Like a virgin, or how chastity creates the world

24 Feb

The other night at the bookstore I picked up a copy of the 1942-1951 notebooks of Albert Camus (published by Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 2010). I had never read anything by him, but he jumped off the shelf because I remembered a friend’s debate over the correct pronunciation of his name. Camus and I were instant friends. His notebooks are just idea journals—collections of quotes, philosophical snippets, plot sketches, musings, etc. He changes to a new topic or train of thought every few paragraphs, sometimes dwelling longer on an idea that needs time and space to develop. I relate to this style. Pastiche is the way I create, and I keep numerous such journals. I love jumping around, turning diverse ideas around in my mind, riffing on themes and easily shifting directions. I also enjoy obsessing about an idea, absolutely focusing all my creative energy on it until I write it out, which often takes years, lots of research, and lots of reflection.

Not only was Camus’ style floating my boat, but his thoughts were really resonating with my current spiritual experience and were helping me think about my current creative project. I have not read the whole thing yet (nor am I likely to since I read snippets of lots of books at once and rarely finish any of them), but one bit caught my attention and I wanted to put it up for discussion here:

“Unbridled sex leads to a philosophy of the non-significance of the world. Chastity on the other hand gives the world a meaning” (39).

I am really curious about this statement, both from a secular and a religious point of view. The question is, how does sex within certain bounds give the world a meaning and how does sex outside those boundaries deplete that meaning? The LDS answer to this question is easy enough.

Chastity is a core Latter-day Saint belief and practice. Temple covenants include vowing to live a chaste life. Chastity as defined in LDS thought as celibacy before marriage and sex exclusively with your spouse after marriage. Why is chastity important? Well, sex is sacred. Sex is seen as a vehicle of procreation, which was a divine mandate given to Adam and Eve. The ability to create life is one that Latter-day Saints think should be kept within a family structure, and pleasure or gratification seems to be merely a vehicle for sex to serve this primary function.

Sex will always be used to cement human relationships, to place humans under certain obligations to one another, and is thus a significant apparatus for meaning, religiously defined or no. And heterosexual humans having sex will create life whether stipulations are placed on it or not. So, why the stricture and why the religious revivification of chastity in an era that is by many accounts not very interested in reserving sex for marriage?

Chastity emphasizes the meaningfulness of sex and the way it creates the world within a particular set of God-given boundaries. For Latter-day Saints, the theological is inextricably linked to the biological and social. It is the kind of life, the purpose of the life that humans create, that is the important thing. God wants to create a human family that does not simply abide by his rules but that chooses to live in accordance with his laws out of love for and devotion to him. It is about a covenant, which Latter-day Saints reify through their temple ordinances. Thus, in the LDS church being chaste not only signifies the keeping of a covenant once entered into, but it functions on a symbolic level to create a priestly class within the church. Our friend the Oxford English Dictionary online offers as a tertiary definition of chastity: “Ceremonial purity. (for Latin castitas.) Obs. rare.” When Latter-day Saints go to the temple chaste, they are qualified by living a certain way to then offer service to God.

What do you think about Camus’s statement? How do you think chastity or selective sex preserves the meaningfulness of the world? Or does it? What if we take religion out of it entirely? Does chastity still matter?


5 Responses to “Like a virgin, or how chastity creates the world”

  1. Bethylene February 24, 2012 at 3:04 pm #

    Chastity “functions on a symbolic level to create a priestly class within the church.”

    I had never really thought about that aspect of chastity before, and it makes perfect sense. Our church is just clergy! Now chastity is suddenly connected to the Abrahamic Covenant. The entire world will be blessed through the ministry of the members of the Priesthood, a.k.a. members of the Church.

  2. Michelle February 25, 2012 at 3:57 am #

    Great thoughts here.

    I heard Sister Dalton speak this week, and was reminded of what she has said about the societal benefits of sexual purity and high moral standards. She spoke again of this and it all hit me with more force than ever.

    “We live in a world that is concerned about cleanliness and purity—the cleanliness of our air and the cleanliness of our environment, our water, and even our food. In some places we legislate against pollution and even have government-funded environmental protection agencies to ensure that we are not made ill by contaminants that get into our air, our water, or our food supply. [And we will penalize corporations that violate environmental standards….] Yet society tolerates moral pollution in the form of pornography on billboards, television, and the Internet and in entertainment and other media. [And, I’d add, allows corporations to pollute our society!] We tolerate filth that invades our minds through suggestive lyrics, music, and language. In some respects we are an organic generation ensuring purity and quality in our lives, and yet we are polluting our moral fiber. I believe that the lack of virtue in our society is directly responsible for many of our social, financial, and governmental ills. I believe that the disintegration of faith and families and the financial unrest are directly related to a lack of virtue in our society. And I believe that a return to virtue could save an entire nation.” – Elaine S. Dalton

    She also spoke about the personal freedom that comes from sexual purity. She was speaking in the context of helping our youth, but I think it applies to us all. There are so many risks associated with promiscuity, pornography, etc. I believe chastity is a protection, a sign of God’s love for us. And, as you note, our living that law is part of a way for us to show our love to Him by being devoted to His law, covenants, and work.

  3. Bradley February 27, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    Judging from the pandemic of STDs, you can see that the human body was not designed for promiscuity. If it was created then chastity was intended. That is a purely material view.

    All prophets, not just a few, have been big on chastity. The spiritually sensitive have always discerned that chastity matters a lot. Those of us who are not as sensitive can only trust them on this.

  4. Amanda5245 February 27, 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    Liz — Great post! Over the past few days, I have been thinking about why unbounded sex is meaningless sex and undoes meaning in life. For me, the answer seemed to be that sex is ultimately an expression of desire and passion between two people and that it’s difficult to passionate about an unlimited number of people. I was also going to answer that sex becomes more meaningful when it is part of a relationship — BUT, I began to wonder why I felt it was degrading for sex to not be contained within a committed relationship. I don’t feel this way about many things, like compassion, love, or empathy. Why sex? Why is there so much meaning invested in sex that it seems like we have to create boundaries around it to keep it special?

  5. First Timer June 9, 2015 at 8:59 pm #

    From a secular point of view, sex is powerful and sacred. Whether or not the authorities or prophets say it’s wrong or its right doesn’t matter because to me it’s like a piece of my soul goes to that person, and you can never get it back. When the sexual partners aren’t in a committed, healthy relationship, even if they’re married, it’s a wreck to your mental state and spiritual state. Whether or not a higher power says so, by my own experience and observation, it is essential to be chaste because you save yourself from inner turmoil. You can’t assume a man will love you just because you have sex with him. You can’t expect to feel better about yourself if you get around to it. It basically makes you feel dirty spiritually because you gave your entire being, your most sacred and full self to someone who has no capacity to accept it. By that logic there will be a remainder and that will leave you feeling like you’re missing out. It can wreck you. So that’s why chastity despite what all the girls say, and guys say, and you’re parents say, let alone the media or school, doesn’t matter, it’s you that has to remember to save you. Again, this is from a secular standpoint. It’s quite possibly more difficult when you’re friends and family says it doesn’t matter. But to me it does and always will.

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