Browsing Tag

I Kissed Dating Goodbye

Feminism

IKDG review: “So This is Love” (11-24)

I haven’t read this book since I was in college, so reading it again almost a decade later is an … interesting experience. I was honestly expecting to be more annoyed than I currently am, so finding myself genuinely understanding where Joshua is coming from and even empathizing with him a great deal is surprising. I still strongly disagree with him (and probably will be horribly annoyed at him later), but I’ve been in the ideological place he was at 23 (and 28, when he updated IKDG), so I get it.

As I read the opening chapters, I realized that Joshua is working with two basic, under-girding assumptions and one unexamined problem. First, he essentially believes in the same general ideas that led people to found the monastic orders and that abnegation is always morally good.

The monastic orders drew their justification for existence primarily from I Corinthians 7. Early in the chapter, Paul bemoans the fact that people have to get married “because it is better to marry than to burn,” but nevertheless he wishes “all men could be like as I am.” In a word, he’s traditionally been taken to mean “single,” but queer theology posits he meant asexual. Later he argues that married people’s attention is “divided” but a single person can be “devoted” to God. The early church got really caught up in this idea, some people even possibly taking it to self-castrating extremes. Lots of people in those days gave up families and marriages (possible and existing), and the impulse toward monasticism remains today in attempts to redeem singleness from the marry-or-else attitude in Christian culture — arguing for it as “a time when you can commit completely to serving God.”

This impulse comes out a few times in IKDG:

We were violating each other’s purity, and our spiritual lives were stagnant as a result (17).

Instead, by avoiding romantic, one-on-one relationships before God tells me I’m ready, I can better serve girls as a friend, and I can remain free to keep my focus on the Lord. (20)

I’m not going to waste your time rehashing why gnostic dualism = bad, but it should become apparent that it’s one of the driving forces behind monasticism and this book. When you’re convinced that “wanting things that feel good” is inherently a problem, then you’re inevitably going to have issues with dating simply because it’s fun. According to Joshua’s ability to weigh risks and reward in this ascetic system, the fun of dating and fooling around is extremely outweighed by the “danger” of heartbreak and possibly becoming “spiritually stagnant.”

Which leads us to his second assumption: that abnegation is always morally good.

If you haven’t read the Divergent series yet, I’m going to be horrible and spoil some of it for you #SorryNotSorry. In the series, the main character Tris is raised in a “Faction” called “Abnegation.” In short, this faction sees selfishness as responsible for all the world’s ills, so they totally reject it … and Joshua does the same thing:

But I’m still aware of the consequences of my selfishness (14).

My own self-centered approach to romance started young (15).

I was still very immature and selfish. (16)

…we can no longer live for ourselves–we now live for God and for the good of others (19).

And not with the selfish kind of love I practiced so often in the past (20).

I believe the time has come for Christians, male and female, to own up to the mess we’ve left behind in our selfish pursuit of short-term romance (23).

This first chapter gives us the contextual insight to show us what he means by selfish— a term he uses on nearly every page. Most of us define selfish as “placing personal desire over the good of others”; in a way, he is working with this idea, but he’s taking it one step further: the opposite of selfishness isn’t merely consideration for others, but abnegation:

Every relationship for a Christian is an opportunity to love another person like God has loved us. To lay down our desires and do what’s in his or her best interest. To care for him or her even when there’s nothing in it for us. To want that person’s purity and holiness because it pleases God and protects him or her. (19)

On its face, I don’t really disagree. I do believe in loving others as God loves us, to put others first, to care for others without needing something in return … but only to a point. At some point, the need for self-protection and boundaries becomes necessary. Like that old adage “put on your own oxygen mask first,” we can only be helpful and good to others when we are helpful and good to ourselves. However, that gets a bit lost in this chapter.

Now for the unexamined problem I mentioned earlier:

When I stopped seeing girls as potential girlfriends and started treating them as sisters in Christ, I discovered the richness of true friendship. (21)

Replace “potential girlfriends” with “objects” and “sisters in Christ” with “people,” and you’ll have a better understanding of what Joshua means, I think. A few times so far he has actually admitted that he saw women as objects (15), and part of his motivation for rejecting dating seems to be a rejection of misogyny. He’s still sexist as hell, but the descriptions he gives of his dating life as a teenager made me think wow you were a real sonuhfagun. He was cavalier, narcissistic, and horribly entitled. It’s good that he rejected that … but he’s swung too far in the opposite direction because he went from a misogynistic point of view to a benevolently sexist one.

That’s totally unsurprisingly considering the circles he travels in– benevolent sexism is one of the hallmarks of complementarianism and conservative evangelicalism. However, the problem is that while he stopped trying to use the women he viewed as objects … he never really stops viewing them as objects. They’re just on a pedestal now and off-limits, instead of something he feels entitled to.

The biggest thing that bothered me about this first chapter is that he never actually encourages you to think about what the other person wants. He swears up and down that he is, that “thinking about others” is what’s compelling him to give up dating, but he presumes to know better than women about what’s good for them and what they want. If she wants to kiss you, or sleep with you … well, the implication is that she’s a hussy, but mostly that possibility just doesn’t enter into the equation.

