Still a teenager, Rebecca St. James wrote the foreword to I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a book marketed at its release as a guide for Christian singles. And though I assume St. James never knew as much, nor has Joshua Harris – the author of the book – ever said, the book was not (in the opinion of this article’s author) written to give advice to Christian singles. The true ‘thrust’ of the book – which we’ll get to – was more base, though I have to imagine the endgame, at the time, seemed righteous to St. James.
In 1996/97 she would’ve believed the author had pure motives, so she offered her popularity in CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) as well as her good name as a fellow proponent for what Harris termed “courting.” Or, if you like, The Purity Movement, or as it’s more widely known, abstinence education.
Before I get too far, understand that Joshua Harris is a man who did believe, and who now still believes, many people will – quite literally – burn forever in eternity after they die. He believes a Jewish man who lived during the Iron Age was tortured on a cross for all the things Harris himself, and everyone else on Earth, would do wrong in their life.
For a time, I had similar ideas. In the sake of transparency, I supply that truth. And though I’ve moved out of that, Harris is forced to still believe those things because of a book he wrote which, after selling over a million copies, has cemented his worldview. For a second, though, let’s back up and discuss Rebecca St. James.
Not that long ago Rebecca St. James was, as far as the public knew, a virgin. Only in 2011 did she get married. And if we take her at her word she waited 15 years after she wrote that forward and 10 years after Harris got married, up until the day of her wedding at the age of 34, to not be.
As they say on Reading Rainbow, don’t take my word for it. Read her Wikipedia page and learn she was, according to her, abstinent that entire time. St. James was steadfast, committed to promoting Kissed through her 20s, even into her 30s, as she must have watched one after another of her Christian friends get married. And I can understand why she believed, or said she believed those things. Doing so made gave her a comfortable life. To this day St. James speaks at conferences on abstinence. She writes books about waiting for The One. Many of her songs have the same message.
Back in the 90s, I try and imagine St. James writing the foreword to Kissed. At the end of her teens, on her tour bus, maybe going somewhere like Casper, Wyoming, her room is filled with pictures of home in Australia and her family, maybe a poster of Leo in Titanic. Quiet, she has her journal open. Her family in another country, save for perhaps her mom, she writes in her foreword about wanting to be normal, with a boyfriend. She writes as Harris would as someone who believes in the partner God will bring each person if they just believe. She relates stories of friends “playing the dating game” and gives props to “the Big Guy” for granting her the ability to sing. She also writes, and I assumed believed, a boyfriend would be a distraction, agreeing with Harris that waiting on God is the way to happiness. Then she puts down the most revelatory portion of the foreword, a single paragraph, hidden in the middle.
“It’s sometimes hard,” she writes, not to have anyone to get “dressed up for and daydream about.”
Of course, we know now, St. James was eventually given her partner from God. But what if? What if someone spent years praying that God would send someone they could “get dressed up for and daydream about?” What if they never came?
That question is the crucial omission in Harris’s book. What if all you ever dreamed about was finding a husband or wife? All you ever did was pray for him and all you did you ever did was live your life as best you could to make it happen but you never found him? Correction, God never found him? Worse, what if you found him and he, by instruction from God, told you to look elsewhere? Years later, Harris doesn’t know how to answer these questions, the ones he once so unwittingly raised.
I should surrender more thoroughly now. I would’ve written the same book Harris did when I was 20. He and I were similar then. When people we knew talked about sex our hair stood on edge, but we dreamed of a wife. And not just any wife, a superhuman wife. Supremely hot, absolutely the hottest in our Christian group, if not one of the hotter girls we’d ever seen, and a virgin, yes, but also busty – though not showy busty – just firm good-sized ones, and so trim and fit.
Her physical dimensions, I could continue to list, since most of her acceptability hinged on her appearance. Or, as Harris describes his first girlfriend in Kissed, “Beautiful, blonde, and two inches taller than I…the most popular girl in the youth group.”
Her characteristics are important to note before this goes on. For all of the Godly admonitions in Kissed, I am positive Harris would never have picked, or, if you will, believed God to pick for him, a wife with a plain face but a Christ-like spirit. She would have to be hot and a strong Christian, or, at least, the former.
So then, on the question raised in the first paragraph, on why Harris wrote Kissed, let me offer that nearly all people misinterpret the book. The first camp thinks of it as being (if they ever thought of the book at all) full of irrelevant, prehistoric thinking. And while that’s true enough for people who might read it now, to pan it as a campy, fantastical 50s-era Americana send off to romance, they’re blinded to the broader picture, which I hope to elucidate through this writing.
Then the other camp of Kissed readers, the people who thought, you might still think, Kissed is a book of God-breathed principles, admonishments for young non-married Christians to take to heart and incorporate into their lives, a guidebook they can use to avoid getting pregnant before finding a scripture-memorizing spirit-led man.
Though if either read the book exegetically they’d find the answer to the question of why Josh Harris wrote Kissed. He didn’t write it to anger group one, though it riled enough feathers to sell a million books. And he didn’t write it for group two, to give Biblical guidelines on how to stay pure and interact with the opposite sex before marriage, though he’d say that’s why he wrote it. I contend, instead, the book was written for a more simple reason. Joshua Harris wrote Kissed to have sex for the first time, and by that measure it’s a success. Let me explain.
