Sunday, June 05, 2011

Is the Bible sufficient?

I want to thank those who vote me into the top 10 biblioblogs. I heretofore promise that, to the best of my ability, I will attempt to keep the Bible and women, sometimes separately and sometimes together, as the recurring theme of this blog.

Tonight, I want to write about the National Geographic article on child brides. It will make you cry, whoever you are. Here is the part which relates to my view of the Bible,
"If there were any danger in early marriage, Allah would have forbidden it," a Yemeni member of parliament named Mohammed Al-Hamzi told me in the capital city of Sanaa one day. "Something that Allah himself did not forbid, we cannot forbid." Al-Hamzi, a religious conservative, is vigorously opposed to the legislative efforts in Yemen to prohibit marriage for girls below a certain age (17, in a recent version), and so far those efforts have met with failure.

Islam does not permit marital relations before a girl is physically ready, he said, but the Holy Koran contains no specific age restrictions and so these matters are properly the province of family and religious guidance, not national law. Besides, there is the matter of the Prophet Muhammad's beloved Ayesha—nine years old, according to the conventional account, when the marriage was consummated.
Just because something is not in the scriptures, does that mean that it is okay? Is it right and proper to allow girls under 18 to marry? But Jesus did not rail against this, nor Paul either. Isn't it right and proper to grant a divorce to a woman who has been beaten by her husband, even if such an allowance is not in the Bible?

Sure, we here in the west would say that the Koran is not sufficient, but is the Bible sufficient? Perhaps what I mean is, is the Bible explicit enough? I don't think so.

On the other hand, the Bible clearly articulates the ethos that we should love the one next to us as ourselves. We should love our fellow human being as ourselves. We should treat our husband or wife in such a way as to give them the happiness they desire, at the same time respecting our own dignity and integrity. We should care for those who lack food, education and health care, at the same time guarding our own power and ability to be helpful, to provide.

These are the big questions, the ones I am struggling with. The Bible is not sufficient, we need to interpret the Bible through the prism of the command of Christ. Ironically, this command is also found clearly articulated in all the great religions.


Donald Johnson said...

Ex 21:10-11 are verses that can be understood as allowing divorce for abuse. However, they are not often taught and might seem to not apply as they involve polygamy and slavery. But they do apply when understood in cultural context.

When I first read this in the works of David Instone-Brewer I realized that it was a travesty that this was not more widely known.

Kristen said...

Good point, Don. I just finished reading Instone-Brewer's shorter book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church. It was very enlightening!

But with regards to the "sufficiency" of the Bible-- I don't think it is, or was ever meant to be, an exhaustive list of rules for living. I can't speak for the Koran, but I think if we read the Bible that way, we are shortchanging ourselves and limiting God. If the Bible is silent on a topic, we have to decide as best we can what is according to love. I don't find it surprising that all the major religions have picked up on this foundational principle. I suspect that these conservative Muslim leaders are not applying it to young girls because they have not learned to think of girls as being as human as themselves.

Anonymous said...

That last sentence sums up the problem well, Kristen.

Yes, I agree with what's being said here. The big thing in our last church, the measuring stick, was, "Is it biblical?" But we're not Biblians. We're Christians, and the Bible, though important, is not a member of the trinity. Or a big life manual in the sense that we can look all of our questions up in an index and be directed to the page that contains specific instructions regarding our query.

Muff Potter said...

Good comments all. Strict Biblicists insist that it is wrong for the Christian to even consider extra-Biblical sources for guidance.

My guess is that this attitude is not more than a century old. It is highly touted by conservative evangelicals much in the same way that Islamic fundamentalists assure faithful Muslims that the Quran contains all that is necessary for living in submission to Allah.

Erasmus had this to say during the turbulent period of the Reformation:

“…The first place must indeed be given to the authority of the Scriptures; but, nevertheless, I sometimes find some things said or written by the ancients, nay, even by the heathens, nay, by the poets themselves, so chastely, so holily, and so divinely, that I cannot persuade myself but that, when they wrote them, they were divinely inspired, and perhaps the spirit of Christ diffuses itself farther than we imagine; and that there are more saints than we have in our catalogue…”

Kristen said...

Muff Potter wrote:

"Strict Biblicists insist that it is wrong for the Christian to even consider extra-Biblical sources for guidance."

And yet even strict Biblicists appreciate the understanding that people reclined at the table rather than sitting in chairs in Jesus' culture, and that this explains why the text says that John was leaning on Jesus' chest at the last supper. They like to understand that a certain coin equaled a days' wages. They especially like all the extra-biblical historical details that describe exactly what a Roman scourging and crucifixion entailed-- indeed, they love to give sermons that recount this in very close detail.

Strict Biblicists are, in fact, fairly selective when it comes to what kind of extra-biblical sources they will consider, and which ones they won't. And it has a lot to do with whether or not the extra-biblical source supports, or challenges, the view they have already decided to take.

CD-Host said...

Is it right and proper to allow girls under 18 to marry?

