Kosher Observance is the new Catholic Dating Scene?

Raphael-Sanzio-The-Voyage-of-Galatea

Prior to God becoming man, devout souls had only the law, given by God to Moses.  It was from God, but the laws is a thing nonetheless, not a person.  Prophets got to be with God, know His person in person, but everyone else knew him from the law and what the prophets said.  To be holy, you followed the law.  God was far away, coming some day, but for now, follow the rules.  You showed extreme devotion by going beyond the mosaic law and into customs and scrutinies.  It’s so complex that there are well settled levels of observance.  The Pharisees, who looked at the law itself and seemed to avoid dealing with the person, were one of the three major groups of Jews.  The other two were the Sadducees and the Essenes.

Fear of transgressing God’s law drove the Pharisees to build a labyrinth of paralyzing prohibitions.  They started with the premise that nobody wanted to break God’s law, but out of fear that if they just left the law without more, people would break the law, so they added rules beyond the law.  A rule was made to prohibit behavior that could lead to breaking the law.  Thus, if you broke the rule, you knew that you did wrong by breaking the rule, but you had not broken God’s law itself.  The rules, then, served as a way to shield you from sin because they stepped out into lawful behavior and prohibited it.  To make a better system of protection, rules on top of rules were built.  Soon, as Jesus observed, nobody was allowed to do anything because it was all forbidden.  That’s what happens when you don’t know the person, but react with fear that you might do something wrong.  Fear is not the same thing as love.

Jesus makes it very clear throughout the Gospels — keep the law for love of God, loving Him with your whole heart, mind, and soul, and treat your neighbor with love.  That’s the sum of the law.  Fear doesn’t have a place in that.  Being a hypocrite, and placing burdensome rules on others and accusing them by suspicion doesn’t merit God’s favor.  There is no example of someone being redeemed of that sin.  Jesus did have a lot to say about that, though — none of it was “nice” by today’s standards.  From what I can tell, the rules of the Pharisees, and the way they treated people who did not follow their own rules, are precisely what kept them from recognizing the Person of God right in front of them.  They spoke with Him, they spent time with Him, but they did not come to know Him.  How sad!

Jesus, after all, is a Person, not a mere law.

Scrutinies and Customs are not the same as the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, though.  Especially not as it is seen today, where observance is largely a personal choice.  Take, for instance, the rules an observant Jew should follow regarding contact with the opposite sex:

    1. A man and his woman are not allowed to touch, if they are neither related nor married. This is because of the fear that touching might lead to sexual transgressions. As an extension of this, Orthodox men aren’t supposed to sit next to women to which they are neither related nor married.
    2. A husband and wife may not touch if the woman is menstruating, or for a specified period after menstruation/childbirth (the length of the period varies depending on the sex of the child). This is because they are forbidden to have sex during this time, and the thought is that if the husband and wife touch in any way, they may be too strongly tempted. Hence, during “niddah” (the time of the women’s menstrual flow), additional restrictions are in place. These extra stringencies apply because the couple is already intimate; presumably, it doesn’t take much to lead to “the act”. These stringencies include:
    • They cannot touch (even indirectly using an intermediate object).
    • They cannot handle an object at the same time.
    • They cannot sit together on an object that moves (a swing etc..).
    • They cannot eat from the same plate.
    • They cannot serve food to each other.
    • They must sleep in separate beds.
    • They may not engage in flirtatious behavior.
    • Although spouses must continue to dress attractively, they cannot dress provacatively.
    • They should cover parts of the body that are normally uncovered only in front of their spouse.
    • They should not wear perfume, cologne, etc.
  • The only exception to these restrictions is pikuach nefesh (to save a life).