The premise is simple. In short, I Kissed Dating Goodbye is collection of vignettes connected by self-reflection of one man’s relationship with Jesus Christ written shortly after the author, Harris, had broken up with “the hot blonde Christian girlfriend” above. This book was his way of catharsis, to help Christians avoid the mistakes he made. Harris wanted his readers to kiss goodbye to dating – or money, or cars – whatever was most detracting from their relationship with Christ.
His book doesn’t focus on the cars or money aspect, instead on the solitary habit of dating. Specifically, dating before marriage with another Christian. And while the main thesis of the book is basic – the title alone gives it away – its pages contain a litany of extenuating branches, or, if I may, a messy tube of psychosexual toothpaste which Harris can never put back in the tube.
First thing one must know before knowing anything else about I Kissed Dating Goodbye. If you live by one rule it sets forth you live by this rule: you are single until marriage. It does not matter how long of a relationship you’ve been in, how committed you are, if you’ve forged your love in a chasm beneath the earth, until in a Christian marriage between a man and a woman you are a single person. More so, “dating” – get to the distinction between that and courtship later – as a single person will cause discontentment, or, as Harris says in Kissed, “Instead of enjoying the unique qualities of singleness, dating causes people to focus on what they don’t have.”
Now within a literal view of the Bible, wherein looking at someone with any lustfulness is a sin, having intimacy before marriage is absolutely forbidden. This is the logical end of Jesus’s teaching, which, in a sense, I give Harris kudos in trying to reach, attempting to make sense of his human desires against the antithetical Biblical directives.
In Kissed, and by extension, the Purity Movement, physical intimacy before marriage destroys the relationship. To illustrate, Harris writes in Kissed the story of “Dave and Heidi” who, after a dinner and a Christian rock show, go back to Dave’s place to watch a movie in his parent’s basement. A tickling match ensues after Heidi playfully makes fun of Dave, which leads to a kiss. But, for Dave and Heidi, the physical representation of their affection adds confusion. According to Kissed and its subsequent movement, this kiss leads to basing the relationship on the physical portion of the relationship, like every time in Kissed where, as Harris says, “focusing on the physical is plainly sinful.”
As well, Harris says early on in Kissed, “dating” skips the friendship stage of a relationship. It mistakes being physical for love. And that might be true if your view of dating is one of a child. As a child, dating is a foreign idea. Your world is insular. It’s incomprehensible why you’d want to kiss someone other than a mommy or a daddy, and it’s even more bizarre to think you’d want to live with that person. It can be confusing to five-year-olds, and Joshua Harris, who did not understand that at the time of writing this book. Which is fine enough, he was very young. Problematically, though, over 15 years later, he still doesn’t seem to understand.
In Kissed, Harris does not advise what should be done for those with human feelings before marriage. Instead he implies that if your relationship with God is truly in sync you won’t have the inclinations. However, if you’ve already made the mistake of seeing someone Harris openly tells his readers to break up with their current boyfriend or girlfriend. Admittedly, he does add the caveat that one could “refocus the relationship,” but the main push is to rid yourself of their presence if you’ve been physical with them. Thoughts like that, to think it’s a sin to be attracted to someone pervades Kissed, and the minds of followers in the years after. Every time you’re attracted to someone, you are, in fact, sinning.
If you think I’m being harsh, allow an example. In Kissed Harris gives a kind of Tootsie Pop analogy to describe the dilemma of being attracted to the opposite sex – and only the opposite sex – before marriage. Harris writes that you want to have a lick – friendship – but because it tastes so good you want a bite – kissing – which is, blatantly, a sin. One of girls Harris was tempted to take a bite out of was “Chelsea,” whom he says in Kissed he met in Colorado Springs at a “Christian leadership camp.”
It’s not unusual for kids like Joshua Harris and Chelsea to meet in Colorado Springs. The town, camped in between the Cheyenne mountains, is referred to as the evangelical Vatican, laying claim to the headquarters for Young Life, The Navigators, and Focus on The Family. To meet and fall in love as a young Christian there is akin to meeting and falling in love as a young painter in Paris, a young writer in St. Petersburg. Harris reports that he fell right away for Chelsea as she “radiated wholesomeness and was as American as apple pie – athletic and adventurous.” He goes on to describe their relationship. They write letters, fly to each other’s home in Texas and Oregon, but since they did not believe in becoming physically close before marriage they give up the relationship after two years.
“We based our relationship on the fact that we were both in leadership camp for two weeks. We shared other common interests like tennis and the piano. We had little reason to continue our friendship from a distance. We had no basis for continuing the relationship except for the fact that we were interested in each other.”
Other than being interested in each other, they had no other basis for the relationship. By that logic, anything outside of marriage between a man and woman cannot be done without sinning and, as it is known, sinning leads us down a path where we will, not to mince words here, burn eternally.
Taking away how insane that is, the problem in the Harris equation doesn’t truly arise until we’re ready to commit ourselves to another person. Because it brings up a question, when does it become a sin to “pursue intimacy?” Harris created imaginary lines and expected readers to be able to follow them. Then, when they couldn’t, he, and the rest who now espouse this kind of thinking, are somehow surprised.
I’ve gone to retreats like Harris did in Colorado. One particular gathering at a camp in the woods outside Sioux Falls the leader asked us in the group to confess our secret sexual downfalls. After a few moments of skeletal silence a friend of mine from my college spoke up about his addiction. “Dale” broke down in tears as he told stories of his roommates showing, at first, “natural man on woman intercourse,” then, later, videos of women peeing on men. I didn’t know about golden showers before that day, but Dale made it crystal.
