Cultural Disconnect

In every culture – past, present, East, West, first or third world – there are certain societal assumptions and norms that strongly align with Biblical ethics and commands, and at the very same time in the very same culture norms that are fundamentally at odds with a Biblical worldview. 21st century, educated, middle-class, America is no exception.

In my next post I will consider an example of the former, but for now consider the article, Sex Education by Donna Freitas, recently published in the Wall Street Journal.

The article is the product of more than 2500 interviews performed on college campuses around the country (including private, public, catholic, and non-religious schools). It describes the current cultural expectations on campuses regarding dating, sex, and “hooking up.”

Her findings are startling.

She defines “hooking up” as “a range of sexually intimate acts, from kissing to intercourse, that occur outside a committed relationship.”

Throughout her interviews, “Not a single person at these schools said that their peers valued saving sex for marriage, and only 7% said that they felt that their friends wanted to reserve sex for committed, loving relationships.”

In fact, she noticed that the “hook-up” culture, in many instances, has replaced dating altogether.

[Students in one of my classes] seemed shocked that somewhere in America there are entire communities of people their age who really do “save themselves” until marriage, who engage in old-fashioned dating with flowers and dinner and maybe a kiss goodnight. They reacted as if these authors (Josh Harris, Lauren Winner) describe a wonderful fantasy-land. “It would be easier just to have sex with someone than ask them out on a real date,” one student said, half-seriously.

Reviewing Freitas recent book, Sex and the Soul, on the same topic, Publishers Weekly commented:

With the exception of evangelical collegians, who are still gunning for marriage and trying to remain chaste until then, almost all of the young people Freitas interviewed were engaged in “hookup culture,” often exploring their sexuality with near strangers in the hopes of eventually finding someone to date.

I do not think there is a single other widely accepted cultural norm that diverges more radically from God’s commands than the sexual expectations and interactions we have adopted as a society.

Consider Paul’s words to the Corinthians:

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, who you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

A few thoughts in way of a Christian response:

1. This article was eye opening to me on a personal level. My job at The Crossing consists of many things, but one primary goal is preparing and inspiring students as well as I can to leave high school and enter college with Christ-centered, Biblically-saturated, God-glorifying core beliefs – beliefs that will ultimately shape their decision making, character, and obedience to the call of God in their lives. This article describes just one part of that world each class of graduating seniors is entering. As I said above, there is also much to celebrate in culture, but this article gave me insight into cultural forces that are directly at odds with Biblical obedience.

Have I taught truth and exemplified humble obedience clearly enough to prepare them to enter this world? Have you, as parents, prepared your children to encounter a secular culture that is in many ways eerily in line with Biblical ethics and in other ways staggeringly blind to them? Is our church, as a body of believers, preparing one another, sharpening one another, to strive for the discernment necessary to live as little redeemers in our current cultural milieu (a messy conglomeration of both noble virtues and ugly sins)?

2. If you take the time to read the piece you will notice (like I did) that the most fascinating (and hopeful) thing about Freitas’ findings is that many (41%) of the students who are involved in the current “hook-up” culture around college campuses are “profoundly upset about their behavior.” Notice the words they use to describe themselves: “dirty, used, regretful, empty, miserable, disgusted, ashamed, duped, and abused.” Publishers Weekly comments, “Freitas’ work chronicles a poignant spiritual loss that students themselves articulate and mourn.”

I think the very real emotional pain emerging from the “hook-up” lifestyle, while tragic and saddening, is to be, at the same time, expected and even celebrated by Christians for at least two reasons.

First, It reaffirms the Biblical truth that we are only truly satisfied and truly content living in accordance with our design. And that our intended, created design is to glorify God in all we do. The more we diverge from that purpose – the more we disobey his commands – the more we fight against ultimate reality. And the truth of the matter is, the more we fight against reality, the more we get banged up because reality doesn’t lose.

Second, there is still cause for celebration and hope. Like Gomer, the prostitute whom the prophet Hosea marries, God often removes the surface satisfaction and comfort we enjoy when we run to any source of meaning or pleasure apart from Him (Hosea 2:6-7). He does not treat us this way out of spite or revenge, but in pursuit of our hearts. He aims to woo us back to Him by exposing the cheap quality and insufficiency of other ‘gods’ and idols while at the same time revealing his abundant grace and the abundant peace found only in Him.

We can pray that the insufficiency of the “hook-up” culture may become abundantly clear in the lives of college students around the country. We can also pray that as a result of individuals experiencing the pain and “spiritual loss” there would be an entire cultural shift away from the high value placed on sexual promiscuity and the cultural norms would shift back toward an alignment with God’s intended design for human sexual interaction: sex within the covenantal relationship of marriage and nowhere else.

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