Reading Conor Friedersdorf’s piece from The Atlantic’s website a couple of days ago, I was reminded of a publishing dream I have. Here’s the idea: I would like to write a book for a mainstream press that tries to explain to a skeptical audience what it’s like to hold a traditional Christian sexual ethic. An insider’s report, so to speak, for traditional religion’s puzzled and interested observers. A longer version of the kind of thing Friedersdorf says Christians need to be doing.
What this book would not be is an apologetic. It wouldn’t necessarily try to persuade anyone to embrace that ethic for themselves. I mean, since I believe such an ethic is based on truth, I wouldn’t object if anyone wants to sign up! But getting people to do so just wouldn’t be the main aim of this particular project. The book wouldn’t be an evangelistic tract; it would be, I suppose, “pre-evangelistic.” In terms of posture, tone, and approach, I’d want it position it alongside Francis Spufford’s book Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, an honest address to those whom Schleiermacher called Christianity’s “cultured despisers.”
The kind of book I’m envisioning would try to say, “Even though I know you don’t believe this and can’t ever see yourself believing it, let me invite you to consider how there’s a consistent logic to it and why it’s compelling for traditionalist Christians. There is actually ‘life on Mars.’ There are people who try to comprehend their sexual lives by this framework, who try to remain faithful to it, and who repent and receive forgiveness and begin all over again when they don’t. And here’s why they do it—why, despite everything, they find that this ethic makes some sense.”
I’d want the tone of it to be smart, thoughtful, and funny—along the lines of terrific things in the same vein that Lauren Winner, Ross Douthat, Tim Keller, Anna Broadway, and J. Budziszewski have already written. In short, I’d want to write a book that would be hospitable, respectful, and inviting for those who aren’t Christians. I’d want it to be the sort of book you could hand to your friend who asks, “Are there any books that would explain in a down-to-earth, friendly way why Christians think people should only have sex when they’re married and why they think ‘consent’ or ‘love’ isn’t sufficient for talking about the ethics of sex and why they think it’s essential for marriage to be ‘male and female’ and why they think…?”
I don’t know of a book quite like that, and I think there should be one.