Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Moral Obligations to Specific Future Persons

In a recent article at First Things Joe Carter argues that single Christians have a moral obligation, not just to God, but to their future spouse to sexual fidelity. This may seem obvious to some Christians, and the reasoning for it should be equally obvious. Our past actions have consequences for our present and our future and actions we take even before meeting someone can be hurtful to future persons.

I was first prompted to think through the issue by the film Chasing Amy by Kevin Smith about a decade ago. It has been a long time since I've seen the film but the central 'moral' to the story is that Ben Affleck's character is just being foolish in harboring feelings of jealousy and resentment about his current girlfriend's sexual past. The logic goes: since she didn't know him then and she loves him now, what relevance can those past actions have? How could it be a slight to him if she didn't even know him when she was doing it? I am with you now, I love you, and that's all that matters.

This moral struck me as simplistic and naive, and the feelings of Affleck's character in the film seemed to be completely natural and even justified, contrary to what the film was claiming--though it is correctly pointed out that he is being a hypocrite as he too had a sexual past. But in this case being a hypocrite means they are both bringing sexual, emotional baggage to the relationship that can cause these problems. That doesn't make his feelings of hurt wrong or unjustified. If anything it brings up the question of why the female character didn't harbor similar feelings about his past. The movie would say that it's because she's more experienced, grown up and enlightened and has gotten over those petty, teenage inclinations and come to the realization that it's who you love and are committed to now that matters. The past is gone and it has no ramifications on the present. But in reality she's morally and spiritually calloused because of her 'experience' whereas he is still more susceptible due to his relative innocence (in the movie she has an extensive, exotic past whereas he has a more 'normal' past of a handful of girlfriends, I believe).

The negative effects of past sexual experiences on future relationships is evidence that we are not built to function in this polygamous way. And secular people who conceive of monogamy as either a good thing, or good for some people, only view it in a temporal sense. You can be monogamous with one person, then with another, then with another. But this is really just atemporal polygamy. Those past relationships don't cease to exist as part of the person that you are the moment that they are terminated. They are still a part of you and they still have the ability to negatively affect your subsequent relationships.

God doesn't hand down his Law arbitrarily. It has a purpose and the purpose is for our benefit. Despite the fact that it was a secular film preaching a secular gospel, Chasing Amy got me to think about these issues and though the film doesn't realize it, it has an important message. The message is that the secular world thinks it's intelligent and healthy to bury, ignore, or write off as foolish feelings of hurt, jealousy, anger and resentment that previous sexual experiences and intimate relationships can evoke in present ones. Whereas God would say that because past relationships do have the capacity to wreak this kind of havoc on the present and the future (which can only be circumvented through callousness) that we should have fidelity to only one person--not one person at a time--for our whole lives. Which makes more sense? Which seems to be the better solution? If it's God's solution that is more healthy and beneficial for humanity then the evidence that Christianity is true and good continues to mount.

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