Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Definitions of Intimacy


I had a friend at Columbia named Rebekah; we met while playing on the women's rugby team.  She was smart, passionate, and funny, and we got along like a house on fire.  She was also an Orthodox Jew, and I'm beyond grateful for her patience and open-mindedness as she answered my ignorant questions about my own religion  (I'm sure she still is all these things, but we lost touch when she graduated a year before I did.)  My favorite memory of Rebekah is from a rugby social that had a Catholic schoolgirls theme: she wore a tartan skirt past her knees, a white tailored shirt buttoned all the way, pigtail braids, and a sign on her back that said "I'm waiting for marriage."  Fantastic, right?  We haven't been in contact for years, but I've found myself thinking recently about a story she told me once.

Rebekah is Orthodox, though not from one of the more rigid sects.  One summer during college, while she was living and working in DC, she dated a Jewish boy who was more strictly observant than she was.  (I'm sorry, I don't know the names for the different groups!)  He wasn't permitted to touch women at all, and, though that wasn't a rule that she ascribed to, she understood it and respected it.  They dated for more than two months - and, apparently, were talking seriously about next steps in their relationship - but never even held hands.  However, they broke up when Rebekah found out he'd been seeing another girl.  No, he hadn't just been seeing her; he'd been touching her.  The other girl wasn't Orthodox or even Jewish, and, in his mind, she was therefore not marriage material and the usual religious restrictions didn't apply.

Now, this is an extreme example of the point I'm going towards here, but it absolutely goes to show that we each have our own definition of intimacy - and, sometimes, we have more than one.  There are different kinds of intimacy, from the purely physical to the purely intellectual and/or emotional and everything in between, and you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who agrees completely with the line you draw on what kind of intimacy is acceptable with whom, where, and when.

I've been exploring that idea a lot recently as I've started learning about the modesty debates that are taking America by storm and as the DOMA and Prop8 cases were heard and ruled on by the Supreme Court.  (The modesty issue, while most vocally discussed in conservative/evangelical Christian communities, is not unique to the Church; here's an interesting article on it from an Orthodox Jewish perspective.)  What's astounding is that so many of the arguments are not actually about making sure we have the freedom to do (or not) what we want to do (or not), but about mandating what others can and can't do.

You know, dear readers, that I get frustrated when people don't respect the right of others to make their own choices.  You don't think that gay marriage is okay?  Then don't marry someone of the same sex.  (There's a difference between a civil marriage and a religious marriage, and conversations about the latter belong only to your faith community.)  You don't think it's acceptable to wear revealing clothes?  Then please feel free to cover yourself when you leave the house.  (This is why, although I clearly love the idea of the separation of church and state, France's ban on the hijab drives me crazy.)  But we all have different definitions for what kind of intimacy is appropriate when and where and with whom, and it's unjust and insulting to not only expect everyone to agree with yours but to mandate that they follow your personal guidelines.  Because no matter where you say your rules come from, someone else who claims to believe in the same things will disagree completely.

And do you know how to make sure that doesn't hurt you?  By remembering that what other people do doesn't dictate what you have to do.  By accepting that a different way of life doesn't necessarily threaten yours.  And by understanding that alternative ideas don't mean that yours are wrong.  For it is by having enough confidence in our own beliefs that we stop needing others to reinforce them.


30 comments:

  1. I am a pretty new reader, but really falling in love with you and your blog! I really appreciated this whole post, but those last two paragraphs are absolute fire. My thoughts exactly. Sharing this! Thank you for the great read.

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  2. So eloquently written Betsy.

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  3. oh yay thank you! and welcome :) these sorts of posts are a bit scary to write, so I'm glad it hasn't sent you running!

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  4. Georgia ChristakisJuly 2, 2013 at 7:39 AM

    I know this is going to make me unpopular here, but I wanted to voice my concerns on gay marriage. I agree with your statements about civil marriage and religious marriage; I am all for the gay community having access to their loved ones in hospitals in times of need, I see nothing wrong with that.


    But what I fear is that at some point a gay couple may sue for the right to marry in an Orthodox church, where homosexuality is accepted, but the actions that it implies is not. Does that make sense? A lawsuit like that could shut the doors of the Orthodox churches in America. We are not a wealthy church, and the legal fees alone could bury us as an institution. Anyways, it is a small concern, and I hope that we can all live peaceably and respect one another's wishes in this rapidly changing world.

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  5. goodness, I hope that concern doesn't make you unpopular here! it would go against everything I'm trying to foster on this blog.

    so my response to your concern may be as naive as the post I've written, but it's an honest question: could that actually happen? given the separation of church and state, I'd think the state can't legally mandate that a church recognize same-sex marriages if it goes against its creed. The First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" so wouldn't a lawsuit be unconstitutional?

