When was the last conversation, sermon, or radio program you heard or participated in that celebrated celibacy as a virtue? A choice to be lifted up, praised, and promoted? What if celibacy was viewed as a cherished goal instead of a cross to bear? What if we took a new approach to the conversation about sex?
Now is the perfect time.
The Link Between Anger and Lust
Shortly after the shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas on May 18, 2018, the mother of one of the victims spoke up. Over a period of several months, she said, the shooter had asked her daughter out. Over those months, her daughter had repeatedly rejected him, finally publicly humiliating him. A week later, she claimed, he opened fire on his classmates.
While there are some questions as to the veracity of the grieving mother’s claims, there have been other mass attacks of violence that are distinctly tied to rejection of sexual advances. In April, a man ran down several pedestrians with a van; minutes before the attack, he made a Facebook post in praise of Elliot Rodger, who in May 2014 published a manifesto blaming women for his “involuntary celibacy” before murdering six people in Los Angeles.
These men all felt rejected by women and turned to violence as the answer. These men bought into the lies that culture in general, and pornography in particular, has been telling us—that sexuality is both a biological need and a human right; that other people (especially women) can be won like prizes. And when women failed to give themselves over to these men, they took on the label “Incel” and chose to take vengeance on humanity in general.
Making his own clinical observations that link anger and lust. Dr. Jay Stringer noted:
“As a licensed mental health therapist and ordained minister, I have never met someone who struggles deeply with sexual lust that is not also battling with unaddressed anger.”
When that unaddressed anger flares up after a sexual rejection, actions can be vengeful and aggressive.
The Cultural Forces Against Celibacy
Obviously, not every person who is involuntarily celibate will turn to violence. Plenty of them will maintain a healthy attitude about their celibacy. Even those who take on the “Incel” label may content themselves with finding community or venting online. The real issue is why they feel the need to vent in the first place—and it’s not simply because they are sexually inactive.
The real issue is that virtually every aspect of modern culture preaches that celibacy, especially involuntary celibacy, is unusual. Think of virtually any TV show aimed at adults. Most of them will feature at least one hookup during their run. The goofball-winning-the-hot-girl trope is especially prevalent. Think of nearly any movie: even movies for kids will often have the hero win the heart of the girl in the end. Others treat sexuality as a rite of passage: the transition from child to man or woman. The worst of them will treat virginity as a sort of disease that needs to be cured. Think video games: you can unlock an achievement for “romance” if you literally hit the right buttons with your love interest.
And, of course, there’s pornography, where thousands of willing women are available for virtually any man’s taking within a matter of minutes—and by extension, the viewer’s taking too.
I’ve belabored media’s false messages about sexuality elsewhere, so I won’t spend much more time on it. My point is simply this: nearly everything about pop culture glorifies sex. Almost never do we see a message claiming that celibacy is acceptable as a temporary state, let alone as a permanent state.
Unfortunately, the church at large doesn’t do a much better job at this. I’m not even talking about comments like Paige Patterson joking that every man should own a woman; that’s awful, of course, but he is seeing the consequences of that and similar statements. The more common problem is that the church tends to glorify marriage as the ultimate end state for most men and women. Sexual purity, then, is usually in reference to abstinence until marriage. Sermon illustrations center around marriage and parenting. Personally, I think I’ve heard more sermons encouraging married couples to have more sex (1 Corinthians 7:1-5) than I’ve heard encouraging singles to stay single (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 32-35).
But that, I would posit, is exactly the message we need right now.
It’s Time to Celebrate Celibacy
Think about it for a moment. What would it it look like if culture at large, or at least the church, actually lifted up celibates? What would Hollywood, for example, look like if the hero didn’t have a love interest and was okay with it? What if the hero’s choice was between the obviously incompatible love interest and celibacy, and they chose celibacy? What if sitcom characters stood up for the virgins instead of mocking them? What if more leading characters asked their love interests out—and got rejected, and were okay with that?
How would Incels feel if they saw similar experiences to their own mirrored in Hollywood—and treated with compassion, not mocked? If they saw that rejection happens, and happens again and again, and saw that celibacy was not a state of constant misery, and that sex is not a necessity for life?
What would happen if more celibates stood up and said, “This is my story”?
That, I think, is what we need.
We need celibates to tell their stories—to say, “I don’t need porn. I am not ruled by my sex drive. I have found contentment and meaning without it.” We need celibates to show how they have filled their time with healthy habits like art and exercise and serving, not mindless entertainment like TV and video games and porn.
Related content: Hobbies & Habits–Finding Purpose Beyond Porn
We need churches to stop lifting up marriages as the ultimate standard and to stop treating singleness as a temporary setback. We need pastors to lift up the singles in their midst. We need them to give honor to those who sacrifice extra time to serve in the church or community in particular.
We need married couples to tell their stories, with specifics, that marriage and relationships are tough. We need married porn users in particular to talk about how marriage didn’t fulfill all their fantasies, and that they nearly lost their families because of their brokenness.
We need youth pastors to teach purity not as a temporary thing until marriage, but as a godly standard in a world where marriage may never happen.
We need parents to teach their kids (especially sons) that rejection can and will happen. We need parents to teach kids how to handle disappointment, especially when they are disappointed by other people. We need parents to teach their kids to accept no and move on.
We need accountability partners to share stories of the transformative and healing power of friendships—that they are just as important as romantic relationships, and sometimes more so.
And, above all else, we need the Gospel.
We need the message that we were created for far more than sex, and that there are far more important things to do than self-gratify through porn. We need the message that we are all broken, and that in our brokenness we have all been rejected by the only One whose opinions matter. We need the message that Christ’s physical brokenness and rejection forged a new promise with God: that He will accept us in our brokenness and make us whole. We need the message that in the light of Christ, nothing is wasted. Not our disappointment and rejection, not our involuntary celibacy or unfulfilled desires. That we should not be bitter about not receiving the gift of sex through marriage, but that we should rejoice and use the gifts of time and talents and, yes, even celibacy that we have received. We need the message that through Christ our works take on eternal significance, and that we can and should turn to activities that are more fulfilling than porn.
We can drown out the lies of porn and the bitterness of Incels with the higher calling of the Gospel. But we need celibates to do it.