Harris tells a similar story to preface his chapter on purity, though, embarrassingly, he was in high school at his weekend retreat. He tells of his leader asking every guy in the room to write on a card, from 1-10, “how far” they’d been with a girl. In the world of Kissed, this is considered normal.
Bizarre or not, once freed yourself of any physical stumbling blocks, one can be ready to give their whole heart to God. Good thing, too, as now you can avoid the “Seven Habits of Highly Defective Dating,” which Harris outlines, though reading the habits by themselves is enough to understand them. And as you read please understand these are not considered far-out concepts, these were, and still are, ideals presented to those within a non-denominational, modern Christian church. Go ahead and Google them. I’ll be here.
Got ’em? Okay, those seven habits came to be with a story Harris was told and wrote about in Kissed. “Eric and Jenny” were in youth group and strong in the Lord, then they started a relationship, it progressed, they had sex, but later they broke up. Years later, the pastor told the story of Eric and Jenny to his own youth group, how those two came back to the church for a high school reunion. Erik was still single and said to the youth pastor that when he sees Jenny “the hurt comes back.” Jenny told the pastor she remembered it all very clearly. And just from those two sentences, the fact that there was once a couple that had sex and later broke up is enough that when the youth group hears it, they go silent. In fact it’s the story, Harris says, which prodded him to believe there must be a better solution than what his pastor offered, just Godly self-control. Which is, interestingly, the same thing we’d call the principles in Kissed, though one might drop a word and call it just “self-control.”
One of the more famous stories from Kissed is from a dream Harris titled himself, “The Room” (a reenactment can be found on Youtube). In it there’s a room filled with hundreds of drawers of cataloged cards, each representing the behaviors or thoughts Harris has had throughout his life. Turns out, Jesus is the same room. He’s at the lust drawer pulling out its contents. This a very long drawer, because Harris is a person, and each one of those cards is an affront to God. But there’s Jesus, writing His name over Harris’s using His blood as ink over each of the offenses, whether it’s looking at a girl in class with eyes, dreaming of having sex with his wife, or masturbating. Each one Jesus covers up and Harris breaks down in tears as Jesus comforts him and the dream ends.
Harris gives a commentary on the dream, saying that if you’re guilty because of some of the sinful things you’ve done, it’s okay, God paid the price, don’t linger on those things any longer. Though what’s more interesting is what Harris doesn’t cover. Where does the guilt come from in the first place?
The self-proclaimed romantic, Harris informs us that when you meet someone you really are interested in, think is beautiful, turns you on physically and intellectually, you have a conscious choice to either, “leave it at attraction or let our imaginations carry us away.” But Harris doesn’t delineate between when attractions ends and imagination begins, only making it clear that it is a sin to dream about a girl, citing Psalm 86:11.
Unfortunately, according to Harris, you can have these kinds of problems in your thirties, even as a woman, as he writes about a female radio deejay that would sometimes “daydream about a guy on the way home from work, put his picture on the fridge, and giggle about him.” But until the right man came along she did not want to let her heart get carried away, so as not to be out of line with God’s timing. In the Harris model, even daydreaming can send you to hell.
Another heart disease is self-pity. Feeling bad about yourself is not what God wants. If you don’t have your partner from God, you shouldn’t get down. Harris tries to untangle this in mind-numbing logic, “When you feel those old feelings of self pity rising redirect them…look around for someone who might share your feelings of loneliness and find a way to comfort that person.”
An interesting concept, if you’re lonely find someone else who is also lonely and comfort that person. Invest some of yourself in that person, share your life with that person, laugh with him, eat with her, go places with him. Just don’t start liking that person, as that might lead to sinful thoughts and desires. You’re feeling lonely because you’re lonely, but the desire to resolve that loneliness is in fact a sin. The only word I can think of is circuitous.
Many of Harris’s greatest self-fulfilling prophecies reside in this anecdotal examples of God’s timing. Speaking to a woman in her mid-twenties, recently married, he writes about how she was feeling lonely when she wasn’t married. But, she tells him, it was during her lonely times she learned how to draw close to God and be with him intimately and experience him.
“As a married woman, I wouldn’t trade those moments with God for the world.”
That quote exemplifies the Harris hypocrisy because what would be far more interesting than a cross-sectional study – as the one above – would be a longitudinal one in which two groups are tracked. One is filled with the people given by God their husband or wife while the other is filled with the people who are not, and we ask them the same questions. How is your relationship with God? How do you view your alone time with God? What was it like in your early twenties being single and what’s it like it now, in your mid-thirties?
Though perhaps the steeliest character in all of Harris’s vignettes is a boy named “Paul Taylor.” If Paul Taylor is real or a fictional creation, I don’t know. Either way, he’s straight out of Atlas Shrugged. It’s after church, Harris describes, where Paul’s family is usually one of the last to leave. And one Sunday Paul decided to wander into the parking lot to wait for his parents. There he encounters “Alicia Johnson,” the new girl in church, “outgoing, energetic, and drop dead gorgeous,” shouting at Paul to get his attention, excitedly asking him to join her and the rest of the group for pizza and a subsequent a trip to the river. Alisha grabs onto Paul’s arm. Harris writes.
“‘Mr. Taylor,’ she mockingly said, pouting and straightening his tie. ‘You need to come to the river. Yes, listen I have my car. You can ride to my house and wait while I change then we can meet up with everyone else for pizza. Afterword I can give you a ride home from the river.'”
