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The Virgin Joseph? November 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Virginity.
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Roger Hollander, November 29, 2009

“If men could have babies, abortion would be a sacrament.”

I buy 99% of my reading second hand at thrift stores.  I get some really good deals, and after a careful browsing of the back cover I almost invariably pick reading that I enjoy.  I find the best buys at the Bibles for Cambodia thrift shop in Guelph, which is why it is ironic that it was there that I inadvertently chose a “Christian” novel (“Deeper Water,” Robert Whitlow).  Its blurb suggested it was a “legal thriller,” which I love, but I missed the small print that read “Christian novel.”  So be it.  I decided to read it, I made it to the bittersweet end (the crime is solved, but the morally pristine heroine has not yet been able to chosen between her two born-again suitors), and I have no regrets.  The work was well written, the plot and the characters were believable, including the protagonist’s Evangelical family and her Evangelical lawyer associates.

Having once myself fallen into the throes of Evangelical Christianity (back in the early 1960’s, after which I took the message of Jesus seriously, left the hypocritical church and dedicated myself to Marxist humanist revolution), I felt the portrayal to ring true.  The author’s point of view was both Evangelical and fundamentalist, but mercifully lacked the narcissistic and jingoistic neo-Fascist political outlook of contemporary American Fundamentalism.

Two things about the novel struck me.  One was what I consider to be the ingenuous belief that the Christian god of the literalist interpreted Christian Bible concerns himself with the daily minutiae of each and every believer (imagine the mega giga’s on the dude’s computer).  But, beyond that, the obsessive preoccupation with the female protagonist’s virginity.  This we take for granted, but I decided to do some critical thinking on the theme.

First of all, I remember from my theological studies (Princeton Theological Seminary, 1963-1964) that some scholars use “maiden” instead of “virgin” for the original Hebrew and Greek word that traditional Bible translators translate as “virgin.”  “Maiden” would refer to an unmarried woman who is not necessarily, well, virgin, as we understand the word (that is, intercourse-free).

Contemporary Evangelical Christians, not to mention fundamentalist Muslims, Jews, etc. consider that their god is cognizant of the various marriage rituals, secular and religious, that constitute “marriage” in modern society, and that he insists that women shall not have had sexual intercourse prior to entering into that arrangement.  But hey, what about men?  Why not the Virgin Joseph?

Granted that if you asked a believer should a man be “virgin” before marriage, she or he would probably say yes, perhaps however with a sly wink on the side.  To the credit of the author of my Christian novel, he had his female Christian protagonist equally obsessive about her dress and manners so as not to tempt members of the opposite sex into sinful thoughts and desires.  What he doesn’t address, however, with respect to our heroine’s two Christian suitors, is the sexual attraction I would expect to be included in the attraction that induced them to become suitors in the first place (the author does constantly refer to her physical beauty).  Are we to believe that the attraction is strictly limited to the woman’s character and beliefs?  That certainly wasn’t my experience when I fell in love and married when I was an Evangelical Christian, and I cannot believe that I was an exception.  Where is Jimmy Carter when you need him?

Neither did my author give any mention to his heroine’s sexual desires or fantasies.  Does he want us to believe that she was entirely an asexual being?  That Christians have no sexual drive until marriage, at which time it somehow automatically it pops into gear?  I don’t think so.  I think Evangelical Christians acknowledge sexual drives and categorize them as sinful (an offence against their god) before marriage but suddenly somehow transformed into a gift from god after marriage (to be used however, only according to the instructions from the manufacturer that come with the product; that is, with the approved partner, with anyone else we’re back to sinning).

Now let’s go back and look at what it means for a woman to be “virgin,” to abstain from sexual intercourse before marriage.  If she does not have sex with single or married men, then with whom are these men to have sex?  Well, for married men that’s a no-brainer, their wives.  But if unmarried virgin women are not to have sex with single men, and single men are not to have sex with either single or married women, then there is no escaping the logic the Christian god wants good Christian men as well to be “virgins” prior to marriage.

Fair enough.  But why then all the obsessive preoccupation with the Virgin Mary and absolutely no mention of the Virgin Joseph?  You cannot bring in the Old Testament patriarchal values or what Saul of Tarsus (who later became Paul the sexual moralist) wants us to believe about his god’s view of the different roles of men and women, to explain this.  Yes, Christian women are to be submissive and obedient to their husbands, but definitely not to either a single or married man who asks for sexual intercourse while she is still single.  She must remain virgin, and therefore logic allows for no other option for the Christian male to remain virgin as well.

While the Evangelical Christian (as well as Roman Catholics and other religious fundamentalists) will probably acknowledge this to be true, again what they cannot explain why in all their discourse, female virginity takes on the color of an absolute while male virginity hardly deserves a mention.

For me the answer is obvious, especially in light of the patriarchal (man controlled) structures, theologically and institutionally of virtually all organized religion.  It can be summarized in a single word.


In looking for an image to go with the article, this is what I found on Google under “male virgin”