Innocence: The Lost Virtue

Innocence is generally misunderstood in our society. We often refer to it in the legal sense of lack of guilt, but it is much, much more than that. It is life unmarred, unblemished, uncorrupted - pure - untainted by sin or the world. It is not ignorance or naïveté, but purity of mind, motive and heart.

Innocence is beautiful.

Yet today, beauty is not equated with innocence at all; instead, beauty has become sensualized and sexualized. Ask a man what he wants in a woman, and he'll probably name (or at least think) a body part. (Just think of some of the words we use to describe women: curvaceous, hot, sexy, steamy, etc.) Women have been reduced from human beings to objects for sexual and physical pleasure. (This is an issue I consider to be much more important to feminism than abortion rights or even, in all honesty, voting or employment rights. Of course, I'm not a woman...)

I am not writing this because I believe this objectification of woman is sinful or immoral (although I do). I am writing this because I find this new image of women tawdry and unappealing - not because it is wrong, but because it is ugly.

I will not pretend that this brazen sexuality is unattractive on a physical level; we are, after all, animals, and we respond to sensual cues - sight, smell, sound, and touch, and taste - as any other animal species would. I am not attempting to deny the importance or beauty that exists in physical appearances. But intellectually - spiritually - I am appalled and saddened by this desire to flaunt, this animal drive unmitigated by modesty or propriety.

(By the way, the blame lies much more on the men who encourage and worship the behavior than on the women.)

And I really don't understand it. I don't understand how people have begun to equate sex with love, because to me, there is something inherently beautiful about chastity, purity, and innocence. I really cannot imagine loving someone who did not possess those traits - not shyness, social awkwardness or introversion, but the desire not to have yourself running (naked) through someone else's head. I am talking about the desire to reserve yourself and your body for someone you love. In today's world this requires maturity, conviction and willpower. It is difficult, and I remember
my old school's motto: "The Beautiful is Difficult." Any other "beauty," to me, seems easy and cheap.

I admit that I (and men in general) can sometimes be more attracted to someone physically if she is wearing revealing clothing or dancing inappropriately. (For me, though, it's usually nothing more than an annoyance or a distraction - especially when someone who has no business revealing anything does.) But I am painfully aware of the primal nature of this attraction; it is nothing more than lust for a visual image, nothing more than anything your dog or cat ever felt.

And can that truly compare to love? For me, it never has, and I hope it never will. A woman can be physically attractive and pretty - but without innocence, she can never be beautiful. "Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman who rejects discretion" (Proverbs 11:22, NET).

The problem is pervasive in literature and in the media. (Consider the fact that Romeo and Juliet hardly knew each other.) We romanticize love at first sight, failing to realize that love is based on so much more than sight. We joke about the fragility of Hollywood relationships, then fall hook, line and sinker for Hollywood love. (Despite the romance and the music, Jack didn't really love Rose.) Consider these lines from Goethe's Faust:

Once a fair vision came to me;
Therein I saw an apple-tree,
Two beauteous apples charmed mine eyes;
I climb'd forthwith to reach the prize.


Apples still fondly ye desire,
From paradise it bath been so.
Feelings of joy my breast inspire
That such too in my garden grow.
In the play, Faust falls passionately in love with a young woman named Gretchen (whom, surprisingly, he has never met). However, the exchange above occurs not with Gretchen, but with a young witch (whom, yet again, he has never met). The tragedy, of course, is that Faust corrupts the innocent Gretchen and ruins her life. (She does, however, have a happy ending.)

Our sexual drive is powerful, and with good reason; we ourselves are the results of numerous past sexual encounters. In fact,
we even tend to overemphasize our sensual urges; a lot of our problems can be attributed to a collective lust for sensual pleasure from food, drugs, television, and sex. But I believe our desire for true beauty and for innocence can be equally or more powerful.

Innocence is children and in nature is idealized; children wouldn't be cute if they weren't innocent. But the point applies to adults, too; I cannot escape the notion that, in submitting to our culture, we are neglecting our souls for our infinitely mortal bodies.

People at my school sometimes ridicule me for this position. Their response is often one of shock and incredulity, as if I were some sort of asexual freak or ascetic. But I think our society does understand the importance of the word "love," although we often misunderstand it. (For starters, love is much more than an emotion.) And I hope that people can come to the point where they can at least understand my view.