"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -Aldous Huxley

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wFriday, October 07, 2005

WAY TOO MUCH INFORMATION: The website Beliefnet has finally got around to posting my article that uses Jeff Sharlet's Rolling Stone faux expose on the "new" virginity movement among evangelical Christians as a hook. I took a run at the piece when I was still writing for GetReligion but found that I still had more to say on the subject. The piece starts like so:

It's funny how religious stories sneak up on most American journalists. One minute, churchgoers will be going about their business and the next they'll discover that their worship/Sunday School curriculum/whatever is part of some New Hot Trend, even though they've been doing--or not doing it--it for years.

So it is with the "new" virginity movement among evangelical Christians. In a recent issue of Rolling Stone, reporter Jeff Sharlet writes that he's found "the new organizing principle of the Christian right": chastity. In an explanation that sounds like it was copied out of a catalog for the Society for Creative Anachronism, he writes that this strange new virginity is "built on the notion that virgins are among God's last loyal defenders, knights and ladies of a forgotten kingdom."

I thought that was a pretty well natured poke but from his response I don't think Sharlet was terribly amused. And in his rejoinder Sharlet is guilty of the same error that has plagued his reporting on this subject from the beginning: He wants to see this in exclusively political terms.

He admits that "any extramarital sex was always verboten among Christians throughout their history" but insists that the insistence on chastity must be something new altogether. To wit, "Ted Olsen, an editor at the evangelical magazine Christianity Today, suggests that the new emphasis on chastity might be considered a result or a dividend (depending on your perspective) of the end of the Cold War."

Or it might be a reassertion (albeit at times a wacky reassertion) of the Christian idea of a sane moral and sexual order in response to, say, sudden outbreaks of AIDS and other STDs. I think my theory better fits the facts than Sharlet's.

One final issue: Sharlet writes, "Indeed, the 'muscular Christianity' movement at the beginning of the century carried with it a subtly implicit endorsement of randy sexuality as a proof of virility."

I would be willing to believe that statement if Sharlet did anything more than assert. Like, you know, offer evidence and stuff.

posted by Jeremy at 4:58 PM