The blog Experimental Theology has an excellent analysis of Christian purity culture as a follow-up to the recent comments about it from Elizabeth Smart. In it, Richard Beck points out that the purity ideal is based on human intuition about food and specifically that once food is ruined it can never be rehabilitated. Intrinsic in the idea of purity is that once you lose it, it never comes back. Beck then points out two additional things:
1. No other sins are framed with the purity metaphor. Instead, other sins are generally framed as performance failures and in that case if you mess up you just try again.
2. Sexual sin, and especially the loss of virginity, is only framed as a matter of purity for women. For men, it’s still filed under the same category of sin as everything else, and an easy route to rehabilitation is implicit in the metaphor. (If you fall, pick yourself back up.)
This is an excellent analysis of exactly what is so toxic about Christian purity culture, but there’s one thing I want to add that Beck doesn’t mention. That is simply this: Christian purity culture is un-Christian. To use a metaphor for sin that suggests hopelessness is to defy the Gospel. The good news is that sin, all sin, can be overcome by Christ’s atonement. To use the purity metaphor–and therefore to say that some sins can’t be cleansed–is to repudiate the heart of Christianity.