Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Joshua Harris is the Devil

Yeah, I know, that headline is totally hyperbolic; I don't believe that anybody is literally the Devil and never have. But hear me out.

Joshua Harris is the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a bestselling book that popularized Christian "purity culture" in the 1990s. Harris' book rejected the concept of dating entirely in favor of the outdated concept of "courtship," and recommended that couples not even kiss (!) before marriage. The book was very popular with overprotective Christian parents, and many Evangelical children were raised with its warped approach to sexuality.

Slate recently published an article about Harris, and how he is in the process of rethinking the impact of his book. He solicits comments regarding the book on his website, and is grappling with statements from many individuals who feel that they were irrevocably harmed by growing up with the worldview it espouses.

Harris was 21 years old when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye. He was a virgin who had been home-schooled his whole life—an unusual profile for the author of a book proposing “a new attitude toward romance and relationships,” as the subtitle put it. He married at 23 and later served as the pastor of an evangelical megachurch in Maryland for more than a decade.

Over the years he wrote more books about dating and marriage, including Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust and Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship. Nineteen years after I Kissed Dating Goodbye, he is the father of three kids—two of them teenagers—and he is pursuing formal education for the first time in his life. And these days, he’s having very mixed feelings about the book that turned him into a Christian celebrity.

“Part of the reason this has been so hard for me is that I have so much of my identity tied up in these books. It’s what I’m known for,” Harris told me recently from Vancouver, British Columbia, where he moved his family last year to enroll in a graduate program at evangelical Regent College. “It’s like, well, crap, is the biggest thing I’ve done in my life this really huge mistake?”

So it took him this long to realize that a 21-year-old with little social or dating experience might have gotten something wrong about relationships? Seriously, that should be a no-brainer. Based on his acceptance of the purity culture interpretation of scripture, he doesn't even seem to have known his Bible particularly well.

Now about that headline. Purity culture was one the most damaging things to ever happen to Evangelical Christianity. It essentially turned a somewhat restrictive but otherwise reasonable spiritual path into a kooky cult. In fact, Jesus said very little about sexuality, and what he did say was taken entirely out of context by supporters of the movement.

The children of Evangelicals who grew up in the 1990s have been leaving their churches in droves. Not only that, they are rejecting not just fundamentalism but Christianity in general, and surveys have shown that the church's attitude towards sexuality is one of the main reasons. They aren't migrating to liberal churches either; atheism and agnosticism are on the rise.

So if we accept the Evangelical concept of the Devil, it should be clear that the most devilish thing anyone could possibly do is drive a wedge between millions of children and salvation. This is precisely what Joshua Harris and his fans have done, by proposing a way of living that is so ridiculous, the only way to live up to it is to make yourself profoundly unhappy.

And that's not what spirituality is supposed to do. In the context of magick, I often will tell people that if your magick makes your life harder, you're doing it wrong. It's supposed to make your life better. It may not be able to fix every problem, but it gives you tools that you can apply to difficult issues that arise in your life.

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