The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what The Big Box is all about.
I might as well begin this post with a confession. Every time I have to read, listen to, or write about the Botkin sisters, sooner or later I always end up listening to and singing this song (any hardcore ballad nerds in my audience will recognize it as Child #10):
The reason I end up at Two Sisters whenever I write about the Botkins should be obvious by now: irony. The sisters in the ballad could not be more unlike Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin if they tried. First, I’m sure Elizabeth would never be caught dead accepting a gay gold ring and a beaver hat from a suitor without her father’s permission (in fact, perhaps Two Sisters is really about the perils of unsupervised courtship 😀 ). Second, Anna and Elizabeth would certainly never get into such hysterics over a boy. They are, after all, important purveyors of the idea of “emotional purity,” which I touched on before in my response to S. M. Davis’ lecture Seven Bible Truths Violated by Christian Dating.
Though emotional purity is only alluded to in Strength and Dignity for Daughters (when Anna accuses Mia, the protagonist of The Princess Diaries, of engaging in “emotional and physical promiscuity” and thus setting a bad example for girls), I think this is as good a time as any to explore the topic, especially since the next lecture I’ll be reviewing in my Big Box is Doug Phillips’ How to Evaluate a Suitor. So how exactly does “emotional purity” work?
We’re very grateful for the groundwork that has been laid by Emotional Purity advocates, people who first began to seriously address the problem of handing out bits of our heart with reckless abandon. We, for two, needed to hear about the concept of guarding our hearts, keeping our emotions under control, and being faithful to our future husbands in thought and deed. But we believe this foundation needs a little more built onto it. For many, the concept raised more questions than it answered. …
Once the idea of emotional purity is introduced, the questions breed like rabbits. “Can you keep from having crushes?” “Is it wrong to have a crush?” “When is it technically a crush, anyway?” “Whatever it is, is it a sin?” “Will they come back to bite me later?” “Will each crush that I’ve had make me love my future husband less?” “Do I need to go find and marry the first boy that I ever liked?” “Did the crushes I had when I was two count against my emotional purity, or do they only start to count at age 13? Is there a crushing age of accountability?” “I’ve given away my heart so many times – is it too late for me to even care?”
Whoa. Those are some pretty crazy questions. Sounds like emotional purity has confused a lot of people. Thank goodness we have the Botkins to clear this up for us!
We ask the wrong question when we ask, “Is having a crush a sin?” The Bible doesn’t actually say, and the reason is because “emotional purity” is a made-up moral category. And it’s giving a lot of us feelings of (unbiblical) guilt for committing some dreadful nebulous crime that there is no definition for, when the answer would actually be very clear if we phrased the question using biblical terms. There are plenty of real moral categories for real sins – like lust, covetousness, idolatry, fear of man, vain imaginations and presumptuous sins. How much clearer would things be if we would just go ahead and say, “I’ve made an idol out of this young man; is that wrong?” or, “I’m having lustful thoughts for this guy – is that a sin?”
The Bible gives plenty of clear commands, both positive and negative: Guard your hearts. Love the brethren from a pure heart. Think on what is pure and what is true. Don’t covet. Don’t lust. Have self-control. Take every thought captive. Going against any of these clear commands is a sin. This should answer our questions.
Oh. Umm…okay. That cleared up…a lot? Maybe?
As it turns out, yes and no. Interestingly, the Botkins’ first response to the aforementioned bizarre questions about emotional purity is to admit that it doesn’t really exist (“a made-up moral category”) and isn’t in the Bible. Now that’s great news, and if they’d stopped there, we could have dispensed with the silly idea once and for all. However, they keep going and proceed to give us a long list of sins (lust, covetousness, etc.), which will supposedly clarify the issues at hand.
Now this is a definite improvement over vague notions of “emotional purity.” Unfortunately, the Botkins have failed once again to define their terms. Rather than explaining what they mean by, say, “vain imaginations,” they leave their readers to figure it out on their own, or perhaps assume that they already know. This will inevitably lead to the same result as when they failed to define emotional purity: widespread confusion. Thus they haven’t actually answered any of those weird questions, they’ve merely reframed them in different terms. When have we lost our emotional self-control and become too attached to our boyfriend? Does a crush automatically count as “idolizing” a certain boy? If I happen to see a man without his shirt and notice his abs, am I “lusting” after him?
Then there’s the matter of that pesky little phrase, “guard your heart” (derived from Proverbs 4:23). Notice especially its first appearance, where the Botkins claim we can give away pieces of our hearts irresponsibly. This logically implies that our hearts are some kind of finite resource, like gold or a bowl of candy, and explains why it’s so common to hear stories of homeschooled youth fretting about whether they’ll have a “whole heart” left for their spouse when they finally do marry.
