Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 59-86

“Looking up ‘Love’ in God’s Dictionary” &
“The Right Thing at the Wrong Time is the Wrong Thing”

This week we’re entering the second Part of IKDG: “The Heart of the Matter.” I was hoping this meant that we’d be digging into different ideas, but so far these two chapters were repetitive. There’s building your argument, and then there’s just restating yourself, and Joshua is going in circles at this point. However, it did make it clear that there are two realities that are affecting his judgment: 1) his utter lack of experience, and 2) the cynicism and suspicion he’s been taught to see The World through. These combine to form an inaccurate understanding of how The World actually works; a side-effect is that he’s far too sanguine about fellow Christians and their behavior.

For example, he cites Eric and Leslie Ludy (although he doesn’t use their last name, which seemed odd to me) as a model for how courtship should work and why it’s successful, contrasting it with a high school friend who lied to his parents in order to sleep with his girlfriend. However, he does nothing to address the fact that in the early days of their speaking tours, the Ludys talked about the fact that they didn’t consummate their marriage for over a year. Joshua presents them as the ideal: “You’d be hard pressed to find two more romantic people” (61), but he glosses over (or doesn’t know about) their lack of sex, which Joshua has argued is central to marriage.

In the next chapter he cites William Bennett, using a parable of Bennett’s creation about self-discipline and patience, concluding with Bennett’s line:

“Too often, people want what they want … right now. The irony of their impatience is that only by learning to wait, and by a willingness to accept the bad with the good, do we usually attain those things that are truly worthwhile. (76)

This statement serves as the chapter’s main thesis, except … Bennett had such a severe gambling problem that he lost millions of dollars in Vegas. But sure. It’s “The World” that has the problem with selfishness and impatience.

I’m also worried about Joshua’s view of sex. He has consistently portrayed sex as something that happens primarily because of selfishness, because a person is consumed about their own gratification– and has applied this definition to his own view of sex. This worries me because what you believe about the nature of sex doesn’t change simply because you signed a piece of paper. If he thinks that sex outside of marriage can only be selfish (65), what miracle happens to suddenly transform selfishness into benevolence when a couple signs on the dotted line?

His lack of experience shines through here: he doesn’t believe it is possible for sex outside of marriage to be anything except selfishly motivated. And sure, it frequently can be. However, that’s not an intrinsic part of pre-marital sex, but a problem with the individual person. In my experience, pre-marital sex was one of the most affirming, life-giving, healing, and beneficial experiences of my life. With Handsome’s help, I was able to overcome some elements of my PTSD. If we’d waited until we were married to start exploring this area of our relationship, I am 100% positive that it would have been disastrous for us. In our case, it was the least selfish thing we could do for each other.

He’s being overly cynical about what sex outside of marriage can look like for people. It’s probable he’s only ever heard horror stories used to bolster the abstinence-only position. If someone ever came into his church’s pulpit and said “we had sex before we got married and everything was fine” I’ll eat my hat. Except, for a lot of people, that is the reality of their experience– everything was fine.

One of his points is that “Love must be sincere,” following Romans 12:9. He uses this to denounce the “fact” that dating comes with a “an angle, a hidden agenda” (70). He describes a conversation he once heard between young men where they talked about negging (although he doesn’t use that term) and other manipulative PUA-style tactics. So while I agree with him that love is sincere and honest, and he’s right to condemn horrible things like negging, he’s holding up betas and PUAs like they’re the standard form of secular dating. Hint: they’re not.

He also condemns the type of boyfriend who says “If you really loved me, you’d do it” (65) but infuriatingly ignores the ubiquitousness of “if you don’t sleep with your husband, you don’t love him (and you’re responsible if he cheats on you!)” in his complementarian culture.

***

In the next chapter he breaks down what he views as cultural problems that affect romantic relationships, like how The World is supposedly all about impatience– and the more impatient our culture becomes, it affects how we treat sex, such as having it at increasingly early ages. Spoiler alert: the trend at the time Joshua wrote IKDG was actually the opposite of this. The rate of girls ages 15-19 who’d had sex fell by 8% from 1988 to 1995, and that trend continued past the original publishing of IKDG. Today, the average age for a woman to have sex for the first time is 17, and the number of high-schoolers who say they’ve had sex has dropped below 50%.