    When I said above that conversations about religious marriage belong only in the church, I didn't meant that they don't belong in a wider cultural sphere because it's not like you stop believing as soon as you leave your house of worship. I meant that I don't think that any other organization - be it another church or the state - has the right to interfere. But maybe that's naive, because obviously the state legislated against polygamy, which invalidated the practices of the early 19th century Mormon church... what do you think?

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  6. Georgia ChristakisJuly 2, 2013 at 7:57 AM

    absolutely. I didn't even think of this, actually. My boyfriend Peter brought it up, as in the UK the Catholic church was sued by gay married couples who wanted to adopt children through the church and were not allowed to do so. The move forced them to shut down all adoptions, so now children who might have had opportunities to have families of their own are essentially wards of the church (or state? I am not quite sure of the details.) Anyways, it is not a totally parallel situation, but it's close enough to be disconcerting.


    You're right. at the moment, such a concept seems far-fetched. But perhaps a hundred years from now that won't be the case. In the mean time my faith dictates I not worry about things I can't control, and that I have no right or place to judge another for their life choices. However, I wanted to share this idea with you because (a) you're pretty smart and (b) I think it may be a valid concern one day.

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  7. wait, so those gay married couples won? that seems wrong, especially given that they could adopt children through other organizations.

    I think that England is a tricky case because there IS a state religion. But it's not Catholicism, so you're right, that is really disconcerting.

    Honestly, I have trouble with the "slippery slope" argument because I think anyone can take it in any direction and it's just so easy to go off the rails. (I don't think you are; the OH MY GOD THE GOVERNMENT IS GOING TO CONFISCATE ALL OF MY GUNS line of thought as a response to wanting stronger background checks on purchasing guns comes to mind.) But there's evidence to back up almost any theory, no matter how far-fetched, so I don't know. I guess I'm just hoping that the more educated about the issues and the more proactive everyone is, the better we'll be able to protect ourselves and our rights?



    p.s. you know flattery gets me every time :P

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  8. I agree with what you said as far as "you do your thing, I'll do mine". I really do believe in a live and let live approach when it comes to this kind of thing. Ideally, the government should have nothing to do with marriage at all. Couples could be married in the church or by whatever type of officiant suits their beliefs. That would eliminate government involvement and there wouldn't be an issue of hospitals recognizing only one type of married couple. This shouldn't be a concern for the government to worry about.

    As far as your comment to Georgia about the First Amendment helping to keep a check on lawsuits toward the church and such things, I worry about that because, as with the gun issue and healthcare, it seems to be the attitude of push it through and see if anyone notices. Our rights and the amendments seem to be becoming optional in the eyes of our government, which is a little bit scary.

    Really good post! I love one that makes us think!

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  9. this might be one of my favorite posts of yours.

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  10. My comment today seems almost silly it's so simple, in response to such a complex topic, but I just wanted to say WELL SAID, my dear. WELL SAID. xoxo

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  11. so well put and so so true. This has been my stance forever on these issues, if you don't agree with it, then don't do it. No one is forcing anybody here, we are expanding equality for all. I have such a hard time with the communities that preach against this, if religion has taught us anything after all these years, it's to love everyone as children of God (no matter what religion you prescribe to), so why should some children of God have different freedoms than others? Great post!

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  12. Well said my friend. It's infuriating sometimes that people feel like having the choice means that their rights are being taken away somehow. But I hope someday we look back on all this and say that it's absolutely absurd that people were being denied the right to marry. Love the new layout by the way!

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  13. you're right, and I think the way to not let the government get away with [expletive[ like that is to make sure everyone's educated on the issues and engaged! I think when we stop paying attention, we give the government too much flexibility to play around with our rights.

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  14. so - to play Devil's advocate here for a second - someone did ask me about bridging the gap between church/state; for instance, if your church teaches the homosexuality is bad but your children are taught in public school that it's okay, is the state trespassing on the parents' right to choose what their children are taught? I mean, in this instance I think that children SHOULD be taught that homosexuality is normal, of course, but what if that then drives children away from the faith of their family? hm.

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  15. Your last paragraph is perfect! I wish everyone would just understand that what others do with their lives is of no concern to them (unless of course those people are planning on harming others, etc). My feeling is that if it doesn't affect you, keep your mouth shut and just live your life.

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  16. I see your point, and I guess, personally, I consider myself to have a strong faith (grew up Catholic) and I just don't believe that God would want us to shun an entire group of people and tell them just because they might love the same sex that they are "sinning." Just my opinion and to each their own... but your question is an interesting one to consider. I guess at the end of the day, we are taught all sorts of things in school and in our world, it's up to each of us to decide what we believe in.

