[Note from Caleb: By coincidence, Clark and I both decided to write on this topic recently. So keep an eye out for my post later, and enjoy Clark’s case for celibacy now.]
This is a topic which has interested me for a while. I find that, more often than not, celibacy is something of a touchy subject. That tenderness is probably due to the confused evangelical position on it, the incredible power of sex, and the connections that evangelicals share with a consumerist society. Because celibacy can be a riling subject I want to immediately affirm that I am not condemning those who choose to marry. However, the fact of the matter is that I can’t necessarily do that. While there is almost certainly some who were right in marrying, I am suspicious that there are so many that were really needful of it. In any case, I hope that you are able to read this with an even mind and I welcome any comments you may have.
Of everything that man ought do, each thing helps man to reach that for which he is intended. So, then, the things that man ought to do can be found by finding what will grow man towards his destiny.
What is man’s destiny? Expressed in one word, we might say enlightenment. This word may have for some connotations which are decidedly unchristian and I plead with you to forget those connotations for a time. The term means being in a lit up state, light has been shed on you. This word conveys a wealth of meaning and can be understood as meaning “knowing the Logos” or being one with the Word. It is a sort of knowledge, although it may not come of our own reason, and resembles the sudden fitting together of puzzle pieces. At this point some may think that I mean salvation. In a sense I do, but, if salvation is understood as the moment of justification, then that is not what I mean. I mean the long process of maturation into a whole being; the working out of our salvation with fear and trembling. It is for this process that man was made.
What will grow man towards enlightenment? There are, seemingly, two answers to this question. The most common answer would be the vague claim that it is the work of the Holy Spirit and, the second, that the examined life is what allows man to achieve enlightenment. The answer is a conglomeration of both. Man must be thinking to reach enlightenment but the enlightened state would be impossible without divine revelation.
The examined life is the principle of those two partners since without it we couldn’t know what divine revelation or anything else is and, so, our next question naturally is, what makes for the examined life? We may examine life by differentiating between individual things. We may differentiate between things reasonably or foolishly. If reasonably, how so? By being of sound mind. What makes for a sound mind? By being single in purpose, not agitated. So, then, it is a question of whether celibacy or marriage is more conducive to being single in purpose.
Before we embark on demonstrating the case, consider the findings of others on the subject. Paul the Apostle notes this:
Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn [with passion].
1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 8
Also consider this dialogue between Jesus and His disciples:
The disciples said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. “For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”
The argument from authority is a particularly weak sort of argument, although this particular one seems clearly in favor of celibacy and based upon the most credible authority. In any case, we press on to the demonstration.
We have already established our premises, that whatever man ought to do will be what leads him to enlightenment, essentially, most effectively living the Christian life. So then, it seems a simple thing to show the chain of reasoning.
If man is celibate, then he will be single in purpose, not concerned with caring for a wife and child but only with living rightly. If single in purpose, then of sound mind. If of sound mind, then able to reasonably differentiate between things. If able to reasonably differentiate between things, then able to examine life. If able to examine life, then able to become enlightened and therefore to achieve his destiny.
There are miscelaneous objections to this chain, the most notable of which, to me, is that it does not strictly show that man cannot become enlightened from within marriage. This is true. But it cannot be said that man is either enlightened or unenlightened for, as the sun shines fully on some and only partially on others, so one man may be fully grasping truth while another only partially. Indeed, man cannot be said to ever grasp truth sublunarily but only possess it to some degree. “Now we see as through a mirror dimly…” The point the argument is intended to make is that marriage is given to those who have not the strength to persevere, not to those who wish to indulge in sex lawfully. I suppose that one other objection might then arise, and might be put “Do any have the strength to persevere?” To which my answer will be to quote a self-evident axiom “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13) The following question might then be, “Are none then to be married?” To which I must honestly state that I do not know the answer. But you may now see why I am suspicious that so many were apparently called to be married in our current situation.