Charming Disarray has started a series of posts on “Emotional Chastity” which I have been following since the first one appeared, and periodically going back to re-read. It is of great interest to me because I have written an entire book about modesty for women (a fact which I am sure does not recommend me to CD at all) and in it I actually spoke about emotional modesty; and also because I have written a book about manhood for young men, in which I posited a sort of emotional modesty for men.
Emotional modesty for women could very simply be defined as not sharing on an intimate emotional level, or allowing a man to share on such a level, unless he had openly declared his commitment to that relationship.
Emotional modesty for men could be defined as saying only what you mean, and no more. This means don’t act like you are pursuing a woman unless you do intend to commit to that relationship. I also discouraged the idea of dating without a clear intention of discerning marriage, and hence discouraged dating for young men who were not ready to get married, personally or financially.
Like all of my theories, they were formulated in response to a perceived problem. As I saw it, the women that I knew tended to be too ready to commit their hearts to relationships that very clearly weren’t going anywhere, because the guy was not committed at all. He, for his part, more often than not, was well content to let things go on, enjoying the attention and emotional (and/or physical) attachment, but apparently unable or unwilling to get tied down. That was the most common scenario that I saw, and so it was the scenario I wrote about. I was aware at the time that both theories could be taken too far and hence tried to balance them in my writings, but there is only so much you can do.
Three or four years later I am revisiting those theories, interested in finding the flaws. Surprisingly, I don’t find too many obvious flaws in formulation in the books. As I said, I was quite careful to balance out my theories with common sense. What I find, however, is that those theories play right into the hands of a certain attitude, which I have come to call “Fear Based Ethics.”
What is a “Fear Based Ethic?” It is an ethical proscription put forth out of fear of the possible consequences. I oppose it to “Love Based Ethics” which are embraced for love of the good that comes from them. A fear based ethic is, “You had better go to Mass on Sunday or you will go to hell.” A love based ethic would be, “I go to Mass on Sunday because I want to grow closer to God.” Currently (I am only 27 and my ideas are constantly under renovation) I am a bit suspicious of fear based ethics. They are suitable for two year olds, “Don’t run into the road or Daddy will spank you,” but hardly for adults. I recognize that sometimes a little fear of damnation is all that stands between myself and… well… damnation; However, I believe the ultimate goal is to move away from fear based ethics, and move towards love based ethics.
I recognize that fear of evil consequences is an inevitable component of any system of morals. The question is how much, and for how long, and how do we move to love?
It is not enough simply to avoid evil. We must learn to pursue the good with all our hearts. Even that is not quite love based. If I could write well enough, I could portray the good as it really is, and I the writer and you the reader would fall in love with that good, and be consumed with desire to pursue it. “Should” and “Want to” would be synonymous.
With that in mind, I want to take a cue from CD in examining the concept of “emotional chastity.”