But Paul knew Alisha was not one God had chosen to court before marriage. He knew this would be sinful. So, somehow, Paul declined the offer, and I still can’t figure out what’s worse, Harris dreaming up such a character, or actually knowing of such a young man.
But the Kissed model encourages single people like Paul Taylor to practice skills, other than chastity, which they’ll need when they get married. Harris writes, “Serving God with others, being fiscally prudent, parenthood, life skills, and intimacy.”
Fine enough skills, but how exactly one practices intimacy without being intimate with someone is a mystery Harris does not explain. He does tell of a friend of his that “Shuts out the people closest to her.” But then, Harris writes, if she does that with people now she’ll shut out her future husband. So according to Harris she started to, “instead of retreating to her bedroom after dinner would hang around and talk with her parents. This wasn’t easy for her, but it improved her intimacy and taught her skills she will need one day as a wife.”
So a person should, in order to attain the skills needed as a husband or wife, stick around after dinner and talk with their parents in order to be better prepared when married and want to be intimate with a spouse. This is the first of many examples where things just do not equate.
“When pregnancies add stretch marks and the years add extra pounds.”
The above quote comes from a game Joshua Harris used to play. Whenever he met a possible mate he liked to imagine what she’d be like at 50. Stripping away physical gifts, Harris was free to see what she’d really be like. Also, he does write, it’s helpful if “mom is with her,” as she gives a good idea if the girl will age well. And if she’s physically unattractive it means she didn’t live according to God’s will. If she does, Harris writes, God will allow her to age more gracefully and beautifully. Got it. Let’s move on.
“No one wants to marry a flirt.” Just wanted to quickly add that. And, according to Kissed, here are the four stages toward marriage. “Casual friendship. Deeper friendship. Purposeful intimacy with integrity. Engagement.”
Okay, I’m being too hard on him again. Well then let me point out the one good point Harris makes, that when you’re very young, in your teens, it can be unhealthy to be in long-term relationships. We all know that couple from high school who starting each other in the 8th grade and got married when they were 22. Now they work in their hometown and are, more or less, the same person. It can be isolating and stunting to be together so young. But that’s about it in the whole of Kissed. Thought I’d give proper due.
Harris continues on and writes that one must be above reproach by following the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:28 which say if you look at someone with lust you’ve sinned. You aren’t necessarily doomed to a forever lifetime of no girlfriend – unless God wills it – but having lustful thoughts about someone is like putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Starting with a base of sexual purity is where God wants you, Harris writes, before you’re recommended for a husband or wife. Your first goal in life should be to consume yourself with God and his seeking His Kingdom and if you do this correctly, your wife or husband will be coming.
This invisible process, I’d love for it to be broken down. If anyone could show me I’ll go on the road pumping Joshua Harris, Mark Driscoll, John Piper. I’ll shout that they’re the best human beings who ever lived. Problem is, it’s a relative term, to give God “your all,” but a favorite parameter by Harris et al. I want to know to what end must we give before granted our Christian spouse. When I was in this world, when I believed in these things, I gave my all. I really felt I did. But there I go with my feelings, using those to judge a situation is a mistake in the Harris model.
Before YOLO, “truth before feelings” was the motto. Though Harris speaks it with such flippancy you have to wonder if he’d yet known any hurt. And if we can’t use feelings as a barometer, how does one quantify giving God 100%? How does one know they’ve passed the test and are now ready for their own wife or husband? Harris would say by the fruits one produces, but if that’s measure, I had a hundred Christian wives. I worked in a Christian group home leading teenagers to Christ. Should I have shaved my head and moved to Tibet? Is that the objective end to which one knows positively he has shed his desire for a wife and given his whole heart to God? I’m getting riled up, let me just give some examples.
“Jessica,” Harris writes fondly in Kissed, was a perfect Christian girl before leaving college. She didn’t date, didn’t lead guys on, nor did she wear revealing clothing. Though somehow, Harris writes, she was “too robotic.”
A classic Harris contradiction. Jessica judged her potential mates coldly and things hit the fan when she went to college. There, she’d never seen so many attractive Godly guys, one of whom broke her previously hard and fast standards so she started to get sad as her standards – being strict about her convictions – began contradicting with her heart – she had feelings for boys she liked.
To Harris, the solution is easy, your heart and feelings are lying to you, or, as it says in Jeremiah 17:9, “the heart is deceitful above all things.” Feelings are the world telling you to give into its base ways. The world speaking to us is another popular Harris phrase, meaning, more or less, that what you’re truly feeling inside you is actually sinful. In sum, every one of your feelings is wrong and needs to be thwarted with the help of God.
In that thread, there’s a line about discontented singleness you’ll hear from those in the Harris world. Often passed down by married couples, it’s sometimes even parroted by the more self-assured single types, the ones who don’t kiss before marriage, which, in those circles, is the highest romantic ideal. If the couple has the laurels to not touch before marriage they are viewed as supremely in love, chosen by God to be lasting and amazing.
I knew a couple like that in college. “Lanta and Jerry,” I’ll call them. They didn’t kiss until their wedding day and only held hands in public, they reported, never in private. Harris tells of a couple like that as well, and he, like every other person, relates feeling the greatest love between two human beings when in the presence of “Eric and Leslie.” It is not spoken but implied, that because they didn’t kiss before marriage they were the most in-love married couple. Harris writes they made this decision from their heart, which may be true, but they also told Harris it wasn’t a “legalistic decision.” Though to premeditate boundaries on which they, as a couple, could touch each other is the definition of the word legalistic.
