This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow,
as night the day, thou canst not then be false with any man.
Since writing my critiques of Purity Culture, I’ve spent the past few months thinking about what a positive, healthy purity ethic might look like.
The main flaw of Purity Culture I’ve seen is its over-emphasis on Not Doing Things; ie.not having pre-marital sex, not dressing in a provocative manner, not kissing until your wedding day, not dating, etc. etc.
But is purity merely the absence of certain things? Or is it also the intentional and daily-practice of Something?
I believe purity–in order to truly be a virtue–is based on positive action sourced from an internally consistent framework of principles. In this sense, couldn’t we say purity is similar to integrity in that it means acting in accordance with a set of core values?
If purity is a virtue, then it is not merely the abstaining from certain activities, ie. dressing in a particular way or adhering to a set of external rules–mainly because these are arbitrary standards which vary from group to group and are subject to change; sometimes on the whim of whomever is in charge at the time.
This is why, for example, when I was growing up there were fluctuations between what was considered a modest skirt–some said ankle-length, others said hitting below the knee.
But purity–as a virtue and as an ethic–is far more than dress and behavior codes.
In fact, I would say purity should not be limited to our sexual expression but ought to connote an entire purity of person, a way of being that extends to whole of our humanness.
Indeed, I think we could say that truly pure people are mindful about everything in their lives: what and how much they eat, how many resources they consume, their dealings with others, how they speak, how they treat themselves and how they treat others, how they conduct business transactions and maybe even what kind of car they drive.
It’s tragic that purity has come to be almost exclusively identified with sexuality rather than as a whole-person approach to living.
Because by relegating purity to merely our sexuality, we set ourselves up for hypocrisy, duplicity and ultimately, dehumanization. Indeed, the unintended consequence of focusing exclusively on “sexual purity” is a fragmentation of our being. Anytime we elevate, idolize or excessively focus on one part of our humanity we fragment ourselves and thus, deny the wholeness of our personhood.
Which is to say, anyone can conform to external standards of dress and behavior but that does not mean the person is pure–because purity is so much more than wearing a baggy, denim jumper or slapping on a “True Love Waits” wristband.
True purity is integrated into to every part of our humanity and that is far more difficult to practice.
Ultimately, what destroys purity/wholeness is living in a fragmented, compartmentalized, duplicitous way.
Sometimes people ask me if I’ve ever discussed standards of modesty and appropriate sexual behavior with my teenage daughter. I never really had a good answer for that because the reality is that we discuss sexuality within the context of our whole lives. I don’t need to “set apart time for the sex talk” because I am living in active relationship with my daughter and as issues arise and the need presents itself, we have a conversation about it. Then again, this applies to every part of our lives together and not merely sexuality.
I mean, it would be downright awkward, completely inauthentic and probably harmful for me to suddenly announce that we’re having “The Talk.” I believe it’s more true to the wholeness of our humanity to simply allow these discussions to take place as naturally and easily as possible.
And yet, it is so tempting to fragment our whole humanness, in fact, I would say we are prone to compartmentalize. We may even WANT to fragment ourselves because then it’s easier to create rules, laws and codes for ourselves and others. And once we create rules, it’s easy to determine who is in and who is out.
But the true ethic of purity comes from within, from the heart–too bad only God can see that!
Purity is living wholly–in all areas of my life. It starts with me. I must ask myself: am I taking care of myself? Am I taking drugs? Am I drinking too much? Am I getting enough sleep? Am I over-eating? Am I getting enough exercise? Am I expressing my sexuality in a way that honors the wholeness of who I am?
Purity is knowing myself and honoring the whole of my personhood–because once I know myself, I am living honestly. I am living in truth. Purity is wholeness.