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Celibacy as service and as self-development

Some people worry about sexual abstinence as a matter of personal moral purity, but it is a different matter to cast it in the light of a form of service to others. James Hinton wrote: "The man who separated the thought of chastity from Service and made it revolve round Self betrayed the human race." Raquel Isabelle de Alderete wrote, "Instead of worrying about people's 'purity' and how it defines them as a person, worry instead about how you can protect other people's emotions." Relationships – particularly marriage and child-rearing – take a lot of time. Rabbi Ben-Asai, second century CE, explaining why he shouldn't have to marry and procreate, said: "What can I do? My soul clings to the Torah. The world can be maintained by other people." But the people who do that form of world-maintenance will develop knowledge and skills about relationships that can only be imagined by those who do not personally participate in their own instance of such a relationship. In other words, lifelong celibates are not ideally positioned to dole out marriage and family advice. Uta Ranke-Heinemann wrote: "If only the Church's celibates would stop using the confessional to meddle in matters that don't concern them..." The nature of the service enabled by celibacy is to be defined.

Then again, there is a way of understanding celibacy as a focus on the self without having it be narcissistic. Celibacy can be an intentional part of personal development. Barbara Feldon wrote: "Lovers may leave us, husbands and wives may die, friends can move away, but creativity is faithfully ours if we honor our solitude by diving to realms that are deeper, freer and more complete than our surface lives. Once we know the way we can home to it anytime we wish – if we make the first mark." Sometimes that solitude is needed, not to demonstrate superiority to oneself or to others, but simply to grow.



James Hinton, unpublished manuscript. Quoted in Havelock Ellis. On Life and Sex: Essays of Love and Virtue. Two Volumes in One. New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc. 1937. (Formerly Little Essays of Love and Virtue, 1921, and More Essays of Love and Virtue, 1931.) Vol. 1, p. 45.

R.I.D (Raquel Isabelle de Alderete). We Don't Have a Compass but I'm Sure We'll Find Home: A Collection of Poems. 2015.

Rabbi Ben-Asai, quoted in the Talmud, bYabmuth 63b, quoted by Uta Ranke-Heinemann. Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality, and the Catholic Church. Trans. Peter Heinegg. New York: Doubleday, 1990. p 45.

Uta Ranke-Heinemann. Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality and the Catholic Church. Translated by Peter Heinegg. New York: Doubleday, 1990. p 198.

Barbara Feldon. Living Alone and Loving It: A Guide to Relishing the Single Life. New York: Fireside, 2003. p. 159.


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