Harris describes wanting his first kiss to be on his wedding day. And that dream of his relies on several different materials. The most important being the belief that withholding kissing until marriage is outdated now, but was a once oft-practiced model. In actuality, this practice is only a part of stringently religious cultures. The same ones that, to this day, give away their teenage daughters to arranged marriages. Nevermind the fact that in those instances the woman, sometimes even girl, does not only kiss her husband for the first time on their wedding day, but sees him for the first time. Harris incorporates this practice, often used by just about every other religion other than Christianity now, into his worldview. If he’d have know that, I think he might’ve felt differently.
Quickly then, let’s recap, besides having no significant other, never listening to your feelings and not touching or kissing before marriage, you must also have supreme patience if you want a wife or husband from God. If you don’t have patience you’ll end up discontented and, as it’s known in that world, if you’re discontent as single person, you’ll be discontent as a married person.
Harris predictably echoes this statement, but where that idea originated is a mystery. I can remember having those words spoken to me. Perpetually vexed by God’s silence in my prayers for a wife, I was told I needed to “get right with God” first. Little did I know nothing is more unattractive to a woman than a desperate man, but that’s beside the point, the speech given to me over and over was the same, if you’re discontent as a single person you’ll be discontent as a married person. What I wasn’t able to articulate then was that when you’re a single person without God the only person you have to be upset with when is yourself. Your singleness is in your hands.
Conversely, in the Harris world, God is in control. Be as attractive as you like, as smart as you like, as funny as you like, as rich as you like, be as in tune with God as you like, it doesn’t matter, if God hasn’t made it happen yet, you’re going to have to wait. It was this idea that, ironically enough, always made me discontent with my singleness.
To better explain this patience model, let me compare Kissed to The Game. The Game is a book from 2005 instructing men on how to meet and seduce women. It’s a lecherous work with bits of truth, purporting that women will play a game when they first meet a man and it’s the man’s job to mix his way through the obstacles.
The “Matt and Julie” story in Kissed best shows the similarities between the two books. In the Harris world the way you attract a partner and maintain purity is by spending time with God, all the while ignoring the boy or girl of your dreams. Whenever you feel tempted to be drawn to her, the more you instead stay cool and spend some time with Him. To some, what Harris taught was a revelation, a breakthrough in singles spiritual communion with God, a brand new way to find the love of your life. So Matt and Julie did exactly that. Matt had a “deep longing” for Julie, but instead of pursuing alone time with her he decided to “guard her heart” – a popular term meant to denote Godly practices one does in order to preserve the sanctity of another’s emotions. Julie, at the same time, was in a “season of singleness” (get to that soon) so, more or less, she thought Matt was lame. Well, it turns out Matt’s indifference toward Julie paid off, because all that not paying attention to her worked to his advantage as she eventually got curious and, sure enough, they one day got married. This is the way it’s supposed to work in the Harris model, you spend your time with God and when you meet the one you think you want to marry you don’t try, instead you draw back and focus on God. What Harris doesn’t realize, or maybe realizes and doesn’t verbalize, is that this is the way the secular world works as well.
Unlike Strauss, Harris says that to have the fullness of true friendship you must stop viewing females in a physical sense. They must become eunuchs. It is then God will unlocks the blessing of being single. Then He will grant a wife. Harris posits that because we’re impatient and can’t wait for that special someone, we date to fill in the time, which ruins ourselves for our future husband or wife. We are eternally tainted with their love juices (love juices are my words, not his).
Harris uses examples to make his point. First, an allegory about a magical string a young Christian boy is given when he meets a wizard. The wizard tells the boy that one pull on the string will fast forward him though time, but be careful as you cannot undo the string’s effect. The boy first uses the string for dull things like skipping class, but then to skip ahead to his wedding day, presumably because he wants to have sex.
And it is that notion – even if Harris feigns otherwise – that all of life before marriage is better when skipped through, which dominates young single evangelicals. The irony is that the line of waiting till marriage – wherein all things from heaven and earth are finally loosened – only encourages the pulling of the string, ie: the bypassing of single years. Harris stretches the waiting theory to the point of ridiculousness by equating waiting for God to give you a wife with waiting in the grocery line.
“Did you patiently wait your turn or did try to rush the experience?” Again, an example just does not equate.
In waiting, though, Harris is human. He admits to not knowing whether God will ever give him a wife, though he is barely out of his teens when he wrote the book. Nonetheless, he doubts like everyone else, using a story about marshmallows to show how we must have faith in God’s timing. He writes of four-year-olds in a study being given the choice between being eating a marshmallow now, or waiting to eat the marshmallow until someone comes back to the room. If the child can wait they’ll be rewarded with a second marshmallow. The scientists tracked the marshmallow toddlers through high school and noticed the ones who waited were better in school, more adjusted, confident, while the ones who couldn’t wait were stubborn, frustrated loners.
That study gave Harris hope because, to him, it showed how if we’re willing to wait for a marshmallow as a four-year-old we’ll someday be willing, as teenagers, to wait for an invisible deity to grant us a lifelong partner.
Again, not equating.
A boy should wait, Harris writes, and maintains that when a boy meets a girl who doesn’t need a husband – how that is ascertained is never clarified – the boy should be willing to just be friends, offer her spiritual brotherhood, and be with her during her “season of singleness.”
Disregarding how silly that term is I’d really just want to know the exact number of people Harris was romantically interested in being with – i.e. marrying – who were only going through a “season of singleness.” If what Harris is preaching must be practiced then I want to know how many of the ones he fell in love with, to the very number, who were going through a “single of singleness” when he meet them and how that made him feel.
