Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
Glancing at a list of saints’ feast days that fall during this week, I see this listed for September 23:
St. Thecla, Virgin and Martyr
I always used to pause at that oft-used description of the saints. The martyr part made sense. But why virgin? To make it a point to highlight that aspect of a person’s life seemed a little…personal. To use internet parlance, it struck me as TMI. I knew that the problem must be with me, and not with a tradition of the 2,000-year-old Church, but I never could figure out why that designation was so important.
Then I began to notice something: Our society has lost the concept that it is possible to live a fulfilling life without having sex. And this fact alone is responsible for some of the worst scourges that plague the modern world. For example:
It’s the fuel that drives contraceptive culture: If people think that they must have sex in order to have a good life—regardless of whether or not they want children—contraception starts to be considered a necessity. And the resulting mentality, which completely separates sex from its life-giving potential, is the fuel that drives abortion culture.
It leads to unfair and unnecessary suspicion of people who have chosen celibacy as part of a life devoted to God and others.
It makes people who are same-sex attracted feel like Christianity leaves them no options for a good life.
It’s especially dangerous now that our society believes that we can determine other people’s worthiness of life, since it devalues the lives of people who have disabilities that preclude sexual activity. A mother who chose to abort her son when she found out he would be physically disabled wrote in this article:
It was the thought of our son’s incurable impotence that triggered my husband’s tears. “Oh God, what sort of life will he have?” he asked the doctors. It was, of course, a rhetorical question, and no one attempted to answer it.
A society has lost all real respect for human life when it believes that people would be better off dead than celibate.
I’m sure there are all sorts of deep theological reasons for the virgin designation so commonly seen after the names of the saints (feel free to enlighten me in the combox), but it strikes me that one of the practical benefits of the practice is that it’s a reminder that people can have good lives—great, history-making, God-glorifying lives, in fact—without ever having sex. And an understanding of this truth is nothing less than the foundation for a sane, loving society.