Gonzalez: No divine answers

Post-Modern Love

When I was 11 or 12, my father asked me to promise that whomever I married would be a Christian. We had just come home from an Easter service in which the pastor referred to the Biblical characterization of the church as “the bride of Christ.” My father was very solemn, and my oath seemed very important to him, so I promised.

I did not remember this promise until the summer before freshman year, when he reminded me of it during a fight over my first real boyfriend. When my father asked me point-blank whether my boyfriend went to church, I couldn’t lie. I avoided saying he was an atheist, choosing the more palatable term agnostic. It didn’t matter. My father stopped speaking to me.

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Amelia Sargent
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To him, dating a non-Christian meant that I was having sex, having sex meant that I was sinning and sinning meant that I was going to hell. He did not say goodbye to me when I left for Yale, instead choosing an especially modern form of rebuttal: He sent me countless e-mails with “Purity” in the subject line. I opened one, saw a list of reasons why I needed to repent and deleted the rest. I began freshman year alienated from my religious past and confused about my romantic future. From my first moments at Yale, sex and religion have been deeply connected — placed in conflict, questioned, sometimes reconciled.

Most Yale students (fortunately) do not and will not experience such a direct conflict between sex and religion. Indeed, 71 percent of the respondents to the recent News “Sex at Yale” poll indicated that religion did not guide their sexual behavior at all, while only 10 percent of the students who responded said that religious views influence sexual behavior a lot. But it’s unlikely that most students fall into such a neat dichotomy. Many students might be more like my suitemate, who exclaimed “Oh no, why are they making me think about this?” when she reached that question in the poll. I asked her why she was so dismayed; she answered, “I never know what to think about God and sex. I can’t answer this!” For her and others, the role of religion — in relationships and in life — is confusing and complicated. While it may not affect day-to-day choices about hooking up, religion often colors our evaluations of our choices. And at least some students think that the relationship between religious belief and sexuality is worth exploring. The popularity of Kathryn Lofton’s “Sexuality and Religion” class last semester might indicate that if you put Sex or Sexuality in the title of a class, people will come (see also “History of Sexuality” and “Sex and Gender in Society”), but it also speaks to a widespread curiosity about how sex and religion can be understood, or how sexual desires and religious restrictions can be reconciled — if they can.

Easter weekends, including this one, always remind me of my father, with whom I still do not speak. For him, the only good way to reconcile sex and his particular brand of Christianity is abstinence — from sex, from relationships with non-Christians, from all the messy gray areas of the world. This may be true. Some students may reach this conclusion after personal investigation and choose this way of making faith and sexuality align. Many students, however, feel forced to abandon faith in favor of a non-religious life that includes more.

For me, reconciliation has come in pieces. Over the past few years, I have found that my religious beliefs offer conceptions of relationships and intimacy that are both simple and valuable. These might be basic, but they have a comforting certainty about them: Relationships require patience and generosity. Sex should be something given to another person and received in kind, never taken or taken for granted.

So far at Yale, I have hung on to my faith. I have also continued to date outside my religion — Muslim, Jewish, atheist. When I responded to the News’ poll, I checked “a lot” and then “a little” and then, wavering, “not at all” before I went back to “a lot.” Like my suitemate, I don’t know where to place myself. But the difference between our indecision was that I want to think about religion. I just don’t have all the answers.

Elisa Gonzalez is a junior in Pierson College.