Harris’s hypocrisy is purely hypothetical, I admit. Though even if he did honor a “season of singleness,” he still shouldn’t have given people another line.
“Mary, you know, I’m sorry, I’m going through a season of singleness. I know this season is highly violate, I was seeing Margaret last week and I’ll be seeing Janet next week, but this week, this is my season of singleness.” (But Lord help you if your season extends past 25. Harris often uses around the age of 26 in Kissed as the age when things start looking grim for a single person)
So while the concept of a season of singleness is a scary thought, the scariest thing Harris repeats throughout the book is the belief that once we’re married we can lay claim to the person we’ve married. Well, men can at least.
Harris was more than likely taught this as a home-schooled youth in Oregon, shown verses like Eph. 5:23-32 and instructed that when he grew his wife would submit to his decisions. The man submits his decisions to God, but since no one has ever seen or heard God, the man can make up whatever directions he wants. Out of these ancient words, Harris’s dogma comes, but it isn’t his alone. This is a pervasive worldview, of laying claim to your woman’s body (and not in the good way Ryan Gosling might).
Harris claim that a wife’s body “belongs” to the man when married. But for the man to do what, exactly? Spontaneous backrubs? As a model for practicing French braids? Sex? Once you’re married in the Harris world a magic die is cast and the couple no longer breaks the rules God has set, their bodies are free to do everything all the time.
Besides being patriarchal, Harris was pretty ignorant when came to culture. He uses the line “here we are now/entertain us” to criticize the then late 90s attitude as selfish and hedonistic, which is off-base as that song was lampooning Kobain’s generation’s laze-fair attitude. And he spells Kurt with a C. In a nationally distributed book, he spelled it with a C. It’s those kinds of things that make people not pay attention to Christian culture. You can’t take it seriously when its leaders are misspelling the most famous lead singer of most famous band in America from the last 30 years. It’s like when your parents or your middle school teachers rail against music from Kanye West or mispronounce Lorde. It’s uncomfortable in a very specific way.
Harris’s cultural statements may come from a place of ignorance but his sociological comments are worse. He writes, “One of those beautiful paradoxes of Biblical truth is if you love and want your spouse more than anything you will end up selfish fearful bitter and disillusioned. If you love Jesus more than anything else you will really love and enjoy your spouse. You will be someone worth marrying.”
Now if you try and do the math on that, it works kind of like this. In the world there are approximately seven billion people. Of those seven billion about three billion of which are married, give or take. Of those three billion married couples, if you take the percentage of Christians down to the percentage of Christians within married people then there are about 500 million married Christian people which leaves us will about 1.5 billion married non Christians. 1.5 billion married non-Christians, and unfortunately for those 1.5 billion married non-believers of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they can never be happily married. They will inevitably end up selfish, fearful, bitter, and disillusioned. It’s what God has willed, according to Harris, right there in black and white.
Not surprisingly, Harris tackles the topic of lust in Kissed, specifically, in regards to media. And solution often given for single Christian men – just men by the way – is to abstain. Harris tells of friend who didn’t watch movies for six months because they were making him lustful. Up All Night movies, Nuns on the Run? It’s not clear. The point is, the pictures were creating lust. So in order for his friend and others to stop being lustful, they must set up preventive censors, have accountability partners, or, in extreme cases, completely remove the medium used to let lust enter their system.
But all three of these procedures are ineffective. All three could make it more difficult, but passwords can be hacked, censors bypassed, accountability partners avoided. The only thing they do is make the failure of giving into lust all the more painful, when it’s considered wrong. If they really wanted the Church to have pure minds and hearts they’d preach openness within relationships, instead of repression. They’d preach that God isn’t mad at them because they like nakedness, He understands, He designed the body. They’d preach that masturbation is okay. But to try and patch the damn with caulk instead of letting a natural river pass by is encouraging disaster.
There is, however, one illuminating example, at least to his character, that Harris uses in Kissed to decry lust. One day, he writes, he was strolling downtown in a major American city and crossed paths with a group of male youths who “snickered and whispered” as he walked. Further down the road the group of young men drove by whistling and hollering. Harris reacted, well, maybe a bit rashly.
“They sped away leaving me to fume, I’ll never forget the anger and disgust…to have their eyes crawling over me. It was so wrong, so filthy. I remember turning to God in self-righteous anger and hissing through my clinched teeth, those people are so sick!!”
God then replied to Harris in Kissed, “Joshua, your smug heterosexual lust is just as misplaced, just as disgusting in My sight.”
I don’t doubt that Harris felt that God actually said that to him at that very moment. All his life Harris had been instructed that gay people would go to hell unless they stopped being gay. I don’t doubt it felt very real to Harris, which is what scares me the most.
Harris hates lust, but he wrote Kissed in a salacious manner. At 16, “Jessica,” is good girl, naive and committed to saving herself but she often puts herself in “compromising situations.” Which sounds like the beginning of a Penthouse Forum letter. Though unfortunately for Vivid, Jessica won’t be knocking on their door as Harris tells us that she takes on the right ideals when she dumps her boyfriend and scolds herself into no longer allowing herself to be in these mysterious compromising situations. There’s more, like the one with “Gloria” who was “pretty, other guys liked her, and satisfied her boyfriend sexually.”
Funny thing, Harris had to think all these things to write them but he didn’t actually think these things. That, of course, would’ve been a sin.