But, little things like facts and research shouldn’t stand in the way of a perfectly good pearl-clutching moment.

The latter half of this chapter is dedicated to the concept that you have to trust God and their perfect timing, which is one of the primary messages of purity culture. If you try to rush things, you’ll inevitably be losing out on “God’s best.” Wait for the person God has for you. God knows best. God knows better than you ever could. You can’t be allowed to make your own decisions because you will screw it up.

This is all based in a view of God that is primarily punitive:

God takes us to the foot of a tree on which a naked and bloodied man hangs and says, “This is love.” God always defines love by pointing to His Son. This was the only way our sins could be forgiven. The innocent One took the place of the guilty–He offered himself up to death so that we could have eternal life. God’s perfect love for a fallen world is more clearly seen in the death of His Son. (67)

My marginalia for this section is “UGH.” Because that specific understanding of the Atonement is supposed to be viewed by us as the pinnacle of love. God points at the torture and crucifixion of Jesus, the beating, the misery, and says “that’s what love looks like“? It looks like violence and terror? It looks like an execution performed by the state? Just … this articulation always makes me want to beat my head into the wall. I also find it disturbing that, according to penal substitionary atonement theory, it is impossible for God to be merciful and forgiving. They must exact vengeance, a price. Sin must be paid for, or we will all burn in hell.

That’s not love. That’s not forgiveness. That’s not mercy.

Jesus paints such a different portrait of God. In his Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, Jesus portrays God as a king who forgives his servant of an enormous debt– a number that would look something like $10 million dollars when you make $30,000 a year. He forgives the debt for no other reason than that his servant begs him to be merciful, and he is. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like, Jesus says. A king who forgives incomprehensible debt for no reason besides mercy.

But if your view of God is the opposite of this, then of course it makes sense to see our human relationships as being extremely precarious. There’s no room for grace or second chances, of making mistakes and learning from them, if this is who you think God is.

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  • Beroli

    If someone ever came into his church’s pulpit and said “we had sex
    before we got married and everything was fine” I’ll eat my hat.

    And if someone did tell him that privately, I suspect he immediately either threw it out as obviously invalid, or applied “This is the endpoint we’re going to reach, now let’s look for the evidence”-style bad science to it, asking them questions about their relationship and making up hesitations and evasions until he finally had, in his mind, enough support to convert what they’d said to “We had sex before we got married and it was a disaster but I don’t want to say that.”

    • spacegal2003

      And that’s the difficulty – it’s almost impossible to measure this empirically. People either have had sex before marriage, or they haven’t, so they can’t tell you which was better, because they are mutually exclusive. I mean, there is a bit of a slope in terms of kissing, petting, etc., but basically you either did or you didn’t, so you can’t evaluate the other way. So then you have to go to outside measures like happiness in marriage, divorce rate, etc. But depending on how steeped you are in certain religious structures, divorce is unacceptable, so that’s not a good measure. And happiness in marriage can be measured, but is often a snapshot, so I image it’s also a tough measure. And since it can be subjective, it’s easy to just believe that those who chose the path opposite your view just don’t really understand what they’re saying, or are deliberately misrepresenting their marriages. Confirmation bias is fun!

  • Rebecca

    “However, he does nothing to address the fact that in the early days of their speaking tours, the Ludys talked about the fact that they didn’t consummate their marriage for over a year.”

    I was wondering if there is anywhere to read/hear their account of why they delayed consummating their marriage. Do you know if they mention this in their book about the first 90 days of marriage? Do they recommend delaying sex or do they view this as an issue they were able to overcome — and do they include their own experience in their writing and teaching?

    • Not that I’m aware of? I just skimmed over their chapter covering sex in The first 90 Days of Marriage and they don’t mention it there. I don’t remember it being a part of When God Writes Your Love Story although I could be wrong about that.

