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The Resentment of Chastity: Love and Responsibility Series (Post #17)

This whole next section of Love and Responsibility is entitled, “The Rehabilitation of Chastity.” This is a strange title, no? Why would chastity need to be rehabilitated? Did it hurt itself?

Rehabilitation Restores:
“Rehabilitation restores [a person or thing]’s good name and right to respect,”[1] Wojtyla writes. When it’s put that way, it doesn’t take much consideration to see that the virtue of chastity does need rehabilitation in our culture. Is there any other virtue (i.e. objectively good quality) that is as ridiculed on television, movies, magazines, or music? Is there any other virtue that people are ashamed of embarrassed to own in mixed company? Can you imagine a party, for example, where someone says, “Yeah, I’m pretty disciplined, like, I get up at 7 every day, even on weekends because I know it’s good for me,” and another person says “WHAT? Are you KIDDING? That is so lame! You’re a loser,” and then points it out to others as a freakish quality? I don’t think so.

We see in our culture a serious resentment of chastity. People laugh at it. They don’t see it as a positive value; they don’t want to attain it. In fact, some people can’t even comprehend people who do. What these people know is that it is not easy, and the fact that some (albeit, few) people do strive for it is a judgment on their own actions. “So in order to spare ourselves the effort, to excuse our failure to obtain this value, we minimize its significance, deny it the respect which it deserves, even see it as in some way evil.”[2] Consider how Cosmo or even Seventeen encourages sexual experimentation as “natural” or “healthy” even while ignoring objective evidence that it is harmful and often leads to profound unhappiness. Consider how one man’s confession that he really tries hard never to look at pornography can make other men feel angry at him.

Rediscovering the Goodness of Chastity:
People make arguments against the goodness of chastity in a way that they don’t about any other virtue. One argument is physical—that it is “unhealthy” to “repress” your sexuality. News flash: no one ever died from not having sex! Another argument is that chastity is the enemy of love; that love cannot grow between a man and a woman if the sexual expression of it is reserved for marriage. “It is arguments of this sort that particularly encourage the growth of resentment,”[3] Wojtyla notes. This argument, when it takes root, makes the person who is striving for chastity feel guilty or selfish. Think about the classic line, “If you really loved me, you would…” How many teenagers (or adults, for that matter!) have succumbed to this false argument and regretted it? Real love doesn’t ask anyone to do something that is not good for them.

Sex does not somehow “produce” love. On the contrary, if the desire of the man or woman is simply to “possess” the other person (sexually or emotionally), love will be stunted; it will not grow. “Love develops on the basis of the totally committed and fully responsible attitude of a person to a person.”[4] It is a deep and serious thing. “Only the correct concentration of particular sensual and emotional elements around the value of the person entitles us to speak of love,”[5] Wojtyla says. Everything has to come together—this is the miracle!—attraction, emotion, and the will (or commitment). This is only possible when the persons have attained the virtue of chastity. “The word ‘chaste’ (‘clean’) implies liberation from everything that ‘makes dirty,’”[6] Wojtyla writes. Seeing a person as an object or using him or her for the sake of pleasure is what makes a sexual action “dirty” (i.e. unworthy of the persons committing it). Chastity is the specific virtue that guards the person in this vulnerable sphere of sexuality, where the effects of original sin (a tendency toward selfishness) are so strong.

[1] Wojtyla, Karol. Love and Responsibility (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 143.

[2] Ibid, p. 143.

[3] Ibid, p. 144.

[4] Ibid, p. 145.

[5] Ibid, p. 146.

[6] Ibid, p. 146.

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