Dawn Eden: Chastity Is ‘In’ Because It’s Rebellious
The updated, Catholic edition of her book The Thrill of the Chaste tackles the epidemic of ‘existential loneliness’ and living joyfully the present moment.
Last last year, Ave Maria Press released an updated Catholic edition of Dawn Eden’s The Thrill of the Chaste. Eden spoke with me in depth about this new edition and how it’s both different and better than what it was before.
I didn’t read the original edition of The Thrill of the Chaste, Dawn. I gather, though, that this edition is much different. Would you highlight those differences and explain why it was so important to you to write this updated version?
To me, the Catholic edition of The Thrill of the Chaste is truly a new book. Even the material I retained from the first edition feels new, because the whole atmosphere of the book has changed, casting a different light on my earlier reflections.
The most noticeable change is that The Thrill is no longer targeted to women. When I wrote the original edition, I was still very new to chastity and didn’t feel competent to address men on the subject. But after The Thrill came out in 2006, I regretted limiting its perspective, because so many male readers told me, “We need a book like this for us!”
Then there’s the fact that this new Thrill truly is a Catholic book, unlike the original — and I don’t just mean it has extra added mortifications. Actually, it has no additional mortifications, unless you count the reference to the story about St. Benedict rolling around naked in a rosebush — and I do warn against trying that at home.
No, what makes this new Thrill Catholic is that it has a sacramental worldview that was entirely lacking from the original, which I wrote prior to entering into full communion with the Church. I now discuss chastity within the larger context of saints, sacraments, vocation and the whole life and prayer of the Church. Honestly, looking back, I’m amazed I managed to even begin living chastely before I entered into the rhythms of the Eucharist and confession.
As for the different feel of the new Thrill, one fan of the original edition wrote that she liked the Catholic edition even better because it goes deeper than the “how-tos.” As she put it, “It’s less about why you should keep your clothes [on], and how to go about doing that, and more about why the world’s version of love pales in comparison to God’s.”
Who most needs to read your book? Who were you writing for? I ask, in part, because, as I read it, you spoke straight to my heart, so eloquently and deftly.
My prime audience is single Catholic adults who have been chewed up, swallowed and spit out by the dating culture. Having missed the memo on abstinence, they are now seeking a happier way to live and love than what society is offering them. I want them to have the kind of book that I wish had been there for me when divine grace brought me to want to bring my lifestyle in line with God’s will.
But in a larger sense, The Thrill of the Chaste is for everyone who suffers from existential loneliness — which, I think, really means everyone. Deep down, we all long for a person who understands us and loves us perfectly. But even if we find our soulmate in marriage, sooner or later, like the Cher song says, we all sleep alone. What do we do when we realize that no human being will truly satisfy us?
I write for people who suffer this tension of living in the “now and not yet,” and I seek to give them hope through reflecting on how, even in this world, we can experience a foretaste of Christ’s transfiguration of our bodies, as the Catechism says (1000). We experience it through our participation in the Eucharist, in which Christ gives us his own embodied love and shows us how to embody that same divine love to others.
You mention having a moment where you realize the pleasure principle is trumped by the “tomorrow principle.” Why is this so foundational to how you live chastely? How does this continue to impact how you live your life now?
I introduce the tomorrow principle in the first chapter of The Thrill of the Chaste, describing how it helped me resist temptation when I first began trying to live chastely. It is the opposite of the pleasure principle. With the pleasure principle, the passions push the mind to choose that which will bring the most immediate pleasure. With the tomorrow principle, the mind rules against the passions, choosing that which will bring lasting joy. Because I don’t just want to be happy today; I want to be happy “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.”
I think it’s very important that people realize that true Christians aren’t anti-pleasure. We’re pro-joy, and because of that, we’re willing to defer or forgo temporary pleasures in order to attain the fulfillment that we were made for.
As to how the tomorrow principle affects my current life, I think it helps me to be more patient with myself at times when I feel I have been struggling against the same sinful tendency for a long time. I can look back now at all the times I resisted falling back into a particular sin and see that every time I resisted, it brought me greater virtue. That’s encouraging, and it’s the sort of insight that one can have only in retrospect.
At one point, you say, “Chastity is so out, it’s in.” Why do you think this topic has become such a hot topic? Why is this a topic people should read about, i.e., in your book (instead of just googling or reading chastity blogs)?
Chastity is in because it’s rebellious. Practically the entire culture — certainly the whole of mainstream media, driven by advertising — is geared toward reducing human persons to objects. The chaste individual bucks the system because he or she refuses to buy into this culture of objectification. When we choose to be chaste, we assert our dignity as human persons, whose value is in who we are — not what we do or have done to us, what we wear or what we own.
As far as why it’s better to read a book like mine than to just search online or read chastity blogs, I’ve got nothing against blogs; parts of the original Thrill first appeared on my own Dawn Patrol. But I think that a person who wants to make real and lasting change in his or her life needs to have an in-depth resource that can be consulted and reflected upon over time — a bedside companion, if you will, but of the chaste variety.
Singular women, you claim, are revolutionary. Tell us about your concept of a singular woman — why that idea is so liberating and how it plays into the chaste life.
Well, hold on a moment — I don’t mean to say men can’t be singular or revolutionary. The only reason I refer to the “singular woman” in the chapter on “Becoming a Singular Sensation” is to avoid pronoun trouble; otherwise, I could just as well have written “singular man.” But, yes, I do say that it is a revolutionary act to be singular — instead of being a mere lonely little single.
The distinction is that the culture wants to keep those of us who are unmarried thinking we are “single.” Being “single” implies being in a state of lack, like being yin without yang. People who define themselves by what they lack make great targets for advertisers, who are all too eager to try to sell them things to fill the empty space. But they aren’t great candidates for happiness, because their sense of always missing out leads them to bitterness and resentment.
On the other hand, if we counter the culture by thinking of ourselves not as merely “single,” but as “singular,” we define ourselves not by what we lack, but by what we have: a relationship with God. Having a relationship with God, I may be unmarried, I may have feelings of loneliness, but I know in my heart that I am not truly alone. Rather, I am “alone with” — alone with God, bonded to him in love, and that means I am connected to everyone God loves. That gives my life a new kind of fullness and even a sense of adventure.
Many, many people have bought into the lie of unchaste living. What cure is there for them?
The cure for them begins when they ask themselves if they are happy. At a certain point, the person who has any kind of unhealthy habit or addiction realizes that he or she will never be satisfied. It’s at that point that such people have a chance of salvation, if they open themselves up to the realization that the road they have chosen is preventing them from attaining the happiness they seek. Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen calls that point the moment of “black grace” — the grace of fed up-ness that can lead to the “white grace” of conversion.
Your chapter on living in the present moment struck me as being so very tangible and relevant to all of us now. How does your experience of chaste living continue to challenge you to experience and appreciate the present moments and the graces God gives you in those moments?
In The Thrill of the Chaste (Catholic Edition), I characterize chastity as a ministry of presence — learning how to be present for others as God is always present for me. My capacity for joy is growing as I learn how to better be present for people.
For example, I am continually trying to improve at learning how to listen to people without interrupting them, how to respond to what they say, rather than changing the subject, and how to enjoy a moment or a meal with another person without being the first to begin to leave. As I work to build up those good habits, I find that I am appreciating others more and having better intimacy with them.
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