Preposterous Universe

Saturday, July 10, 2004
The Devil can cite scripture for his purpose

Now would be a good time to brush up on our theology and morality, in preparation for the upcoming debate about the Federal Marriage Amendment. The Senate had a preview this week, as they voted 51-46 to confirm J. Leon Holmes to the Eastern District Court in Arkansas. Holmes was controversial for various reasons, including a 1997 article in which he and his wife Susan argued that it was the duty of a good Catholic wife to subordinate herself to her husband. This angered knee-jerk liberals like Edward Kennedy, who referred to the Holmes' view as "extreme." Kennedy was countered by Orrin Hatch, who pointed out that the argument originated in St. Paul, not in the Holmes article, and that "most everyone" in the country would vote for St. Paul over Teddy Kennedy if they were choosing from whom they should take advice about morality.

The relevant Scripture is from Chapter Five of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, verses 22-24:
Wives should be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, since, as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife; and as the Church is subject to Christ, so should wives be to their husbands, in everything.
(From the New Jerusalem Bible, probably the most accurate translation.*) In all fairness, Paul attempts to be evenhanded, when in verse 28 he says
In the same way, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies, for a man to love his wife is for him to love himself.
Although, to be absolutely fair, we should also draw attention to Chapter Six, verses 5-6:
Slaves, be obedient to those who are, according to human reckoning, your masters, with deep respect and sincere loyalty, as you are obedient to Christ: not only when you are under their eye, as if you had only to please human beings, but as slaves of Christ who whole-heartedly do the will of God.
Most religious liberals these days would probably not go along with the ideas that wives should be subservient to their husbands, nor that slaves should be obedient to their masters. One would rather interpret these as anachronistic relics of an earlier time when our understanding of morality was less well-developed. The question is then, how do we distinguish between the anachronisms and the useful guides to behavior? Think of it this way: are there any circumstances under which your moral instincts might be in direct conflict with religious doctrine, where you would accept the Church's teaching even though you would have come to a very different conclusion by yourself? And if not, what good exactly is the teaching as a guide to morality?

Update: I should include a footnote about the New Jerusalem Bible, as found at bible-researcher.com: "The idea that a Bible version such as this, which contains introductions and notes that presuppose the acceptance of skeptical views and modernistic theories concerning the authorship and authenticity of the books, would be suitable for all Christians, is very questionable. After fully admitting its good qualities, we must point out that the Jerusalem Bible is not in fact suitable for Christians who are in need of edification in the faith. The theological commentary and critical speculations included in this version, useful as they may be for advanced studies, are likely to have a bad spiritual effect on most readers. This is a Bible suitable only for students who are well established in the faith and capable of using it with discretion."

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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