I think this is an interesting question. I know I'm ducking your bigger point about scripture, and I agree with your bigger point. But I figure this is worth discussing in and of itself.

In general I kinda like the laws in most states which say that if a girl is pregnant she can marry young. My view of marriage is that marriage can be cancelled out by divorce or annulment, birth, assuming the child is not put up for adoption, creates a lifelong tie between the parents. In our society in 2011, I'd prefer girls of 15,16,17... heck 18,19,20,21 didn't get pregnant. But once they are pregnant and once they've decided to have and keep the child; yes I think they should be allowed and in fact encouraged to marry. "If you are willing to carry his child, you should be willing to wear his ring".

Excluding pregnancy I'd tie marriage to gainful employment. Depending on the society whatever age children become self supporting is a reasonable age to allow for marriage.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

You make a good case, CD. I actually am not aware of the ins and outs of the law in these cases. I do remember having an acquaintance who got pregnant and married at 17. In this case, it has been a successful and long-lasting marriage.

Kristen said...

"If you are willing to carry his child, you should be willing to wear his ring".

And what would you say to a man who was willing to impregnate a girl but not willing to marry her? "If you are willing to father her child, you should be willing to wear her ring"?

I hope so. To say anything else is to assume the child is "his" more than it is "hers."

But I don't believe people should get married just because they couldn't control their glands. Many times that is just a recipe for a disastrous home life in which to bring up a child.

The primary consideration should be what is in the child's best interests. And that means both parents contributing equally to the support and parenting of that child-- even if they don't marry.

CD-Host said...

Kristin -

Wow... this is going to take this blog right out of linguistics and into politics. Suzanne you OK with this?

And what would you say to a man who was willing to impregnate a girl but not willing to marry her? "If you are willing to father her child, you should be willing to wear her ring"?

If you mean have sex with a girl resulting in pregnancy... honestly I don't approve of our current one sided laws that allow the woman complete control of the situation. In the same way I think the woman should have control as whether to give birth or not, and whether to retain custody or put the child up I think the father should enjoy similar rights.

He should have the right to (if she consents) marry the girl and take responsibility. He should have the right to acknowledge his parental responsibility by signing the birth certificate assuming the mother agrees, and finally he should have the right to waive all parental responsibility and privileges. And this waiver would be no obligation for support but the child would automatically be adopted by whatever man the mother did eventually marry, and the biological father would have no automatic rights to visitation.

We've had a generation of trying to pretend that sex not marriage is what ties father's to their children, and its been a complete failure of unenforceable judgements. A father that's not willing to sign the birth certificate, is going to look for every opportunity to avoid making child support payments, and will probably find some that work. And its time to stop trying to design a legal framework to accomplish the impossible of avoiding this. Its hard enough for parents to make the sacrifices required to raise a child whom they acknowledge as their responsibility and difficult enough as a society to try and pick up the pieces when they don't do that.

What a legal framework can do, is force fathers to clarify their status early enough so that mother's have time to make informed choices, and children really know where they stand with respect to their biological father.


Now if by father her child you mean raise her child as your own. Absolutely I think its best if a man who is willing to father a child, marry the mother as well. But there is a natural asymmetry here, he ain't the one who gets to decide if the birth is happening. We can be as non sexists as biology allows, and in the case of childbirth that isn't very much.

The primary consideration should be what is in the child's best interests. And that means both parents contributing equally to the support and parenting of that child-- even if they don't marry.

I don't agree that's necessarily in the child's best interests. I'm not sure it even mostly is in the child's best interests. Lots of people are willing to take on a newborn that's not their own, bond with him and raise him. Those same people are not necessarily willing to have that newborn's biological father a permanent part of their lives.

Or to reverse genders, I have a cousin whose biological mother abandoned him soon after his birth to his father. Given who she was that clean break was his best interests. Because she was out of the picture he was able to bond with a stepmother who raised hm very much like her own son, and he had a happy family life and grew up well. I'm sure he has some pain about his biological mother... but he had a happy childhood and parents who love him to compensate.

Had the opposite happened, had his biological mother stayed in the picture past 2 year, most likely the father would have decided he didn't love his son enough to keep his son's mother in his life and he would have dropped out of the picture. And at best my cousin would have been neglected once he was no longer a meal ticket.

CD-Host said...

Suzanne --

Well most states have gotten more restrictive. Used to be about 14 if you were pregnant in most states about 16 if you weren't. Today, Mississippi requires parental consent up to 21.

Maryland has a long tradition of being less restrictive and still is less restrictive than most states though much more conservative than when I was a kid. So for example today in Maryland:

If you are between 16-18 years of age, one of your parents or guardian must be with you and provide written consent for you to marry.

If you are under 16 years of age, you will need both the written consent of your custodial parent or guardian and the written approval of a judge of the Orphans' Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas.

But if you are pregnant (doctor's note required)
Maryland allows pregnant 16- and 17-year-olds to marry without parental consent. A
pregnant 15-year-old can marry provided a parent agrees to it.

