In response to Aaron Renn’s recent conversation starter over on the Theopolis blog, I’ve written on the subject of what is missing in many Christian approaches to masculinity. What the manosphere and others of the teachers that Renn identifies recognize is the importance of manliness, of the traits that make a man apt for the […]
An abusive marriage is a major part
of the plot in my second novel, The
I first introduced this problem with a very minor mention in The Long Guest. Wife abuse of some kind (not always the violent physical kind) could occur in a quarter to a half of all relationships, depending on the culture. In The Long Guest I portray a small founding group of not quite 100 people, which means fifteen or twenty families. Given that human nature has not changed throughout the ages, to have a group of this size with no abusive families in it would have been grossly unrealistic.
The Limits of the Options
Abuse within a family is always
very difficult to respond to. This is
true in every age, but in our modern age there are at least a few options that
those who care about the victim can offer.
As a last resort, breaking up the family in order to stop the abuse
might not be ideal, but it’s at least possible.
It is possible for a single mom in our society to survive economically. As for the abuser, it is possible to put him
in jail, or failing that to put hundreds of miles between him and his victims.
There are fewer options available to a community when it’s tiny, isolated out in the wilderness, and consisting basically of one big extended family. In this situation, there is no jail, there is no other place to live and it’s much less possible for a woman, especially if she has young children, to physically survive without a man.
So, how can the community handle
this? A case of abuse is essentially a case of a stubborn, very hard
heart. Rebukes don’t work on such a
heart. Threats or pressure might work
for a while, but ultimately tend to make the abuse worse. In a small, isolated
community with no police force and nowhere else to go, the community has very
few options unless they are willing to kill the abuser. They
are unlikely to be willing to do this, especially if he is related to them by
blood. If they do choose to put him to
death, in the best case they must now support his widow and children. In the worst case, it could tear the community
apart, resulting in anything from more deaths to the complete end of the tribe.
When I included an abusive marriage
purely for realism, I had little idea that I would be handing my community of
characters a truly insoluble puzzle.
The Limits of the Law
These very questions, and others like them, are explored in the video below by the always articulate Alistair Roberts. Roberts is answering a question from a viewer about why consent (in cases of arranged marriage, concubinage, etc.) does not seem to feature as a concept in Old Testament law. How can we square this with the idea that the Law is in any sense good?
Roberts talks about the limits of any law to change the society it governs, and about the extremely limited reach of national-level laws to govern what goes on within a household. He mentions cases like that of Hagar, Abraham and Sarah’s Egyptian slave woman, whom Sarah “gives” to Abraham so that Hagar can have a son who will be considered his heir. The way the founding couple treated Hagar was normal in their society at the time, but was certainly exploitative and was arguably rape. Though Hagar’s case was not covered by the law, it is obvious from the story that God noticed the injustice and avenged it. I never noticed that God avenged what happened to Hagar and her son Ishmael until I heard Roberts point it out in other videos, and then it became blindingly obvious. He recaps that here, as well as giving proof that God took seriously King David’s treatment not only of Uriah, but of Bath-Sheba as well (another case that today would be considered at least sexual harassment and probably rape).
The bottom line is that we do what we can to right wrongs, but our varying circumstances constrain what are able to do. These topics, sadly, are relevant to everyone. If you spend long enough in a community of any kind (church, school, team, family) you will eventually be forced to deal with the question of how to confront abuse. This video isn’t going to to give you all the answers (because they don’t exist), but it could help clarify your thinking. If you have time, give it a listen.
Another excellent resource on this topic is the book Why Does He DO That? by Lundy Bancroft.
On Friday, I posted about Ancient Near East culture and how understanding it can help us understand the context for Exodus and Leviticus. In the comments section of that post, Rachael raised a question about the origin of animal sacrifice, which naturally leads to questions about the origin of “clean” and “unclean” animals.
Serendipitously, the very next day Alistair Roberts posted a video about clean and unclean animals and what exact criteria seem to be used to distinguish them. He also touches on one possible reason the Israelites were forbidden to eat meat with the blood still in it. Don’t miss the discussion near the end about how the way that we eat helps make us human.
A few days later, I discovered another Alistair Roberts video that relates to my ANE post. In it, he discusses the differences between ritual, natural, and civic law. (Some are arbitrary, and others are not; some are universal, others are particular to culture.) It is just as sensible and insightful as we’ve come to expect from Alistair Roberts. There’s a reason I link to him from my blog.
If you have time, check out one or both of these videos.
“[This episode] is often part of the Navajo emergence stories. It usually takes place in the fourth world, the one immediately below the present world. Domestic strife, adultery, and quarreling between the sexes characterize the relationship between men and women throughout the emergence journey. It is finally decided that men and women must separate and get along without one another. The men cross the river, leaving the women on one side while they go to live on the other.
“At first all goes well. The women live by agriculture, the men by hunting. Eventually the women experience crop failure and begin to starve, while the men realize they are all growing older and that their existence is threatened because they cannot reproduce themselves. … In time, each sex realizes that its existence is interdependent with the other and they are happily reunited.
“Hopi and other tribes have similar stories.”
Source: Dictionary of Native American Mythology, ed. Sam D. Gill & Irene F. Sullivan, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp 265 – 266
I love men. I am married to one. I have also given birth to a few of them. But nevertheless, this story makes me laugh because I can relate. Can you relate? Sometimes dealing with the opposite sex is just difficult.
In this video, Alistair Roberts talks about why women and men need each other and also about why when we get together in same-sex groups, our group cultures are very different.