The phenomenon of I kissed dating goodbye that was written by 21-year old Joshua Harris never affected me directly, but it affected a large amount of my fellow homeschoolers. I had no idea this book had such a deep impact on the homeschooling culture. In recent years, I have become familiar with its effects, both positive and negative on gender relations and dating among young Christians. It helped give a major boost to the purity culture that was circulating around that time and still exists to this day in the form of purity balls, promise rings and more modesty conferences than you can shake a g-string at. Thus, I am going to blog through this best seller chapter by chapter, with analysis, critique and suggestions. I have never read this book before other than a few quotes from others.
This first post will be focusing on the introduction and first chapter.
Joshua Harris begins his book by calling for the reader to essentially set aside all biases and remain “open to the ideas” in the book. He tries to “let down his reader’s defenses,” in particular by laying out two clarifications. First: He is not saying dating is sinful, he is simply stating he believes he has found a better, healthier way. Second: He agrees that there is nothing wrong with a male and a female meeting alone under certain circumstances. We shall have to examine if his actual book matches these ideas.
While Joshua Harris could simply be trying to get readers to remain open to his ideas, you should be suspicious when an author calls for you to set aside your defenses, because this is an attempt to shut down criticism and by extension critical thinking. With that in mind, let’s turn to Chapter 1
Harris begins the book with a dream of a girl named Anna about to get married. However, as Anna joins her groom David at the altar, six girls also walk down the aisle. When Anna asks him what is going on, he says these are his six ex-girlfriends that he gave “part of his heart” to. She can have what is left of his heart. Already, I can see a major issue with this, which only continues throughout the chapter.
Next he relates a story of his teenage relationship which turned sour as he was unable to grow as close to his girlfriend physically as he would have liked due to his personal boundaries. So he ended the relationship, even though he had expected to marry her. From there, he quotes Philippians 1:9-10 and jumps from there to his idea of “smart love.”
At first, he defines smart love as simply being kind and aware of others feelings. Then he turns around and says that until he is ready to commit to a lifelong commitment with a girl he cannot ask for her affections. And he will wait for romance until God tells him he is ready for it. From there, Harris relates several stories essentially criticizing immature dating among teenagers.
And here is where Harris starts to go wrong. First of all, he is criticizing immature behaviors such as becoming too serious too quickly or not acknowledging someone else’s feelings. For example, he brings up two friends: Alyssa and Ben. When they started dating, Ben didn’t want to kiss her but Alyssa pressured him into it as well as other physical activities other than sex. Then, she ran off on Ben with another boy. He also mentions immature dating games among teenagers. Harris should not assume all dating is teenage games. Of course they are going to date in an immature manner, because they are trying to figure out life, their newfound sexuality and relationships! It’s going to get messy!
After relating these stories, Harris says, “Dating may seem like an innocent game, but as I see it, we are sinning against each other!” Here we see Harris implying that dating is sinful, which contradicts his point from earlier. If he had said that certain elements within dating such as manipulating people were sinful that would be one thing, but he directly ties dating to sin.
Harris also seems to be way too hard on himself for a failed high school relationship, even though he called it off for a relatively decent reason: he didn’t feel comfortable escalating the relationship to a deeper physical level due to his convictions. He states that in previous relationships, he was merely interested in what he could get out of the relationship such as comfort, popularity and pleasure and would say loving words for selfish reasons. However, his primary serious relationship seemed far closer and emotionally entangled but failed due to immaturity.
Harris ends the chapter with a call for purity and blamelessness before God. I hope Harris dials back some of this rhetoric in future chapters as this type of mindset can easily slip into perfectionism.
Overall, Harris seems to be looking at pain caused by careless people in careless relationships and attributing the problem to dating. However, this is all based on a few personal experiences, so should we change our entire dating practices just because of his poor experiences?
I am also detecting that Harris believes in some form of emotional purity. Namely the idea that one needs to guard his or her emotions and avoid giving away “pieces of your heart.” In this chapter, he declares he will look at women not as potential girlfriends but as sisters in Christ. While you certainly shouldn’t objectify people, the idea that you should repress your natural desire for a relationship seems rather unnatural.
Next time, we will be looking at Chapter 2. With the next installment, I’ll likely focus on a few key details rather than creating a summary. Stay tuned. Also if this book has affected you in any way, feel free to share in the comments down below.
Disclaimer: Harris has made a few statements recently regarding his book. It is not my intention to examine his current state of mind or position on the book. I am taking the book as is, as much as possible.