The laws are clearly moving in the direction of 18 or older to marry and getting rid of the pregnancy exemption. I just can't see an argument for allowing a woman under the age of 18 to be a mother but not a wife.

Kristen said...

CD-Host, I don't know what to say to all that. It is the woman who must carry the child, and therefore right from the start she has the responsibility. There really isn't any way to change this biological fact. But the father helped make the baby, so he must, in justice, share responsibility.

I'm not sure what you're saying in some areas: the father already has the "right" to marry her if she consents and the "right" to put his name on the birth certificate if he agrees.

With regards to this:

"finally he should have the right to waive all parental responsibility and privileges" -- this too would have to be something she consented to. He helped make that baby, and the support of the child is his responsibility too. Why should the mother be the only one who has to bear the consequences of something they both did together? Why should she be abandoned and left to raise the child on her own, while he skips off scott-free?

It does seem to me that if she wants to give the baby up for adoption, the father probably should have first rights to adopt, as long as he is fit to parent (not on drugs, for instance). Other areas are muddier and harder to figure out-- but I agree, biological factors make it impossible for complete egalitarianism in these sorts of situations.

With regards to teen marriage, I would say that under the age of 18, parental consent would need to be involved, and probably a person under 18 applying for a marriage license should be afforded the opportunity to speak to a judge in private, to make sure no coercion is going on.

CD-Host said...

Kristin --

But the father helped make the baby, so he must, in justice, share responsibility.

We may likely disagree on this. Your position is the law of the land and AFAIKT broadly supported, but you were asking my opinion and I gave it. The father made the zygote, if he doesn't agree to go further she not both of them made the baby. And even in a world without abortion its marriage that creates an obligation for a man to care for a woman's children> Sex creates obligations like making her breakfast or seeing that she gets home safely, long term obligations require consent.

So yes, she has sex she gets pregnant she carries to the child to term and then doesn't put it up for adoption and does so without consent of the father I think she bears the full financial responsibility. The father bears automatic financial responsibility for children he creates with his wife not any woman he sleeps with. I object to a situation where woman can unilaterally create what amounts to a 2 decade obligation on a man because he was her sex partner.

Again I know that's not the law, but I don't approve of non consensual relationships in either direction. And I don't think the current law is best for children and may not even be best for women.

As for under 18 and coercion with marriage, in general when it used to happen without parents being present it was so that kids could be emancipated early. You still see that quite often, two 16 year olds getting pregnant on purpose so they can married and emancipated. Or 16 year old pregnant girl wants to marry her boyfriend because coming home pregnant she faces the risk of serious domestic violence.

But... I'm not sure what the courts can do regarding coercion. If the person under 18 is being coerced it is probably by their guardian. Guardians have extensive rights regarding minors under their care. The minor will have far more rights to defense against their guardian once they have been emancipated. Getting married and then annulled might be the best legal strategy in such a situation. IANAL, so I'm not sure.

What scenario are you envisioning regarding coercion?

Kristen said...

CD-Host: I am not envisioning any scenarios. I just stated my opinion.

But also in my opinion, the policy you have just stated about fatherhood makes it possible for any man to run on unbridled passion with complete impunity. If you want men to take responsibility for their actions, grow up and become full adults, then that means there needs to be consequences if they have sex and a pregnancy is the result. It's not just her pregnancy; she did not act alone. Too many men act like women exist for their pleasure. They get all the fun and she gets all the consequences.

I feel very strongly about this, so perhaps it would be best to end the conversation now.

G said...

I was looking back at your posts and realize I had overlooked this one earlier. It is a very good question you are asking and not one we need to quickly try to contort the scriptures to make them more pleasing too our present view. Although it is not specifically stated, I don't think Elohim forbid the marriage of young women in the Bible either. I doubt that, Mary, the woman that Elohim was recorded as impregnating was that old either. I would not be shocked if it were revealed she was 17.

I am not sure if I agree with all of David Instone-Brewer's conclusions, but in any case the divorce laws in general in the Bible still were unbalanced in favor of men. What is my answer? Respect the processing of revelation of past, but continue to ask questions putting all in the spirit of the law of love.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Yes, divorce laws especially are complex. From one point of view no fault divorce seems immoral, but from another point of view, moral. It is not easy to resolve some of these issues.

CD-Host said...

I doubt that, Mary, the woman that Elohim was recorded as impregnating was that old either. I would not be shocked if it were revealed she was 17.

Jay, I'm unclear about wether the Galilee was a low birth or a high birth economy in the 1st century. Assuming high birth, if she was betrothed and not married that puts her more in the 12-14 range. 17 is very old not to be married, something would have gone seriously wrong.

Further, and I'm not sure about Galilee but Rome tended to be low birth for the upper classes and high birth as you went down the socio economic ladder except at the bottom. Given that she was a free woman, her parents appear to have owned her house, but not rich.... she seems like in the epicenter of the high birth. Now if Galilee was a low birth economy then she could have been any age.

Cultures that are deeply concerned with female sexual chastity until marriage do not have unmarried 17 year old women running around.