Pressure was added through a popular poem handed out in Sunday school, saying that: “The reason you don’t have anyone yet is because you’re not fully satisfied in Me. You have to be satisfied with Me and then when you least expect it, I’ll bring you the person I meant for you.”

What is wrong with this approach? God did not promise us husbands, wives, children, jobs, health, or money. Nobody can give us a guarantee that we will get any of these – or keep them for that matter. Disturbingly, when it comes to earthly happiness, Christ tends to predict difficulties rather than bliss; He tells us we will be persecuted for His sake, that families will rise against each other because of Him, and that one has to be willing to give up one’s father, mother, siblings, spouse and children.  However, He promises us much more than any of these earthly goods, however great their value may be. He promises to give us Himself and the peace of heart following from that.

To connect the message of the Gospel to the attainment or promise of spouses, success and riches is –apart from being false – also a very risky business. If the promised goods are not delivered (or lost), then the persons who accepted Christ because of them will at the very least be in for a great disappointment. This could lead to loss of faith, loss of chastity (along the lines of “chastity has not brought me a husband, perhaps promiscuity will; anyway, anything is better than this loneliness”) or at least to a crisis of some kind, with the need to re-think who God is and why I continue to believe in Him. As the author of the blog writes, “a lot of girls were sold on a deal and not on a Savior.”

The implications of the poem mentioned above are also terrible. The reason for not having found a spouse - yet - is attributed to the person’s lack of faith. If only she were fully satisfied with God, then the right man would already be part of her life. She is to blame and the answer to her problem lies with her – since it obviously cannot be God’s fault.  Job’s friends took this approach, telling him he must have sinned to be thus punished – but we know that God did not agree with them. Nor did Christ, for when some believed those crushed by the tower of Siloam must have been greater sinners than others, he denied this. Sufferings – and wanting to get married but not finding a spouse can be a terrible suffering – have many causes. To play the blame-game is a great temptation. Why? Because by casting the responsibility on the person suffering, I do not need to be with the person in her misery; I am running away from that person’s cross, and tragically have made it thereby worse, for I have added insult to injury.

Similarly, making false promises is very tempting, because it is a way of freeing the other, at least briefly, from her pain. How easy it is to say “You will find a spouse” to the single person suffering intensely from her solitude; or to the infertile “You will have children” when she desperately longs for babies. But it is a false kind of pity, for it simply delays the pain for a while, which will come crashing down all the more later, once one realized that the prediction hasn’t come true. If one does not have the gift of prophecy, it is better not to make these kinds of predictions. One can still give hope though, without giving false hope (and I’m not only speaking of supernatural hope), for example by dispelling some of the (false) negative thoughts (“I will never meet anybody – I’m too unattractive, shy etc “) which make the burden of singles even heavier etc.

But my goal here is not to address the specific cross of unwanted celibacy (though that would be an interesting topic for another blog-post), but the temptation of false promises.  After having fed people miraculously, Christ left, for they wanted to turn Him into an earthly King. Even now it continues to be tempting to turn Him into an earthly Messiah, who is there to fulfill our many desires, or to become such a Messiah oneself by making false promises. It is hard to live with people’s (and one’s own) crosses and disappointments, and false promises are an easy way out. But the only satisfying approach is to respond with God’s unfailing love, meeting others in their longing and sadness, and thus standing with them under the Cross rather than pretending to take them down when one is really incapable of doing so.

God wants to be truly loved for Himself, for the right reasons, and not merely as an earthly insurance of happiness. Joseph Fadelle is a prime-example of such a radical love. As he describes in his book “The Price to Pay”, he left his wealthy and powerful family in Irak, in order to live a poor life of exile in France so that he could become Christian. Christ had appeared to him in a dream, telling him to eat the bread of life. He was hungering for this bread for 13 years, before his dream came true and he was baptized and received holy Communion (for fear of martyrdom for himself and the Christian community in Irak, he was not granted this grace until he had left the country). The promises of riches and power, of being welcomed back into the arms of his family, of being able to stay in his country which he loved – nothing counted compared to Christ for whom he was hungering. Fadelle paid the price in order to follow Him; he received Christ, but not earthly happiness. 

Let us not tone down the heroic demands of Christianity. To promise young people a spouse in return for chastity and for obeying Christ means selling out. Christ is worthy of being followed for His own sake, and Lady Chastity is a desirable companion even though her bed can at times be hard.  Only with the latter approach will any promise of chastity have a chance of being permanent. Only then will it be built on a firm foundation.  


Comments (5)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Jul 22, 2013 11:34am

Marie, there's so much I'd like to say! 

I have always hated the "purity ring" thing, which (alas!) is not limited to Protestants. It's not only the false promise aspect, which you here critique so well, but also its way of becoming a tool of manipulation of young women, and its tendence toward externalism—the very opposite of a personalist approach to life and faith.

I'm thinking of a particular case. A Catholic young woman gushing in a talk about how her parents (formerly Protestant) had taken her and her sister out to dinner and presented them with purity rings, which they were to wear as a sign of their commitment to virginity until marriage.

Then she said, "When I get married, I'm going to have that ring melted down and made into my wedding ring.  Isn't that romantic?"

I thought, "No, it's grotesque. You will be marrying your husband, not your father." 

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Jul 22, 2013 2:26pm

Just bought Price to Pay on Kindle.  Thanks for the tip!

Marie Meaney

#3, Jul 23, 2013 10:58am

It's a great book! Hair-raising in many ways, when one hears what Fadelle had to go through (spend more than a year in the worst prison of Irak, his family trying to kill him, the difficulties of his escape etc). A few times Providence really miraculously saved him.

I don't know enough of the purity-ring movement to be able to judge it as such. I assume there are many different groups and churches who do it, and that it would depend on their approach. I could certainly see that it could easily be a tool for manipulation, as you say, and that it could keep people's understanding very much on the surface of things. I wonder though, if it could be used in a fruitful way with a JPII understanding to chastity. Not sure - just thinking out aloud. It's not something that would appeal to me personally. Perhaps you could write a blog about it?


#4, Jul 25, 2013 9:11am

i must admit, i have never been comfortable with the 'ring' idea either however, in the work i do in South Africa with JPII's Theology of the Body, sometimes it's a good idea to give young people something tangible to remind them of their new-found desire to be chaste  (new-found because for many this is something they've never heard of, believe it or not!)  We cant afford the rings so one of the young ladies designed  "Purity Candles" which is lit and prayers offered, when faced with difficulties in this area.  By the way, in hisLove and Responsibility, Wotjila portrays chastity as a very positive virtue without denying that it is a "difficult and long-term matter ...wait paitently for it to bear fruit". 

Christine Dalessio

#5, Aug 4, 2013 3:51pm

Well said! The problem with the "prosperity gospel" the "if you just love Jesus you will always be happy/get what you want" is just that - it is a horizontally affective philosophy and veers far afield from the actual promises of the Gospel. Gospel living means following in the footsteps of Christ - knowing what it feels like to be alone, to be abandoned, to be mocked, scourged, put to death... But thankfully these things are impermanent. With an eternal perspective, God's folly becomes victory.

I think there are great problems with accepting a purity=the perfect partner magically appearing in your life. Some of us are called to suffer for the kingdom, some find the wrong person... discernment is key here, and hope, and understanding that a spouse isn't a promise. But on the other hand, a spouse is a great gift, and one to be treasured, and if purity helps us become a better version of ourselves so that our self-gift can truly bring freedom, then it is worth living, whether we end up married or whether our end is simply joy in the next world.

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