Swiss chastity

So dear to Heaven is saintly chastity,
That, when a soul is found sincerely so,
A thousand liveried angels lacky her,
Driving far off each thing of sin and guilt;

John Milton, Comus (1634)

Let me point out a lovely little article on chastity published by the Tages-Anzeiger — the TA is a center-left German- language Zurich daily with a readership of approximately 550,000. I was pleasantly surprised by this article which allowed Esther G., a 28 year old Swiss woman chose to explain why she practiced chastity before marriage.

The news hook for this article was news of the debut of a Swiss film examining the Purity Ball phenomena in America. The article entitled “Auf Sex warten, weil es Gott gefällt” which I would translate as “Wait for sex because it is pleasing to God” interviewed a Swiss woman who shared the worldview of the subjects of the American film.

But rather than the ridicule I expected of American Purity Balls and of their Swiss fellow travellors, the TA allows Esther to speak for herself. The Purity Ball phenomena does not have a Swiss counterpart, Esther notes, but its commitment to chastity does resonate with her.

The usually good Worldcrunch website has an English-language translation of the story. However this time they have dropped the ball. They entitled the article “Confessions Of An Unusually Chaste Swiss Woman” –  a rather tacky editorial insertion. Lost in the translation also is some of the sympathetic tone found in the original. But let’s work with the original.

My translation of the German version’s lede is:

She’s wearing jeans, tennis shoes and lipstick, and thus differs little on the outside from other young women. Except that she is strikingly pretty, with her cornflower-blue eyes and very regular facial features. And then there’s the fact that she was celibate until her wedding three years ago. Esther G.  (28) is a member is a member of Zurich’s Pentecostal Mission, where she met her husband, who also abstained from premarital sex.

She recounts her encounter with her sexuality noting that she first met her husband to be when she was 16 and he 19. It was love at first sight for her “and I would have married him even then. But it was clear that this was far too early”

The article allows Esther to recount her personal history without editorializing and then gives her the opportunity to express her reasons for not engaging in pre-marital sexual relations — it is here that the article stands out. There is no feel of an anthropologist peeping at an exotic tribe — no sense of reproof for being different or connotation of being odd for expressing views not shared by the majority of TA’s readers. And it takes Esther’s religious faith seriously.

The article allows Esther to offer pragmatic and spiritual reasons for her choice. Abstinence …

… is a refuge for body and soul. You give so much of yourself when you have sex, that wasting it on somebody you don’t have a future with hurts. That’s why I really believe you shouldn’t have sex before marriage. I believe that sex should only take place in the protected environment of the marriage. There would be far fewer problems if more people lived abstemious lives: AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases.

Also, I did it willingly because I wanted to please God. The Bible says that it is immoral to sleep with someone outside of marriage. God condemns it as sin, and because he has redeemed me, I stand by this. 

Perhaps I have become jaded but I was very surprised to see such a sympathetic treatment of chastity in a left-liberal European newspaper. The subject’s Christianity is not held up to ridicule, nor does an editorial voice appear to demean or applaud this women’s words. The facts tell the story.

But is it too much of a good thing? Should Esther have been pressed harder by the reporter? Was her identification as a Pentecostal Christian ( a rare bird in Switzerland) meant to imply that “real” Christians (Catholics and Reformed) would find her views odd? Was it not odd that the news of the film on Purity Balls that introduced the topic was moved to a side bar, while Esther’s story was placed front and center.

Or, was this that rare thing — a good news story with a religion angle from a liberal European newspaper?

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  • carl jacobs

    The most striking part of this story to me was not the light but the shadows. This isn’t so much a tail of celibacy as it is a tail of Cinderella. And it casts the wreckage of modern relationships in stark relief all across the floor. Here to me is the true center of the story:

    A friend of mine just split up with a guy she’s been with for eight years – for the first time, she brought up the issue of kids, and it turns out he doesn’t want any. She was heartbroken. I feel really bad for her – she’s 33, and now she has to find somebody else and build a relationship all over again.

    This is the person with whom the reader will most likely identify. She represents a story that has played itself out in countless different ways in countless different lives. She is the surrogate with her nose pressed up against the glass wondering how her friend ended up with the fairy tale ‘happily-ever-after’ ending.

    There is pain in this story. The pain of those who desire commitment but don’t quite understand why it eludes them.


  • Bill

    I like that Esther was not pressed harder. I like that this didn’t turn into a mixed salad of competing denominations and extraneous issues. This is a complete story, a charming story, an old-fashioned story. And as Carl observed, a story set amidst the wreckage of hip, libertine culture.

  • Brett

    I agree with Bill (at #2) here. I think the story was more of a human-interest feature than a report and so the easy treatment fits fine. If Pentecostal Christians are rare in Switzerland, I think the identification is useful information for the reader. And it could be that upon interviewing Esther, the writer and editors came to believe her story would be of more interest to their readers than the Purity Ball piece.