Saturday August 2 2014

Suddenly, celibacy is a blight

The 2005 blockbuster movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin features funny-man Steve Carell as Andy Stitzer, an action-figure-collecting paper pusher for an electronics store, who (gasp!) has never had sex.

Caricatured as nerdy and simple-minded, Andy whiles away the years hoping someday to do the deed until, when he finally has opportunity to end his sexless misery, he makes a pact of chastity with his girlfriend.

This is how many today interpret a celibate man—pathetic and not yet a grownup. And in a world in which Miley bares all and twerks with Robin Thicke to mark her foray into adulthood, celibate women are seen as prudish, naïve, and disempowered.

In a world where hedonism and gross individualism hold sway, the prominence of what a friend and pastor calls “the sexual fulfillment myth” is no big surprise, really.

Ideal vs the reality
And so, in a way that our culture finds almost impossible to comprehend, celibacy in singleness demonstrates a most visible sign of authentic spiritual witness.

Well-meaning people in the church often ask my friends and me, “What is wrong with these guys that none of them has snatched you up?”

While I’m flattered they see me as a catch, their comments highlight a misunderstanding about the nature of my life. Sometimes singleness can be lonely, and I often hope it won’t last forever.

But I’m not disappointed with the shape my life has taken. Singleness has afforded me time and passion to serve students, to study theology, to develop deep friendships, and to travel with my family.

Often the first question my parents’ friends ask when inquiring about my life is, “And is she seeing anyone?”

The primacy of that question, like the inquiries of friends at church, reveals that maybe we church people have believed the sexual fulfillment myth just as much as worldly wielders of the sexual revolution.

In our tendency to value marriage as the ultimate fulfillment of wholeness and spiritual maturity, we are missing the point.
What if we cheered on the singles in our communities, encouraging them to treat singleness as the gift that it is (really), instead of assuming that their lives must be unfulfilled or on hold?

Celibacy may still engender scorn from an unbelieving world, but it should not be so within the church. After all, Jesus was the 30-year-old virgin.

- The full version of this blog post ran on