Moving away from the lustful mind, think of irreducible complexity for a moment. In creationist theory, irreducible complexity is a significant concept. It states organisms cannot gradually evolve. Instead, irreducible complex systems are composed of several well-matched, interacting parts which contribute to the basic function of something wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to cease functioning. Basically, what irreducible complexity is positing that evolution under Darwin’s theory is impossible because for any complex organism to evolve it would have to start from a simpler non-functioning version of itself which would eventually not work because its parts couldn’t evolve into something more complex.
Besides the fact that none of that’s true, the Harris disciple must overcome their own black box to find a mate, since his principles stand in direct defiance of irreducible complexity. If you take the man at his word and undertake these teachings you must not have a girlfriend, you must not want her physically, you must not be alone with her, you must not pursue her before you’re engage, but, after all that, you also must get married.
Well, to get to a state of complexity (being married) from a simpler state (being single) there have to be steps of gradual evolution of the relationship. To go from seeing each other at the weekly prayer meeting to having coitus on the wedding night needs some sort of intermediate steps which are only winked at by Harris.
If you read interviews with the man now, you might find him backtracking. He offered retractions to his book in the form of update revised version of Kissed in 2003. He’s also written blog posts – some of which have been deleted – and preached sermons at his home church in Maryland, clarifying any “misunderstandings” about his book. I even found a link to an article that quoted him being “upset” that so many people took his book legalistically. They gave up all desire for a mate and put all energy into their relationship with Jesus, but no one ever came to marry them. Harris response to that? People misinterpreted his principles.
It’s unfortunate he says that now as it’s a complete 180 from the tone of the book, which is so black and white it’s entertaining. If the man would’ve just stayed true to his word I’d respect him, but years later to hear him reverse his stance is disheartening. Personally, now removed from it, I enjoy reading the hard line stances in Kissed. Sentences like “If we have sex before marriage we sin” are what I admire most about the book.
I read Kissed for the fist time in almost 15 years for this essay, and it seems like such a long time ago. Harris is in his late 30s now and I, myself, am at the beginning of my third decade. With so much time passing I want to let the man off the hook. Remember, when he speaks about more mature people, he is referencing college students. But because the book was so influential, we should continue. More specifically, we should understand why Harris uses a version of the Bible called the Message.
At the time of Kissed, The Message was available only in the New Testament. Originally published by NavPress, it was translated by Christian thinker, Eugene Peterson, and luckily for Peterson he wasn’t living in 16th Century Europe or else he might’ve been burned at the stake like William Tyndale, one of the first to translate the Bible into English. And while Peterson keeps the same ideals as those ecumenical pioneers, the men who believed that the Scriptures were to be read by all, I wonder if perhaps Peterson forgot that the Bible had already been translated into English and it didn’t need to be translated into Americanese. Basically, The Message is a mess of colloquialisms and metaphors which stretch and bend the meaning of the original text. Harris relies on it throughout Kissed.
Philippians 1:9-10 in The Message says, “You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush.”
To truly understand the lunacy of using The Message translation of Philippians 1: 9-10 as justification for a theory on why teenagers in 1990s America should not let feelings guide their dating relationships you should know a little about the book of Philippians.
Written to an ancient city in present day Greece approximately 2000 years ago as a letter of commendation for all the good work the Philippians were doing in living as followers of the Way, the writer, Paul, was a strange man. At first a righteous Jesus hating Jew named Saul, he went around killing people who admitted to following the then risen Christ, previously of Galilee. But as things would have it, on Saul’s way to Damascus one day to kill more people who loved Jesus, he was struck with a blinding light, akin to the third eye laser beam in VALIS, and became Paul, the man who first championed Jesus. He’d go on to preach and write letters and speak publicly in the name of Jesus all over ancient Macedonia, Nazareth, and possibly as far as Spain, though it’s unknown whether he made it there (he probably died in a jail in Rome before that).
Wherever he passed, I’m positive his letter to those in Philippi had nothing to do with how their teens were dating. Written in a jail cell in Jerusalem in approximately 55CE, its purpose was to encourage those in Philippi to hold strong to their belief in the coming of Jesus, someone who they believed was coming back in their lifetime. Paul wrote that a new heaven and an earth were imminent and the people should live accordingly by giving their thoughts to God. Act peacefully, not selfishly, praise Him continually, do those things yes. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anything in the letter about not kissing a girl until marriage.
Now not only does Harris cherry-pick The Message as a way to falsely strengthen his case, he uses two maligned Old Testament passages to inform his modern dating modes. One is with David in 2nd Samuel.
In modern evangelical culture there’s a term called backsliding, which basically means to revert back to the ways in which you lived before being saved. Harris explains the term by way of Bathsheba and David. David, the man after God’s own heart, Michelangelo-sculpted, greatest king of Israel, David. The David who, instead of going into battle with Israel’s enemies and brutally murdering the Philistines, decided to stay at home. And this, Harris writes, this staying at home, was the first backsliding step toward sin. David should’ve been out there fighting God’s battle – the same one going on today in the same area – but David didn’t go kill and rape the enemy.
Next in the story, as David was lying around at home not murdering, he sees his neighbor, Bathsheba, taking a bath in broad daylight, and he wants it pretty bad. So good thing Bathsheba is easy as pie because the next scene in the story is Bathsheba, pregnant, with David’s baby. Another backsliding step, writes Harris. The story gets weirder as David tries to beckon Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, back from the battle that David wimped out on to come sleep with Bathsheba so David can pass the fatherhood onto Uriah. But Uriah stays true. He stays in battle. So David takes matters into own hands and has Uriah killed by telling his general to abandon the poor bastard in battle, which, essential offs Uriah.
