Thursday, July 24, 2008

Shocked to Realize

Donna Freitas is a religion professor at Boston University whose latest book, “Sex and the Soul,” reveals what she found when she studied sexuality among college students. The book idea emerged from a class she taught on “Dating and Friendships” at St. Michael’s College. She was surprised how many students wanted to get into the class. Freitas recalls,

“They were dying to have a conversation about spirituality and religion in relation to their dating lives. I saw in them a yearning to critique hookup culture (casual sexual encounters unencumbered by the burden of love and commitment) with spirituality and religion, even if they were unsure of what that meant. There was also a turning point during my class when my students came back from spring break. One student admitted out loud that she was participating in it but that it didn’t make her happy. Suddenly the whole class shifted: they were all shocked to realize that they were all unhappy; they were acting a certain way because they felt like that’s what they were supposed to do. I was interested in that dissonance between what they thought everyone wanted to do versus what they really wanted for themselves” (“Zipping It”; Christianity Today; August 2008).

There are so many things to write about regarding this fascinating interview that I will simply encourage you to read it at (even better, subscribe). Freitas, a self-described “feminist and liberal,” is no mouthpiece for conservative Christians, which makes her findings more credible in my opinion.

Here is what I want to touch on this week, embodied in her comment that students “were acting a certain way because they felt like that’s what they were supposed to do.” Friends, there is a reason the Bible describes people as sheep; we tend to be followers and follow convention. I was struck by this realization as a young Christian at age twenty-two at a fraternity brother’s bachelor party. The groom and four other groomsmen retired to one of our hotel rooms to watch X-rated movies. I declined and went to my room to watch NCAA football. They all trudged off to have their manly time looking decidedly unenthusiastic. Two of them told me the next day they really would have preferred to watch football but were nervous about saying so!

When I was a college student before my baptism at age twenty in 1983, the campus hook-up culture hadn’t really begun but the campus drinking culture was in full swing. I was no tee-totaler, but I soon found the partying rather uninspiring. However, I didn’t know of other choices (and admittedly didn’t search very hard for them). I thought this was what I was “supposed” to do, ironically enough.

How many non-religious people do you think there are who appear to be fixed in their secular outlook and lifestyle but really are unhappy and bored within? Do they know that Jesus invites them into a life of purpose and service, of nobility and character, into a life beyond sitting glazed in front of the tube and drinking with friends and accumulating more stuff and wearing the right clothing labels and recreating themselves into exhaustion? Heck, do most church folks know that Jesus invites us beyond this?


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