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  17. Preach! The frustrating thing in all of this (ONE of the frustrating things) is that there seems to be a complete lack of empathy. Telling people who are anti-gay marriage not to get one themselves makes perfect sense to people who see a division between one person's private life and another's. But for people who see all of humanity as part of "one nation, under God" the idea that anyone is deviating from the script is devastating...and they seem to be unable to really understand the pain they cause in wanting everyone to fall in line.

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  18. That's not exactly how it played out. (St Maragret's case) The court ruled that the church adoption process, which is a registered state charity, had to abide by the Equality Act of 2010. So it wasn't that adoptions were shut down because of a lawsuit. The government gave them the option- abide by the law of the country where you are registered as a charity it or you will lose your charitable status which meant they'd lose their right to not pay corporate tax and other financial benefits that are allotted to charities. Personally, I'm proud. A religious organization doesn't get to be exempt from the letter of the law and still reap the benefits of other laws (in my opinion.)

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  19. Another implication that the overturning has lead to- one that most people don't notice- but I am super passionate about, is that DOMA meant that no same-sex partner could sponsor their non-American partner for a visa. I have a couple very close to my heart that have been in a relationship for over a decade and have been doing long-distance for almost the entire duration of it because the partner immigration route has been closed to them. Hopefully this will open that door.

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  20. THIS: But we all have different definitions for what kind of intimacy is appropriate when and where and with whom, and it's unjust and insulting to not only expect everyone to agree with yours but to mandate that they follow your personal guidelines.


    Well said, lady.

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  21. Yes, you're right about that. The problem comes when you have people who won't even listen to the other side. I like to think that no matter my opinion, I will listen to a good argument (like I've written about before). So many of these things are gray areas that there is no all-encompassing right or wrong, which is why it's so super frustrating to have things regulated all one way. The government needs to stop worrying about getting reelected and trying to get involved in every aspect of our lives. People are not as stupid as they think, but they are really working to make us and keep us that way.

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  22. I'd argue that the state allows for both homeschooling and private religious schooling- so if parents feel that threatened by state-run school curriculum they are welcome to pursue those options.
    (Keeping that succinct, because I have ALL THE OPINIONS on education and religion and such, but another time.)

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  23. Fantastic post! I like the line-- "remembering that what others do doesn't dictate what you have to do." We all make choices in our lives and for those who have beliefs that see homosexuality as wrong, they have made a choice is believing that as part of their religion. To dictate their beliefs as a mandate to outlaw gay marriage is like taking away my choice of my own belief. I've probably made that much more complicated in words than I am thinking in my head. However, for those that cry that homosexuals are imposing on their choice of religion, I would cry that their insistence is imposing on my choice of beliefs. Because they do not believe in homosexuality does not dictate what I must believe! And those that are on the opposite side of the spectrum of me, must understand vice versa!

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  24. I love this post. And I love the comments. The discussion is so important, because as we recognize that all humans deserve these rights we also need to remember that all humans deserve respect. And I think the two go hand-in-hand in a forward-moving society.

    While I disagree with many religious views, I am happy for others to follow them, assuming no one else is hurt or made less-than by these beliefs. And just because I disagree with many religious views doesn't give me the right to consider those who follow them to be lesser citizens, or to have fewer rights than I enjoy.


    You go, Betsy.

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  25. Outstanding post, Betsy. We {people in general} seem to be very quick to offer our opinions where they're not wanted and yet we don't often seem to be able to step in when something needs to be said. We need to do a better job as a society of setting those boundaries.

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  26. Abso-freaking-loutely. I absolutely love this, but you know that you and I agree on this. The fact that people use their religion as an argument against legalizing gay marriage is insulting to all of us that don't ascribe to a religion. Don't push what you believe on the rest of us.

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  27. Oooh, Besty, I love when you write posts like this. The Supreme Court's ruling was so exciting!! I do think it's important that all people consider the separation between laws and religious beliefs, as this is one of the distinguishing features of our country. What has always intrigued me is when people use their religion to denigrate the LGBTQ community and limit their rights, when really such beliefs are not held by their entire religion. Not all Catholics are against gay marriage, not all Muslims believe being gay is a sin, and so on. Did you know that in every single religion there is at least one faction that supports the LGBTQ community and equal rights? That underscores for me how important it is for all people to recognize that their beliefs do not apply for all of our country, and it would be dangerous to assume that we should all live under the laws of the religious interpretations of a select few.

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  28. Another brilliant post. I can see how it changed direction. ;)

    You might find this article interesting. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/03/we-re-not-a-goddamn-christian-nation.html

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  29. I love this per usual.


    However on a MUCH less serious note, I do wish these things passing as shorts nowadays would add some length. And that my students would stop showing up to my (professional!) office wearing see through shirts with bright colored bras. Thanks, but I didn't want to look directly at your entire bra while we meet. :)

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