      I guess if you got your hands on taped recordings of their first conferences you’d hear it, but it’s been a while since they talked about it openly.

      • Erik K

        Back in the day, Eric and Leslie Ludy used to be my FAVORITE people talking about relationships, sex, and marriage*. That said, I wasn’t aware of this artifact of their relationship until this very moment. So, it’s possible that Harris also didn’t know!

        *Yes, I know. It hurts me to type that. >_<

        • Christian Janeway

          Me too. “When God Writes Your Love Story” influenced me more than “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” Maybe I should review that one. 🙁

  • Helena Osborne

    I’m really glad my husband and I didn’t wait until we were married to have sex, and I’m really glad I had sex with the guy I dated before my husband. Frankly, I think my husband is glad I had sex with him too because it helped me be a lot more comfortable and aware of what I want, which was nice because husband man was a virgin when we got together.

    Purity culture sells this lie of the chewed up gum and spat in coffee, and I think people inside and outside the church need to be open about not having regrets about having sex outside of marriage.

  • Harmony

    I wonder if I’m the one detecting some degree of classism. He’s envisioning the perfect sexual experience to be after marriage, but I bet the wedding he’s imagining isn’t a cheap visit to the magistrate for a civil union. Weddings tend to be super expensive, especially if you’re in certain churches. Plus there’s the understanding someone (probably a man) needs to have a stable job, and if he doesn’t his partner will be discouraged from marrying him. So you almost have to be at a certain level of economic security to have socially or religiously sanctioned sex.

    • Oh, yes definitely. He’s hung up on waiting until you can “fully commit” in order to fall in love and enter a relationship, and that all depends on being financially stable/independent/capable of supporting your wife who, of course, will not be gainfully employed.

      • Kevin

        I’ve seen this as well! Guys are also told that if they aren’t at that financial level not woman will want them.
        A few years back I listened to a Muslim cleric talk about marriage. Due to premarital sex being haram(forbidden) in Islam he encouraged people to marry young, and suggested people take advantage of social programs(something that’s taboo in Protestant Fundamentalism).

        • The whole “get married as young as you can!” message is demonstrably ridiculous. The single largest indicator on whether or not you’ll get a divorce is the age at which you married. The younger you married, the greater your risk for divorce.

          Researchers have looked at co-habitation, too, and the same trend applies. The younger you start living together, the more likely you are to split up. Wait until you’re a little bit older and the risk fades.

  • He also seems to be leaving aside the question of how exactly we’re supposed to magically know what God wants for us in minute detail. We know when we get married, I guess….but does he somehow think it’s impossible to marry the wrong person?

    • Kevin

      Probably; at least in the version I grew up with we were taught that there is one person for everyone, often alluding to a teaching in Judaism that says so. (I also heard a rabbi say not to put too much stock in it, that the success of a marriage is not based on finding your intended one. The rabbi instead layed out various principles.)
      For us we were told to tell the leaders if we were interested in somebody, they’d pray about it, and work with it.(Due to my decision to not marry anyone in that circle I don’t know the exact process.) I don’t know what the women were told, but we guys were told horror stories of men in sexless marriages, and a lot of the popular blame-the-wimminzes memes. (This is what I got when I expressed a desire to move overseas!) After reading feminist blogs, books, and following feminists on Twitter some of this stuff makes me cringe; but I’m glad to have found it while single.

  • Sheila Warner

    I, too, am repulsed by the notion of pointing to the crucifixion as “ultimate” love. While I was Catholic, one of the Eucharistic prayers says when Jesus opened his arms on the cross, he revealed God’s love for us. I actually believed this for decades. Indoctrination, coupled with fear & guilt, damaged me.

  • Northwoods Dan

    I’ve always been puzzled by the focus some Christians (and others) have on pleasure=bad. We go completely inside ourselves that way to evaluate morality. I think the Christian focus is supposed to be outward–love God, love others. Pleasure becomes problematic when it comes at the expense of another. I agree with Samantha in that being married or not isn’t the metric. Loving regard for a partner (or the lack thereof) is a much better way to evaluate our own moral actions.

