Wednesday, October 08, 2008

So who's at fault?

I was talking last night after Bible study with a couple of women about the phenomenon of woman-hating, and how prevalent it is, so that even women often hate themselves and one another. In the first place, anyone who takes the Bible in any way seriously ought to set our hearts to its teaching in Genesis 3 that woman-hating is the first and fundamental injustice among human beings. For more detail on this, see my "The Bible on Woman." If you think the Bible is nonsense, that's OK. You can get the same teaching by just looking around.

As we were driving home, the topic of slavery in the Bible came up. The Bible tolerates slavery. It then turns around and says that if a slave runs away, you no way return him to his master but let him live among you where he likes, in no way oppressing him (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). That ordinance makes slavery impossible, as southern slave owners understood very well before the Civil War. They knew that they needed the Fugitive Slave Law and the Dred Scott decision to enforce their institution in the whole country, if they were going to have it on their own plantations.

Elsewhere in Moses, we see this same approach to wrongdoing. Moses wrote that you can divorce your wife if you hate her. But it forbids you to hate her, saying, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Torah is always about what is really the issue, not about forbidding certain bad behaviors while looking no further.

In particular, just like slavery, incest and other sexual abuse is a societal act. The women I know who have experienced it have always had it supported by the cops, social workers, teachers, and school counselors who knew about it and punished them for saying anything about it before they would ever act to stop it. In almost every case at least the other parent and other family members are complicit, giving the abuser essential support. Without that societal support, such abominations do not happen.

Now I better understand Jeremiah's complaint: "Your sins have withheld good from you because among my people are found the wicked" (Jeremiah 5:25-26). I used to say to myself, "Why is the complaint against the whole people, instead of just the wicked among them?" Well, the wicked wouldn't be there if we didn't approve. They're the poisonous flower, but the rest of us are the stem and the roots that uphold them. Thus Torah's viewpoint concerning slavery and other evil acts among us.

That makes things simple for me. I don't need for starters to do great things for people. For starters, let me just look around and see how I'm enabling their abusers. Our neutrality is not enough, maybe, but the wretched of the earth will give us a big sigh of thanksgiving if we just stop giving cover to their tormentors.

How about you? How much anguish and torment in your life has come not from those that cruelly oppressed you but from those who silently went along? It's costly, but if we want to be decent human beings, let's resign from that company of the complicit, just as we would like others to do for us.


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