Unlearning Christian Concepts: Defilement
This is a message for my Christian brothers and sisters: It may be shocking and confusing to hear, but, nothing changes about you when you touch someone.
I know you have no real reason to take my word for it, but for your peace of mind, I hope you believe me: Nothing changes about you when someone else touches you. You don’t get filthy, your value as a person doesn’t change, your integrity, your purity, your identity all remain exactly as they were. That’s because they’re part of you, internal to you, characteristics that you’ve cultivated and characteristics that are innate. While I’m on the subject — listening to songs with swear words, or watching movies with violence or sex scenes won’t alter your identity, either. Seeing someone naked doesn’t do it, wearing short shorts doesn’t do it, and getting tattoos doesn’t do it, either. You’re not less worthy of love, respect, or validity if you have smoked or gotten drunk.
In fact — defilement doesn’t exist.
It’s not a thing. Your identity, your worth, your heart, are so much deeper than what you wear or what you rub up against. How many hands have touched you will never be the most important thing about you. You don’t even need to think about it. It’s not like that. When you love somebody, and you’re alone with them, the last thing on your mind is going to be whether either of you have been touched before, or by whom, or by how many. When you’re alone with someone, all you’re going to be thinking about is what’s happening — maybe how happy you are, how nervous you are, or how things feel. And your partner (if they’re not a dick,) is going to be experiencing the same feelings.
One of the most heartbreaking things about Christianity as it exists today is that so much of it teaches us to feel dirty, broken, and wretched. It seems so obvious once you step outside of it — that it’s silly and harmful to guilt yourself over traits you have no control over and cannot, should not change. But until you know not to believe it, the idea is so prevalent, you don’t think to second-guess it. But conceptually and practically, it doesn’t make sense. Here are five reasons why we should all discard the concept of defilement.
1. The concept of defilement says that we lose value when we are victims of disrespect
If you look up the dictionary definition of “defile,” you’ll find yourself moving down a long rabbit-trail which will eventually lead you to the word “respect,” — which is basically the opposite of defilement — and which means, “A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” The concept of defilement is that something worthy of respect is not getting it. So who should feel ashamed? Well, people who are disrespecting others, should maybe feel bad about not being respectful. But does the object or person that was disrespected somehow change in value? Obviously not. However, that’s not how defilement is actually viewed in much of Christendom. Instead, victims of disrespect are viewed as being dirtied or impure. In these scenarios, the victim feels the bulk of the blame, shame, and guilt as much as (if not more than) the person who did the disrespecting in the first place.
2. The concept of defilement teaches us that our bodies, and sexual intimacy are dirty
Defilement is often associated with sex, as can be seen in this Christian article. The implication is pretty intuitive — that women’s bodies, that sex, that sexual intimacy are all filthy, are things to be embarrassed by or ashamed of. It’s not surprising that this makes adolescence and later on, adult sex, fraught. Once the seed has been planted that engaging in sex acts with someone can contaminate your partner or contaminate yourself, navigating sexuality and sexual boundaries is stressful, scary, and guilt-ridden. It becomes second nature to question everything — when you find yourself attracted to someone, you quickly begin wondering if you are devaluing yourself by being attracted, or devaluing them by thinking of them with attraction. When you are dating or courting, every boundary, line, action, and decision becomes of immense importance, lest you desecrate yourself or your partner unintentionally. Then, once you’re married, you’re expected to be able to emotionally switch between being stressed out, scared, and confused, to feeling great about it all. If the transition doesn’t happen naturally, the stress comes back, compounded.
3. The concept of defilement projects other’s standards of self-respect onto those with less fundamentalist ideas
So many actions which are deemed as being defiling have no innate ties to respect or disrespect. When Christians speak about someone being defiled, the translation is that they can judge whether another person was respecting his or herself. They may lose respect for an individual and then deem that the individual has been defiled — as if that person’s worth, self-respect, or cleanliness can be determined by someone else’s feelings about them. When we project that someone is defiled, we are judging that someone else by our own standards of what self-respect looks like. But self-respect isn’t one size fits all, and we have no way to know their inner-workings, their reasons, or where they are on their journey in life.
4. The concept of defilement shames people for their injuries and vulnerabilities.
If you do have trouble respecting yourself, due to self-esteem issues, confusion, mental-health problems, or for any other reason — that’s not something to blame yourself for. That’s hard, that hurts a lot, and you deserve to be able to heal and to build yourself up to a place where you feel strong, sure, and worthy enough to respect yourself. But while you are down and out and not making the safest or most responsible decisions for yourself? Guess what — you’re not desecrated, you’re just having a rough time. And when you recover to a point where you’re able to take care of yourself again? You’re not used, worn, or damaged goods. You’re a person, with a wonderful capacity to heal, and a unique history which makes you, you.
5. The concept of defilement breeds superficiality and jealousy.
When people are wrapped up in notions of who is and isn’t defiled, their heads are in the entirely wrong place. Defilement is about past actions and experiences — experiences that aren’t in the moment, that aren’t relevant. And yet, if your mind is caught up in someone’s presentation choices or their history, it’s easy to critique them or become possessive of them or hold their pasts over their heads. It’s easy to view them as how they look or how they talk or how many sexual partners they have had. It reduces people to the sum of their circumstances and the little bits that you can observe about them, and forgets all of the important parts that help everything make sense. This focus on superficiality, judgement, and jealousy is essentially stealing the joy from yourself and from your partner or friend, over something entirely unnecessary. Bottom line? It’s petty. No one needs that. It’s going to be better to just let it go.
So please, next time someone looks down on you for your clothing, self-expression, lingo, or relationships, don’t take it to heart. It’s not only that you don’t deserve the judgement. It’s that the thing that they’re projecting onto you simply does not exist.