Since there’s little I can say about this that hasn’t already been said a thousand times (as it’s been thoroughly debunked over and over again by many voices in the anti-Vision Forum blogosphere), I’ll merely refer you to Kate Schell’s excellent summary in her article, Guard Your Heart, Part II: Emotional purity isn’t real, and leave you with some pertinent quotes from that post:
Christians quote Guard Your Heart like it’s from everyone’s favorite New Testament book, II Relationships Advice, chapter 8, verse 19. Now this phrase is from the Bible, specifically Proverbs 4, but, well, I don’t think it means what you think it means. It’s not about relationships. The passage is written by King Solomon, telling his son to heed his advice and pursue wisdom. Verse 23 reads, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Solid life advice, Sol. …
Combined with the idea of “giving bits of yourself away,” Guarding Your Heart suggests that a woman (or man) is born with a single Love Token, her emotional virginity, which can only be given whole to one person. If you get emotionally involved with guys before marriage, you’re breaking off pieces of that token and scattering them meaninglessly among worthless not-husbands; you can only invest so much in people of the other gender, so make sure you save ALL the feelings, all the trust and support, all the laughter and adventure, for The One. Because otherwise you’ll come to marriage as less than, as used up, as unfaithful, as an emotional whore. …
This narrative of a single Love Token is also a gross misrepresentation of your capacity to love. No Christian would say to a widow, “Sure sucks you gave so many pieces of yourself to your dead husband, now there’s nothing left for a future relationship,” or to someone who left her abusive spouse, “You invested in a relationship that turned out badly, so you have no heart left” or to a parent who had lost their child, “Too bad you have no more love for your other kids.” …
You cannot lose your emotional virginity. Your heart is not a piece of candy slowly licked away every time you get close to someone, even if that someone is of a different gender than you. You can invest in a lot of people, romantically or platonically, and still have a whole heart left.
I’d also like to touch briefly on something the Botkins said in the first paragraph of the first excerpt above: “being faithful to our future husbands in thought and deed.” This would seem to imply that single people can commit “adultery” or “cheat on” their future spouse, not just by sleeping around but by forming romantic attachments to people they don’t go on to marry.
Whether the Botkins realize it or not, this poses an interesting definitional conundrum, on two levels. First, sex prior to marriage is, of course, called fornication and not adultery, and to my knowledge is not characterized anywhere in the Bible as a sin against your future spouse. It is called a sin against your own body in 1 Cor. 6:18, but once again there doesn’t appear to be a third party involved here. Second, the idea that the Biblical legal requirements for adultery have been met by a teenage girl dating a boy she doesn’t ultimately marry, is pretty laughable on its face:
The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)
Let’s explore the elements of this law for a moment. First, since this verse is the first in a very long list of obviously sexual crimes (Leviticus 20:10-21), I think it’s just about impossible that anything but real, live, physical sex is in view here. Attraction or a crush, by itself, isn’t going to cut it. Second, at least one of the parties involved has to be married at the time the crime is committed. If they’re not, then quite simply, the law above cannot apply to the situation as it clearly requires “another man’s wife,” i.e. a married person. As for applying this law to an as-yet future marriage, it’s unclear how this would even be possible. The only way I can see is for the judge to engage in divination – which is inconveniently outlawed in the chapter of Leviticus immediately previous to this one! (And no, Jesus’ expansion of adultery to include lust in the mind won’t save the Botkins’ argument, as it still requires one of the parties to be married. If it did not, the term “adultery” would not have been used.)
In summary, I’d have to say that imposing Leviticus 20:10 on a dating situation (or even one involving fornication) would be like attempting to enforce traffic laws in a supermarket. Shopping carts do have four wheels like a car, but that doesn’t mean they’re subject to all the same rules and regulations as your Honda! That Doug Phillips, a lawyer who openly quotes and admires proto-Reconstructionist Cornelius Van Til, would promote such a basic legal mistake by selling the Botkins’ material, is both amusing and baffling to me.
Of math and materialism
Let’s finally leave the topic of emotional purity and move on to the view of home and family put forth by Elizabeth Botkin in the second half of Strength and Dignity for Daughters. Mostly she only repeated talking points from previous lectures by Doug Phillips, such as the idea that Christian homes must be self-sufficient economic entities:
I had to learn to understand the meaning of the home. The Biblical home is not a mere four-walled structure where we retreat from the world and chill out. The Biblical home’s not a center for entertainment. It’s a center for industry, for evangelism, for education, for political activity, for discipleship and evangelism, and entrepreneurial activity, even.
For more information on this, please refer to my previous critique of Doug Phillips’ A Home School Vision of Victory where I address it at length. Another repeat offender was the idea that a daughter’s entire world should revolve around her family:
I had to learn to love being in my family, instead of waiting for the day I could leave and start my own family. I had to overcome my independence, and start finding my identity as part of the Botkin family unit. I had to learn to consider family projects my priority and my own little agenda as secondary. … To be able to serve her father properly, a girl must learn to serve alongside her family as they support his vision all together. And before she can do that, she must learn to love being in her father’s family.