  • Anna

    For some reason I’m reminded of the episode “How I Met Your Mother,” when Robin is trying to dissuade her younger sister from having sex with her boyfriend when Robin thinks her sister is too young for it. She tries to get all of the other main characters on board with her, and when she gets to Barney, he says, “No way, sex is fun.”

    On a more serious note, I wonder if the concept of penal substitution that’s so prominent in much of Christianity is one of the things that informs our frequently skewed views of sex and love. And also the disturbingly punitive views on parenting that I see sometimes in the more conservative branches of the church.

  • Kevin

    I agree with you on penal substitution(one of the issues that, though I still bear the name Evangelical, I dissent from Christian Culture[TM]). A number of months back a couple of my Twitter followers had a discussion on Calvinism(one being opposed to it and another being Calvinist), and the anti-Calvinist brought up penal substitution(which he doesn’t buy). I mentioned the Orthodox Church and he linked to a YouTube video that used chairs to contrast the Orthodox position with penal substitution. Basically in Orthodoxy God meets people where they are, to reach out to them.

  • “If someone ever came into his church’s pulpit and said “we had sex before we got married and everything was fine” I’ll eat my hat.”

    YES. Thank you for saying this- and about your own experience with premarital sex being good and healthy. I’m getting married next year, and I’m SO GLAD my fiance and I aren’t “waiting”- because I used to be a good purity culture girl, and so I was TERRIFIED of premarital sex, and then even after rejecting purity culture, I was still terrified- I’m so glad we finally just did it and now I’m not scared at all anymore. It’s really not a big deal. Before, I was OBSESSED with worrying about my decision to have sex or not, and now I’m not worried or scared at all. Turns out there’s nothing to be scared of. It didn’t ruin my life or anything. Everything is better.

    And people who grew up in purity culture really need to hear that- to hear people say “we had sex before marriage and everything was fine”- because if that’s possible, it completely refutes everything in purity culture. I really want to talk about this on my own blog, but I guess I won’t til after the wedding, because my mom reads my blog…

    • Kevin

      While I’ve chosen to wait until I’m married to get married I think it’s important to hear those who say that the proverbial sky didn’t fall when th

  • Stephanie Gertsch

    “In my experience, pre-marital sex was one of the most affirming, life-giving, healing, and beneficial experiences of my life.”

    Thank you.

  • Back in the 90’s, at the height of the IKDG/ courtship craze, a friend of mine got engaged. He wanted to do things the old fashioned way and ask her father to allow him to marry her. So her father says he’ll pray about it and wait for God to tell him what his answer should be.

    And so they waited. And waited. Weeks passed, turning into months, and her father kept insisting that they had to wait for God to give him an answer. The couple fought bitterly over it, with my friend saying that they had waited long enough and she started quoting Joshua Harris’s stuff about perfect timing, not rushing into marriage, etc.

    After three months of waiting for this guy to give them an answer, her father gave them an answer: yes, they can be married, provided they promised never to live more than 30 miles away from him, because that was the furthest families lived in horse and buggy days. (I’m not kidding. That was the guy’s answer!) She thought that these were reasonable conditions, and they broke up. Her father, of course felt that this confirmed Harris’s wisdom and my friend wasn’t willing to respect God’s timing.

    • Kevin

      Talk about provincialism! One thing that moved me in theory away from IKDG is the fact people at church indicated that they wanted any son-in-law to attend our church, and considering my desire to go abroad and marry someone from outside Plato’s cave, I began to alter my views. The problem with that mindset is people ignore the fact that there’s much more to the world than their bubble.

    • Noirceuil182

      That sounds like a really creepy version of Everybody Loves Raymond.

    • Bryony

      In addition to being mad creepy, that doesn’t even make sense! No one lived more than 30 miles from their families in “horse and buggy times?” What about the pioneers? The hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to America and left family behind in the Old World?