I’m all for deciding for yourself whether or not dating or sex is something you want. If you feel that not dating or having sex casually will be the best thing for your own mental or emotional health, then I support you 100%. However, what you do not get to do is decide that for other people, especially women. In IKDG, though, Joshua is pretty emphatic about “protecting” other people, and takes the stance that rejecting dating is the “mature” and “godly” position … and that people who haven’t similarly rejected dating or physical intimacy are immature and ungodly, so you have to remove the stumbling block from your weaker sibling’s path.

That’s incredibly patronizing. Considering this was all coming from an unmarried 23-year-old, I feel especially patronized. It’s all covered over with a grimy layer of sexism, too, so there’s that as well. One chapter in, and we’re already off to a somewhat bumpy start. And I didn’t even touch that horrible six-former-girlfriends-at-the-altar-nightmare.

Feminism

“I Kissed Dating Goodbye” review: Introduction

I Kissed Dating Goodbye: A New Attitude Toward Romance and Relationships by Joshua Harris originally came out in 1997, when I was ten and Joshua was twenty-three, although I didn’t read it until I was in college because my church considered him far too liberal. We followed something that has more in common with betrothal and arranged marriage than it does with Joshua’s vision of “courtship,” although we both called it the same thing.

I mention both of these facts because it makes two things very clear: Joshua was an incredibly young man when he wrote this, and this is book is not the be-all-end-all of the courtship method that some have made it out to be. There are as many different ways to “court” as there are people, and I don’t want anyone coming at me with “but this book doesn’t represent real courtship”– from either those who think he went too far or not far enough. I’m aware.

I’m also aware of the fact that a twenty-three-year-old is going to say some laughably na├»ve things about relationships, and I think that Joshua might be aware of that, too. I reached out to him and asked if he’d like to be a part of this review series, but since he’s in seminary now he said he couldn’t. Because of all of that, I’m going to do my best to keep in mind that what he said in 1997 may not represent his views now (although I am working with the updated 2003 edition).

However, it’s important to keep in mind that although he might have matured and changed, his book is probably the most popular book on courtship (and possibly on Christian dating in general) ever written, and it’s continuing to have an impact today. Goodreads reviewers have writtenIt just gives me whole new perspective between courtship, dating and in relationships” and “I wished to have had this book before I got married” and “Life changing” and “a must read!” as of last month, and on Amazon the recent reviews are even more glowing, including one that went up last week. Over 70% of the thousands of ratings this book has gotten are 4 or 5 stars, and it’s still relevant, still influential.

I mention all of that because it honestly surprised me. When you lovely readers suggested that I dig into IKDG, I was hesitant at first because I thought of it as a relic from my college days. Were people still reading this? I wondered … and it turns out, yeah. They are. And while mine won’t be the only critical review– there are plenty on Amazon and Goodreads– I think it may be the first in-depth review that gets down into the trenches and examines the details of what went wrong in this book.

***

I think that, like most of the other books I’ve reviewed, my principle problem with this book is a problem I have with pretty much any book in the Christian “self-help” genre, especially books in the “gender and relationships” sub-category. In short, when this appears on the first page, in the foreward by Sam Torode:

it’s a book about following Christ and what that means for all our relationships with others– romantic or not. Joshua writes, “Every relationship for a Christian is an opportunity to love another person as God loved us.” That sums up the book’s message Once we embrace this principle, the rest is just details. (8)

… I’m going to end up massively disagreeing because the rest is almost absolutely not “just details.” I agree with the idea that every relationship is an opportunity to show the love of God to a person. Of course I don’t disagree with that– what Christian could possibly say “no, relationships have nothing to do with us showing God’s love to people”? However, the rest of the foreward is dedicated to how he didn’t kiss his wife until they were at the altar together, and that’s a pretty significant detail. “Showing God’s love in my relationships” doesn’t necessarily equal “I don’t kiss my girlfriend,” but that’s an idea that’s going to get lost a lot in the next 200 pages.

Like on the next page: “This book tells you how to make your life pleasing to God– even if that means taking a break from dating” (9). Or the next: “I want to help you examine the aspects of your life that dating touches … and look at what it means to bring these areas in line with God’s Word” (10).

All the other books I’ve reviewed have done this: they continually conflate their ideas with “God’s will” or “what God wants for your life.” This is always done honestly– Stasi Eldredge and Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Mark Driscoll and now Joshua Harris are all convinced that they’re representing God and “wisdom” and “Christian living” and whatever else, and they’re doing their best to do that faithfully. The problem enters with their pride and arrogance, because they haven’t really asked the question “could I be totally, utterly, 100% wrong about this?”

I get that. I hadn’t either, when I was twenty-three. That monumental shift in my thinking, in admitting that I could be fundamentally wrong about everything didn’t occur until I was twenty-six, and I’d already been blogging here for a while. I spent a decent amount of time on this blog saying similar things– making proclamations about what the Bible really means and what God really wants. I still do it on occasion, if I’m being perfectly honest.

We all think we’re right. It’s human.

However, when what you think is right becomes a massively popular book that has done a lot of harm to a whole generation of Christians, then people like me should definitely spend some time kicking your pile of blocks over.

Photo by Zach Zupancic