Many bloggers have noted the “failure” of abstinence programs and chastity pledges to “work.” It seems to me that a lot of bad conclusions are drawn from this data. In fact the oddest thing about the studies into these programs is that people find the results worth noting. That is to say, the notion that superficial statements about changing one’s life or setting its course do not actually often change or set the course of that life unless one really changes the course of your life in non-superficial ways.

Consider the alcoholic or habitual drug user who (time after time) states, they are “quitting”, only to fall again and again “off the wagon.” You cannot stop drug use without changing all or at least most/many of the habits which accompany one’s life. Consider the convert to Christianity, who professes his or her faith yet changes other outward (or inward) modes and manner of thought. Failure to regularly attend liturgy, engage in daily prayer, and perhaps repentance and fasting … that conversion will likely be temporary and superficial.

If conversion to any new mode of life, is not accompanied by a change of daily praxis and symbol then that change will likely fail the “test of time” like those purported studies above. If one “pledges” abstinence from pre-marital but remains fully engaged in a culture which celebrates hedonism, sexual permissiveness, and individual fulfillment-as-pleasure then it is not surprising that these pledges are not meaningful.

However, cultures do change and people do on occaison change their way of life and living. Jason Kuznicki and others (for example in the comments here) recently has been dismissing Mr Ssempa’s “burning of condoms” as a fruitless and meaningless gesture. But, religion and Christianity in Africa also recently have been noted to be a thing which has been transformational of daily praxis, symbol, and modes of living in Africa. Could one imagine that such cultural change would extend to sexual mores. As an extreme example, consider Puritan New England in the colonial period. If one finds that out of wedlock childbirth is less common than other comparable cultures, one might realize that culture can make a difference. Those people “pledged” chastity before marriage … and accompanied that pledge by orienting their daily practices in a way that supported that choice. And made such pledges meaningful and ones which did impact their lives.

Or as it was put far more convincingly some time ago (Matthew 13:1-9 & 18-23):

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”


“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

The point is, that such pledges and acts (like burning of condoms) can be meaningless but they can also not be meaningless. One has to look at the person or people doing these things and consider if their acts are superficial or accompanied by supporting practices and symbols and a change of life that extends past just a quick symbolic statement. Has their life changed? Are they changing their ways of living and thinking. If so, then the symbolic statement is real and important … and should not lightly be dismissed as nonsense.

Filed under: EducationEthics & MoralityMark O.

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