Saturday, September 28, 2013

Purity of heart: John Piper vs. altruism

I came across a post by John Piper the other day that reminded me how much I've changed since bible college.

For a little background, I attended a Baptist-leaning, "inter-denominational" bible college from 2001-2005. I didn't know who John Piper was before I enrolled, but by the time I graduated, I knew a lot about him. He was highly regarded by the bible professors and students. We used his books as textbooks sometimes. I attended his church frequently with my friends. I loved his use of logic and how he could pick apart a small set of verses to make an hour-long sermon. As a practiced Lutheran, I was not always comfortable with some of his positions, but I felt a strong obligation to agree with him on everything due to peer pressure.

A few years after college and after much thought and introspection, I came to the conclusion that love should be the most important aspect of my Christian faith. It seemed to me that love was the overarching theme of the bible, the lesson of many of its stories, and Jesus himself said that loving God and others were the greatest commandments. As I tried to figure out what it would look like to live a life where love took first place, a lot of things changed in my belief system. I learned to care about people as they were and not just judging where they stood with God. I stopped defining love as trying to make others follow Christian rules for godly living, and allowed my emotions to have a valid influence in determining right from wrong.

One of the most surprising things that came from this was that I rediscovered how good it felt to do good unto others. I was no longer volunteering out of a sense of duty or obligation, not even peer pressure. I was doing it because it made me happy to be helping someone else. It was a way to put more love into this world. I cannot explain how freeing that change felt. It was replacing hollow lies to myself with genuine love and good will. I no longer had an ulterior motive to influence or save someone's soul; I was doing good deeds because I cared about people and their well-being.

So when I came across Piper's post that stated altruism is not genuine love and is unbiblical and atheistic, I was dismayed and even angry.

So I answer again: "Doing a good deed for others with no view to any reward" is unbiblical and atheistic. It dishonors God. He offers more joy in his fellowship to those who do right "for his sake" than "for right's sake." If we don't embrace the offer of this reward in doing good, we belittle him. But if do embrace the offer, we show him as our supremely desired treasure - above all the rewards of doing wrong.

Doing good deeds to be rewarded by God either here or in heaven is something I am familiar with. It was the primary motivation for me from the ages of 17 to 25. And I will tell you, it didn't feel like love. Not the kind of love you feel as an emotion that comes from the heart. But many Christians believe the heart is deceitful, and emotions cannot be trusted. They redefine love as obedience. As action. I've written before about how the "love is a choice" dogma can lead to abuse in religion.

From where I stand today, I cannot really picture a good god who views true altruism to be dishonoring. The God of John Piper and most of Calvinism does not seem like a God worthy of worship.

In this blog, I usually talk about purity with the intent of showing how messed up the church's view of sexual purity is. I do not value the purity movement's purity. But I do value purity of the heart. I value genuineness, love, and good intent. And Piper's views do not exemplify those things to me. In fact, it more exemplifies what happens when you allow cold hard logic to be your only guide to interpretation of God and scripture, excluding feelings, experience, observation and intuition.

That is not to say there is not plenty of talk about joy and happiness in Piper's writing, and plenty of scripture references. Read it for yourself and see what you think. I think I would interpret the verses differently and probably define "joy" just as differently as we define "love."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Avoiding heartbreak through sexual purity

One of the many touted benefits of saving sex for marriage is supposed to be the avoidance of heartbreak on the road to finding true love. The idea is that sex creates deeper emotional attachments, which can be more hurtful in the even of a breakup. Courtship proponents talk much of guarding each others' hearts. And some take it further still by striving for "emotional purity," which is the attempt to not get too emotionally attached to someone until you are married to them.

I can sympathize with trying to avoid heartbreak. Nobody wants their heart broken. It hurts. But there is an undercurrent to the meaning of heartbreak in purity culture that the outside world doesn't have. In purity culture, it is heavily implied that if you have endured heartbreak over a potential mate, you are damaged goods. You gave too much of your heart away and cannot give as much to your future spouse. Outside of purity culture, most people view heartbreak as a normal and sometimes necessary part of living. It's something you learn from and move on. In fact, there is a general consensus that that being vulnerable and open to love and intimacy is worth suffering through however many heartbreaks are necessary to find true love.

I suppose I might have been considered a success story to purity believers in that I hardly dated anyone and therefore never got my heart broken by a boy. I never fell in love with anyone until I found the right person. But that took 28 years. And I will readily admit that I probably missed out on a lot of life experiences, had I not been so insecure and concerned with doing things the "right way." But more importantly, it didn't stop me from getting my heart broken. I had a falling out with my best friend in high school. I had some really lonely years after college. Many people have been heartbroken by their parents. And I think there are plenty of people who have had their heart broken by someone they loved but never dated because that love was unrequited.

All these other kinds of relationships and heartbreaks are ignored. In purity culture, the only thing that matters is the sexual and emotional purity between two prospective heterosexual mates. To them, whatever heartbreaks you've suffered from your other relationships don't count. They don't break off pieces of your heart and leave you damaged the way romantic relationships do.

It's irrational, isn't it? But that's what happens when you idolize sexual purity and marriage. It becomes more important than anything else, causing massive blind spots.

The other thing that concerns me about the talk of heartbreak in purity culture is that they are giving young people the impression that they will never suffer heartbreak from their spouse. When combined with the pressure to marry young to avoid fornication, that can cause people rush into a lifelong commitment without properly evaluating if it is right for them. If we taught young adults that marriage can run into heartache, too, maybe some would pause before jumping in too soon. Maybe they wouldn't treat marriage like a race to the finish line if they knew there was still a lot of hard work required to maintain a lasting relationship.

I would much rather suffer through a few early heartbreaks if it meant making a smarter choice in a spouse later on than suffer my first heartbreak due to a failed marriage. It's much harder to move on past that kind of heartbreak, especially when your entire life is invested in that relationship.

If purity culture valued the hearts of adults who have gone through divorce as much as they care about young virgins, I wonder how their teachings might change?