This is similar to Doug Phillips’ statements on individualism in Sleeping Beauty and the Five Questions, which I already addressed in the first part of my critique of that lecture. In fact, really the only unique thing Elizabeth Botkin gave us in Strength and Dignity for Daughters was this offensive and highly revealing statement:
You can also help your father by letting him know he has a daughter who wants to give and not take, a daughter who isn’t thing-hungry. The goal of most American families is a cushy, prosperous life. That goal’s often not driven by the father but by actually by the demands of the mother and the children. And so some fathers can’t focus on leading their families spiritually because they have to work themselves to death as wage slaves because their wives and children are clamoring for more things, a better car or another car, nicer clothes, a bigger house, a fancier TV, more trips to the movies, you name it.
Wow! Not only are American men mostly unaffected by materialism, but the only reason fathers work long hours is to satisfy their vain, acquisitive wives and whiny, spoiled brats! Who knew? Fortunately, two can play at the stereotype game. So why doesn’t Elizabeth mention the many cliche manifestations of male materialism we see in popular culture (“man caves,” gaming rooms, etc.)? Or, even better, why doesn’t she stop dealing in such wildly broad generalizations in the first place? She cannot prove that this is the situation of “most American families,” let alone that most American women are shopaholic spendthrifts and their husbands poor weary henpecked “wage slaves.” This sounds more like a sitcom than a measured assessment of American society.
As for working long hours, we already learned here that Doug Phillips finds the idea objectionable. Elizabeth, however, takes this to a whole new level of cluelessness. It’s apparently never occurred to her that many American men work long hours because they have to put food on the table and pay their bills. (Many of their wives work long hours, too, but of course Elizabeth would object to that on principle.) In other contexts this is usually referred to as “supporting your family,” something Elizabeth and others at Vision Forum supposedly want men to do. But apparently they must only do it for a certain (unspecified) number of hours a day, or else they’re shirking their responsibilities as fathers. Combine this with Doug Phillips’ statements here, in which he characterizes being fruitful and multiplying as a “life purpose” and singles out money as insufficient reason for Christians to limit their number of offspring, and you have a toxic recipe for financial disaster.
But the flagrant stereotype above was not the only strange thing Elizabeth said. This next one is a bit more subtle, and in fact if you weren’t listening closely you might have missed it entirely. Nonetheless it did fly by, as Elizabeth explained the creation of man and woman:
Men and women, the two counterparts which together make up the image and glory of God…
Well, this is some odd arithmetic. Genesis 1:26-27 seems to indicate that both sexes are made in the complete image of God; the image isn’t bisected and distributed around, only to be completed again when a man and a woman get married. In fact, what Elizabeth has hinted at here reminds me much more of Plato’s version of the “soulmate” concept than anything I ever read in the Bible. It could, however, play into Vision Forum’s idea that marriage is “normative” for most people – we wouldn’t want a bunch of incomplete images of God running around, now would we?
Big fish, little pond
Before we close, I’d like to address a common thread that ran through Anna and Elizabeth’s lectures. Both girls stated repeatedly that their father Geoff was a highly influential man, and told many stories of famous and important people he met with in his travels around America and the world. They also emphasized their role as examples and ambassadors of homeschooling, Christianity, etc., and how their father trained them for that role. Combine this with Anna’s repeated references to princesses and their proper deportment, and the overall impression, at least to this reader, is that the girls have a very well-developed – perhaps overdeveloped – sense of their own importance and visibility, as well as that of their father.
Now I don’t think anyone can deny that Geoff Botkin is influential. But in what circles? The average American has never heard of him, and probably never will unless he becomes embroiled in some kind enormous public scandal ala Warren Jeffs or Ted Haggard. If they were to meet Anna and Elizabeth on the street or in the grocery store, they would not see the daughters of a famous, influential man but merely two girls in long dresses. Depending on the circumstances, they might not even see ambassadors for homeschooling or Christianity.
So no, in the big scheme of things, I don’t think the world is watching Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin. Their small corner of the world is. But their small corner is just that, small; perhaps much, much smaller than the Botkins realize. Meanwhile, the rest of world is watching a huge variety of other things (from where I sit in New England, primarily the Boston Red Sox), and as long as the Botkins and Vision Forum confine themselves to their small corner, they probably don’t have much chance of ever even being a blip on the average person’s radar.
On the one hand I suppose you could call this a blessing, as it means the damage from their weird patriocentric theology will be contained to an overall tiny percentage of the population. But on the other hand, staying locked up in your small, safe bubble doesn’t seem to be what Jesus meant when He issued the Great Commission. What a crying shame that the folks at Vision Forum feel the need to construct such high, impenetrable walls…even between themselves and fellow Christians. There’s a whole world out there waiting for them – if only they’d step out their door.
“The war of this generation, our war, is the war over the Christian family. You are under siege. It’s in the culture, it’s in the music, it’s in the dress, it’s in everything around us, but those things are small potato [sic] to the philosophies that are dominating the church. Those are the adornments to the heart and soul of a spirit of individualism which would take our daughters and say, you’re not part of a family where you’re welcome, you’re an integral part, you’re part of the life mission of your father. You’re just an individual. Yes, we all are individuals, but we’re individuals with purpose, and God has placed us in families, and this is the war that we’re fighting.”