Those rules look a lot like what I see people saying Catholic dating should be!!!    Actually, I think the Jewish rules are a little more accommodating because they allow for an exception to save the life of another.  (*snort*  laughing in my sleeve)

Don’t laugh though, because it’s even stranger.  I’ve heard actual debates between well intended Catholics as to how many seconds a kiss may continue before it becomes passionate.  People fighting over how many seconds and fractions of a second.  It is that absurd!  There are even those who, apparently sick of trying to figure out how many seconds makes a passionate kiss, ban all kissing and hand holding until marriage!  That’s even funnier — clearly these rule-making Catholics have never been among Mediterranean or Middle Eastern people, where kissing is expected among everyone, greeting, saying goodbyes, etc.

The problem with the “Catholic” dating scene, as I see it, is that it is becoming overriden with fear and suspicion and rules like the ones above are being propagated as if they were the only way to properly observe Catholic faith.  That’s sad and error.  Large tomes of rules, all geared towards the fear that the dating couple will engage in premarital sex, occupy the field.  It’s as if that’s the only thing that could go wrong!  Who cares if the person lies, cheats, steals, is a faker/poser, or a louse — if they don’t kiss you, they love God and you can date them!

Dating is getting to know a person, not merely rules.

Underneath this mess, the point of dating/courtship/boy-meets-girl is that two people should get to know each other, their character exposed by time.  Eventually, they get engaged and get married, having had time and opportunity to see if the other person practices virtue, loves God, makes mistakes, and all the other fun things that make us human.  It’s difficult to see how people can do that when the time they spend together is hyperfocused on the fear that they will have sex.  Being afraid of attraction and affection is not the point of dating.  Being hyperfocused on it, if anything else, will probably make it more likely.

What’s worse, single Catholics are being mislead by well intentioned religious ed, and abstinence programs and parents who might be reacting to the fear that their kids will be wild, to think the rules are Catholic — as in the only way to be Catholic.  They aren’t — they’re cultural at best — note I say, “at best.”  The fear is morphing into a modern Pharisaical sect emerging among Catholics, though.  It’s so bad, that if a person rejects the rules, any brand of the modern ones, perhaps because they know a near occasion of sin when they see it and don’t need arbitrary rules to govern them needlessly, they are held in suspicion.  They may even reject the rules because they have ethnic traditions regarding courtship that are naturally superior to such arbitrariness.  It doesn’t matter in the view of these modern Pharisees — rejecting the rules means you need to be taught them!  Let the re-education begin!

Despite the well intentions, suspicion is a sin.  It is the belief that a person has done wrong without reasonable evidence.  Even if it isn’t suspicion, a person’s disinterest in the rules causes those who follow these Pharisaic fear tactics to cast aspersions on them.  I say “cast aspersions” as a soft way of saying calumniate, because these aren’t really accusations, but more doubt about the worthiness of another.  Since they are hyper-focused on the evil of premarital sex, they forget about the other sins.  I think all the rules prevent people from recognizing the person in front of them  just as it prevented the Pharisees from recognizing Jesus.

As far as dating, however, this passing trend of abreaction to the possibility of sex is causing people to see all dating as a giant occasion of sin.  They then try to safeguard everyone by banning affections, making odd practices to distract the couple, and the illusory promises of how to make dating “safe” all seem to crowd away the real point:  dating is a human endeavor, it is the exercise of boy meets girl, girl winks at boy, boy asks girl out.  If they like it, they do it again.  And again. and again.   And they spend time together getting to know one another — not being afraid of each other.

Rafael The Engagement of the Virgin Mary
There’s no need to make dating “safe” between a couple that already strives to be in a state of grace.  It already is as “safe” as it can be because they will have grace and the companionship of God.  Last time I checked, Jesus said, “Be not afraid.”  I’m still looking for that part of the Gospels where He tells us to continue on as Pharisees, though.  I just can’t find it.

7 Responses to Kosher Observance is the new Catholic Dating Scene?

  1. We live in a strange time.

    On the one hand, we have high school and college kids “hooking up” and not even holding hands because it’s not about romance or affection at all.

    On the other hand, we have the bizarre Pharisaic attitude toward dating that you describe.

    There is something very Unreal about this. One wonders how a couple who date without even kissing can move into any sort of sex life if they get married. For one thing, they can never really get to know the person they’re dating if they’re so focused on being “safe”. Love is all about risk, no matter how you slice it.

