"You musn't grieve over this sin. It's not a great one. God's law is not the same as the law of the land in this matter. Gunnulv, my brother once explained it all to me. If two people agree to stand by each other for all eternity and then lie with each other, they are married before God and cannot break their vows without committing a great sin. I would tell you the word in Latin if I could remember it--I knew it once."
So says Erlend, comforting Kristin for giving up her maidenhood. The first line of defense when one commits a mortal sin, is to find some way to rationalize and downplay the gravity. We have committed to each other for all eternity. Yet Kristin has the sneaking suspicion that Erlend has used this rationalization before with someone else.
I love how Undset nails this argument, which is so typical as a specifically Christian line of defense. Reminds me of the John Donne poem, The Flea: "Where we almost, yea, more than married are." We are in a committed relationship, we're more in love than most married people, heck, we ARE married....Except we're not.
I'd love to point you all in the direction of this blog post at Halfway to Normal and see what you think, particularly about this quote from an ex-Catholic in the comments:
"I don’t see a need for abstinence from premarital sex–-unfortunately, many Christians seem to take the idea that an unmarried union cannot be fully committed. I think this may relate to the fact that they believe the ceremony itself instills the couple with a special “grace” or “blessing” that no unmarried couple can get from God. I highly disagree with that, but then again, I don’t consider myself a Christian anymore. I think if you really think something fundamentally changes about your relationship when you have a Church ceremony, then you’ll be pro-abstinence. If you don’t, you won’t see the difference. But it’s extremely dangerous to think that the ceremony can fix or increase a commitment that’s broken or lacking before marriage. Please think about the message THAT sends to your children. Please think about the potential heartache when they find out it’s not true."---Genevieve Charet
As a parent, I feel like I tread a fine line in helping my kids avoid the painful fallout of sexual sin, while at the same time, preserving them from feelings of oppressive sexual shame--the kind of shame that causes disconnect between body and soul--where the right hand no longer sees what the left hand is doing.