Harris explains that David made a series of backsliding steps. The first was not going to battle, then it was looking upon Bathsheba, then it was lingering on her body, then it was putting a baby in her. Harris doesn’t go to list the rest of offenses David commits after he gets Bathsheba pregnant as he finds that either not necessary to his point or not a sin. And to combat the backsliding, Harris asks the question of how close can we come to the edge – stretched out before the edge is a plain of righteousness – before going over and falling into a chasm of sin.
“If sex is the line,” Harris writes, “what’s the difference between holding someone’s hand and making out with that person?”
Harris is trying to delineate between the acts of holding hands and making out. The counter argument would say, “Well, the Kissed mode is trying to point you in the direction of not wanting either desire before you get married.”
But to that I’d ask why is it okay in Harris’s model to even look at a woman before marriage? If that could lead to sin, why do it? Let’s live like they do in the Middle East, why not? It’s the only way to eradicate the issue because the problem is in our physiological makeup.
The closest example Harris comes to is at the end of the chapter on purity, with the story of Billy Graham and his inner circle during the revivals of the 60s and 70s. Back then, Graham and his troupe made a conscious decision to avoid any contact alone with women who were not their wives. Doing that, at least, points in the right direction, but it doesn’t take care of Harris’s issue.
Another verse Harris uses to reinforce his ideas is in Jeremiah. He ends the chapter on waiting with one of most misused quotes in the history of time. Jeremiah 29: 11-13, and if you’ve ever heard that passage before it is certain you heard 11-13 without 10 and 14; this is not by accident. 11-13 have been used in innumerable sermons, books, novice discussions for the purpose of showing the doubting Thomas that God still loves them, has a plan for them, and, in Harris’s definition, still has a Christian wife or husband for them. That’s the beauty of Jeremiah 29: 11-13, it can be whatever you want to be about. What Harris doesn’t discuss is the story that encompasses 11-13.
Jeremiah, the famous Jewish prophet, who lived around the time of first fall of Jerusalem when Judah was the King of Israel, wrote his submission to the Bible to give a promise to the people of Israel that God was going to bring them back to their homeland where the heathen Babylonians had destroyed Solomon’s Temple (Solomon, the son of David, the original king of Israel). And sure enough, years later, they were permitted back into the holy land to build another temple. But all this happened because the Jews had begun worshiping false gods which did not make God happy, so He allowed the fall of Jerusalem.
Harris fails to mention the fact that Jerusalem fell approximately a thousand more times after that, but, who cares, the prophecy is fulfilled. And according to Harris, Jeremiah wasn’t speaking to 7th Century Jewish people with his crazy – he wore a yoke in public – writings in an ancient language, he was also advising 21st Century American Christians that the wife or husband of their dreams is waiting, just be patient, God won’t make you wait forever. Though if he does, didn’t you have a secret sin to admit to?
To finish, remember the scene at the end of Good Will Hunting when Matt Damon breaks down? I think of Harris when I think of that scene.
“Josh, it’s not your fault you believe women are the source of all sin before marriage. It’s not your fault.”
“No, Josh, it’s not your fault.”
“Josh, it’s not your fault.”
“Not you, Jeffrey, not you!”
“It’s not your fault, Josh.”
“Not you Jeffrey!”
I think of this because of the end of Kissed. Harris writes that a girl he once liked in the 8th grade is getting married and so he is, by his own admission, depressed. And I suppose I understand that sentiment; it’s an anxious feeling when people your age are pairing off. But when you’re barely out of your teens, like Harris is at the time of writing this, then I’d say there’s some out of whack standards being set.
See, Harris’s parents are pioneers in the homeschooling movement and, I would offer, believed their son would be married, producing grandchildren, at an age no older than 25, which means he would need to be married somewhere between the ages of 21-24. Don’t believe me? Well, in Kissed, Harris recounts the letters he received from each member of his family, as was tradition in their home. It is his 21st birthday.
His mother writes, “I know it will be hard to let you go when you meet that one we’re all waiting and praying for,” then, his father, “…expect to meet her someday soon, if you haven’t met her already. She will be prepared for you by God because a good wife is from the Lord. When you know you have found her you needn’t rush. But neither should you need to delay things. Marry her within the year and count on God to help you take care of her.” Finally, his younger brother, “I really treasure sharing a room with you, knowing that someday soon you’ll be sharing a room with someone else.”
The age of his younger brother? 13.
I’ve never met Joshua Harris. He appears affable enough, judging by the photos I’ve seen, a skinnier Jeremy Piven or maybe a younger, half-Asian Kevin Spacey. And bald, which makes me like him more. The man is an important figure at a leading evangelical church. So he must know the Bible. Like Luke 12:2, where Jesus says there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, nor hidden that will not be made known.
Harris uses this passage in I Kissed Dating Goodbye to make an allusion to the premarital deeds people engage in secretly but are known in God’s eyes, the kinds of sinful acts Harris wanted his readers to avoid by reading his book.
That verse means different things to different people, but I only find it comforting. Because if the time comes and I’m before God and forced to reveal everything I’ve ever done wrong, I know I’ll be guilty. But I take heart knowing Joshua Harris will go through the same process.
I’ll pray for my soul, but I’ll pray even harder for his.