Chastity Is the Key to Happiness
The word chastity has an oddly quaint sound, like the idea of a fringed carriage or a white picket fence, and it has been mocked by a host of modernists from Remy de Gourmont to Havelock Ellis and Aldous Huxley. But Pope John Paul II was right when he said, quite simply, that "chastity is the sure way to happiness." And when he wrote that "only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love."
That is the crucial thing about chastity: it is the path to a meaningful life beyond anything others can know. It reflects a faithful and steadfast devotion to another person and the deepest appreciation of that person's nature as a treasured part of God's creation. The joy and happiness of true love are beyond anything to be found in the crude popular culture of our time, a cynical "culture" that makes a mockery of all ennobling values but especially that of love. Examine the lyrics of a sampling of the most popular recent songs, from Olivia Rodrigo's "Driver's License" and Dua Lipa's "Levitating" to Bebe Rexha's "Comfortable" and Eminem's "Rap God." These songs are inane, often crude, and exceptionally self-absorbed. The only message I detect is the importance of "getting it" and the enjoyment of short-term wealth and fame. If these songs are representative of modern American culture, then that culture must be purposeless and vulgar.
It's important to understand the reasons for the special hostility of modern writers toward chastity, a general term that applies to sexual restraint before marriage and fidelity within marriage. The idea of chastity is threatening to materialists because if one is a materialist, then physical pleasure occupies a central place in one's scheme of values. If man is just the product of a mindless system of evolution, there is nothing in his nature to prevent him from pursuing his physical instincts. Why restrict those desires if there is no divinity in human nature and no thought of an afterlife?
At the core of modern thought is the misguided idea that restraint of any kind, but especially sexual restraint, undermines the Faustian conception of man as a godlike figure in competition with God and endowed with unbounded power and choice — as Eminem has it, a "rap god." The story of Faust's seduction by this demonic idea and of its destruction of the innocence around him has been repeated for hundreds of years, but modernists have ignored it, believing that the lessons of the past no longer apply.
The example of a chaste individual who renounces superficial pursuits and who aspires to a higher sphere of activity is particularly unwelcome to modernists because it challenges their central tenet of belief: that we live in a godless world with no life after death, and consequently that we must accumulate as many physical goods or experiences as possible before death. There must be something especially galling about the example of a saintly life like that of John Paul II and of that man's ability to speak with such conviction about the happiness of a chaste life. By his example, John Paul II powerfully refuted the selfish idea that life is about nothing more than personal gratification.
It is not just that modernists resent those who are chaste; they are determined to silence them, attack them with words and regulations, and create a culture in which chastity has no role. In effect, they want chastity to be stamped out and replaced with a culture of pornography, promiscuity, universal birth control, and abortion on demand. And they want to portray those who resist this culture as offensive prudes and fanatics. We live in a peculiar age in which morality has been turned on its head: sexuality is the currency in the marketplace and, as many believe, the key to happiness, and those who refuse to accept this corrupt vision are marginalized and belittled.
Above all, we live in a morally enslaved era in which the great wisdom of thinkers like John Paul II has been rendered irrelevant, at least outside the Church. Yet there exists an alternative to the demeaning popular culture in which young men act like "players" and young women dress and behave like prostitutes. (Ava Max's popular 2019 song "Sweet But Psycho" is all of that, with a layer of crude violence to boot.) That culture is not just offensive; it devalues life and is destructive of happiness. In 2020, there were over 100,000 deaths due to drug overdose and 45,000 suicides in America. If these lost souls had understood the true value of life, and of their lives, they might have been saved.
The truly great men and women, most of them unknown to history, are those faithful conservatives who honor their marriage vows and who are wise enough to see that promiscuity destroys the hope of beauty and joy. Chastity, like all forms of self-discipline and restraint, is not only healthy, it an adventurous journey toward the goal of purity and simplicity. It is the opposite of the Faustian idea, dramatized in Goethe's Faust Part I, Scene 4, that one can possess all the wealth and pleasure of the world, albeit at the price of eternal damnation. Popular culture depicts men and women in a feverish competition to possess all that the world has to offer, but that sort of life always ends in harm to oneself and others. The fates of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell and of those who associated with them demonstrate how destructive the Faustian idea can be.
What one can possess is a modest life of intense joy and beauty based on devotion to one's spouse and family and dedication to the happiness of others.
Our Founders envisioned a nation of devout, righteous, hardworking citizens free of the tyranny of the political elite, whether in the form of European monarchy or of a homegrown ruling class. John Adams and James Madison, among others, recognized the close connection between morality and good government, and they created a system of checks and balances not just for theoretical reasons, but to prevent the very real possibility of takeover by an undemocratic and corrupt oligarchy. The reason for separation of powers was explicitly to safeguard against potential tyrants driven by a lust for power and supported by a corrupt political base.
It is no coincidence that the same political class that seeks to expand government power over ordinary Americans is also the most unchaste. The Kennedys and Bill Clinton are just a few of hundreds of prominent liberals who seemed to believe they could possess the world at the expense of others. What happened at Chappaquiddick is symptomatic of liberal political culture.
Chastity is the key to happiness in America and anywhere else. A true marriage cannot exist without chastity, and promiscuity places one's physical and mental health at risk. A chaste and decent society is also the basis of political liberty. In the end, the practice of chastity reflects a conservative concern for life itself: concern for our own well-being, concern for others, and concern for the beautiful world in which we live.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).
Image via Pixabay.