Comments

  • A Yale Mom

    First, I pray that you find a way to mend and heal with your Father. What an important relationship in regards to a young woman’s self-respect and understanding in relationships.
    I’ve traveled a long and winding road in intimate relationships and have only, in the last three years of my 27 year history of sexual activity, come to realize how important religion, or at least the values of respecting ourselves as beautiful vessels of the spirit, is to our ideas on ‘hooking up’. Previously I would allow my body and insecurities make the decisions in sexual encounters. If I ‘wanted it’ (which even at 43 is a valid desire) or if I ‘needed it’ to somehow validate my value as a woman or object of desire.
    I’ve since found that that value needs to come from within. If we look to others it can leave us empty and needing even more because really, it is a rare young man that can take the responsibility of an intimate relationship seriously enough to fulfill a woman’s emotional needs in the encounter.
    As far as the physical desires… that’s a tough one. We need to be touched, to hold and be held as humans. Battery operated equipment can bring us some ‘relief’ but not that sense of intimate contact we crave. So the answer? I find that I get hugs and contact with good friends, but have chosen to save sexual contact for those that, after really getting to know them, I feel will be there for me emotionally. And yes, I’ve been mistaken and had to get back on track more times than I care to mention.. but life is about learning.
    This past month I bought myself a promise ring… to remind me to be true to myself and the amazing woman I’ve become with God’s amazing grace.
    Again, I hope you can come to terms with your Father. I can only imagine how hard it is for him to reconcile that his baby girl is a grown woman now. Let him know he is and always will be a very important man in your life, and that he’s taught you well and needs to trust in those teachings and God to lead you along a right path. Best of love to you!

  • Andrea

    Your father loves you. He cares about you. He worries about you. Send him an email and tell him that even though you have your differences, you will always be his loving daughter.

  • @2

    Hieronymus, what an assumption to make, given the number of students on financial aid. You would do well to read Elisa’s other (remarkable) article, “The Devil is Louise Calhoun.”

    Another wonderful column, Elisa.

  • yalemom

    Call your father and let him know you are still very much a faithfull Christian.

    “Let those without sin cast the first stone”.

    Even if he does not say a word, speak to him. As a parent I know my heart breaks when I too am struggling with my kids.

    I will pray for you and in time, THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

  • Yale 08

    We are supposed to side with YOU on this issue???

    Why?

    Your father has his beliefs and they are well inside the norms of traditional Christian morality.

    You offer no principles, only the assertion of your autonomy.

    I side with dad on this one.

    Grow up, kids.

  • Yale 11

    Theology of the Body by JPII.

  • Hieronymus

    I am amazed that I am not amazed.

    We can “talk” about the most intimate sexual details on YDN (not nec. this article, but certainly others), but somehow a question with regard to who pays the bills cannot pass the censors.

    Fascinating.

    My question was valid: if there remains a financial connection, then the avowed schism is not so great as claimed by the author.

    But I guess that somehow feeds into the great patriarchy myth here on campus, huh? (Unless the Silencing Dogooders on the censorial commitat inferred–projected–some more nefarious impetus? Highly likely…)

  • yalemom

    Elisa,

    I’m writing again because I cannot believe that with all the tragedies this year involving students, your father can manage to keep his distance.

    Do not despair, because although there are many different eggs, ALL shells are crackable!

    Show him as well as yourself that Christianity and forgiveness is very much alive in you. I’m not saying this will not be difficult, but aren’t all things worth saving worth fighting for?

    God bless you sweetheart and please know that your father loves his little girl very much, he just needs to find his Christianity. Remind him that Christ hung out with sinners.

  • s@y?

    Elisa, what a beautifully frank and thoughtful piece. I hope you are considering writing for the sex@yale initiative; I think this is the kind of thing they are interested in.

  • Iheartelisa

    You are very brave and you write so well. I appreciate your candor and your columns!

  • Bravo

    Elisa,
    I read this in the print YDN, and had to log on to tell you what a brilliant, honest, and moving column this was. I respect you so much for sharing the deeply personal issues with which you’re grappling, and even more so for concluding that it is a deeply nuanced issue, and not falling back on the trap most Yalies choose, of overreacting to parents’ religious views by eschewing and disrespecting them altogether. The right path is a personal one, and the “shades of gray” you talked about are discussed far too infrequently on campus.

    I’m so sorry about your relationship with your father.

    Sincerely,
    ES ’11

  • I don’t understand…

    Elisa, this issue of sexuality may be tied to your religious upbringing, but it shouldn’t be tied to your spirituality.

    What exactly does transubstantiation, with God incarnate, redemption, and atonement have to do with sex? This is the core of Catholic and Christian doctrine. Where does sex fit in?