    It’s especially hard on young Catholic women. The market for single guys who aren’t losers (as most of them are) or hyper-religious freaks (as some of them are) is a tough market. It makes it very tempting for women to force a situation that is not in her best interests. I’ve seen it even with my secular actresses – they get desperate. And it’s worse for devout Catholics, many of whom have been raised in bubble wrap and expect marriage to be some sort of state of perfection. Tough situation.

  2. Excellent and insightful article! As a long-ago convert, I was reminded of the number of rules which my 1960s Catholic college friends talked about as they created a moralistic comfort zone, which allowed my friends to think of themselves as “nice Catholic girls.” One of the silliest was this: don’t eat ravioli on a date, as it will remind the boy of…pillows. But another, equally ridiculous, was the moral dilemma expressed by one of the girls who had a nosebleed on Sunday morning before Mass; she did not think that she should receive the Eucharist because she had broken the required fast. I marvelled at this, but I also became Catholic. Why? Because I knew that the Catholic Church defined and defended Love; it was up to me, as wife and mother, to put into practice the few rules that were strictly necessary for the safeguarding of Love within the family. In our life as guardians and ministers of the Domestic Church, the missionary outpost of the Universal Church, my late husband and I took our inspiration from our family’s patron, St. John the Baptist, the friend of the bridegroom. Make straight the way of the Lord.

    The habit of looking to the rules for an expected outcome is easier than really thinking about how to love in an appropriate way, how to extend hospitality, and how to be a friend. It is not so difficult to be kind and welcoming, to laugh and to affirm, to have compassion and courtesy. The sum of the law is so very simple: love God; love neighbor.

    Thanks for a timely article on an old problem in modern attire!

  3. Well, there’s one more point that we should mention. There are a whole lot of “nice Catholic girls” out there who congratulate themselves for following rules while dating, the purpose of the rules being to convince themselves that any sexual activity shy of penetration is just fine, thank you. Indeed, when I was an atheist going to public high school, the “nice Catholic girls” at the neighboring Catholic high school were known for just that. They were technically “virgins”, but the way they kept their virginity would make a sailor blush. Chesterton says that the worst thing about Pharisaism and Puritanism is the provide a handy substitute for morality.

  4. Hello, Kevin: Funny you should quote Chesterton on the similarity between Puritans and Pharisees providing a handy substitute for morality. The rule-bound Catholic girls do not have the corner on the substitution-market. I enjoyed in solitary mirth a remembered joke about the Puritan maid who went with her rakish beau into the barn after Sunday meeting. She insisted that he avert his eyes while she made herself comfortable in the hay; he did so and whistled a lively tune. A moment later, a full-clad and disgusted young woman tossed out these self-righteous words as she was leaving the barn. “I will NOT fornicate with a man who whistleth upon the Sabbath!”

  5. Please forgive this intrusion on my part, yet I should like to observe that the life issues merit as their backdrop not only the Decalogue, but also the Credo. However exalted, enlightening, and uplifting the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Credo, modern youth may be better served in the recollection of Pope Paul’s Credo of the People of God, which was promulgated in the very same year that Humanae Vitae was brought to light: the steamy summer of 1968. Together, these magnificent documents should have shaken the earth, but secular propaganda had it otherwise. Please pray that they, C.P.G. and H.V., are paired once anew, for the glory of God, for the salvation of numerous souls. and for an end to the global abattoir known as abortion and euthanasia.

  6. As a follow-up to my previous comment, I will further note that some contemporary Catholics seem astonished to learn that there is scriptural warrant (even outside the OT) for our respecting the Decalogue. Herewith are some passages that pertain, clearly leading us away from the dangers of anarchy and urging us to a more regulated and disciplined life in Christ: I John 5:1-3, Matthew 5:17-19, Matthew 19: 16-21, Matthew 22:35-40, Mark 12:28-34, and John 14:15-17.

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