celibacy [theology] & chastity [secularity] Heaven forbid that, at the end of my life, a Voice might say: “He could have loved! He could have been grateful! He could have been loved! He could have been less afraid! Less anxious! Less self-absorbed!” — Steven Kalas











Heaven forbid that, at the end of my life, a Voice might say: “He could have loved! He could have been grateful! He could have been loved! He could have been less afraid! Less anxious! Less self-absorbed!”






I often talk with one leg knee deep in Christian theology and the other in the social sciences. Let me try to sort through those themes and clarify.

The Christian New Testament describes “the gifts of the spirit.” The charismata. By definition, a gift is not chosen. We don’t decide to get a gift. The gift is given. The only decision left to the individual pilgrim is how and whether we will assume stewardship of our gifts. We can use our gifts responsibly and faithfully. We can exploit them. We can ignore our gifts. We can waste them.

Strictly speaking, it is celibacy — not chastity — that is a “gift of the spirit.” Celibacy, in the Christian tradition, is the God-given ability to foreswear sex in principle in service to a particularly consuming vocation and ministry (e.g., monasticism). Sex is not foresworn because it is bad or wrong; rather, sex is foresworn because one’s life’s work does not allow for the time and energy required by a faithful, married life partnership. Sexual energy is redirected (Sigmund Freud would say “sublimated”) into creative congress in the world.

Let me be clear: Celibacy is not the foreswearing of sexuality! Rather, it is the foreswearing of sexual interaction. I emphasize this for many good reasons, not the least of which is that it is impossible to foreswear being sexual. Though, heaven knows some people try. It is never a good idea to dodge your discomfort about sex by dressing that discomfort up in religion and the pretense of piety. That always ends badly. Pathological denial is not the same as the authentic gift of celibacy.

Properly understood, a celibate is not holier or better than a noncelibate. Just different. Monasticism and marriage are merely different Christian vocations. And mutually exclusive. If a husband or wife were, after years of marriage, to simply announce to the mate, “Oh, by the way, God has given me the gift of celibacy,” … well, I’d have some rather critical questions about what was really going on there.


Chastity, on the other hand, is the decision to foreswear sex until and unless certain criterion are met and realized, making sex (for the pilgrim in question) something that abides and thrives only in certain “values contexts.” For example, for some that means sex can only be right in the context of marriage, or at least striving for that ideal. Others would say it as you have said it: “The only way to seriously consider sex is in the context of a relationship.”

So chastity is not a gift. Rather, chastity is a values-based discipline of piety. We choose chastity. Or not. Depending on what we value and why.

As an advocate of healthy marriage, what I said is what I’ll continue to say: If you are married, it’s not OK to simply and unilaterally give up on sex, then smile kindly and say, “Just because I’m giving up on sex doesn’t mean I’m giving up on love.” If you are married to someone with any measure of self-respect, you should rightly expect some energetic protest. Because this fundamentally changes the “marriage contract,” no less than if you were to announce your acquisition of a lover across town, then smiling kindly and saying, “Just because I’m giving up on sexual exclusivity doesn’t mean I’m giving up on love.”



This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s