THE BIBLE, THE LAW, AND MARRIAGE

In theory, American law is never determined on the basis of religious values alone. Nevertheless, religious traditions continue to exert a formative influence on social policy-making, especially on matters of sex and marriage.

Consider, for example, how Jewish and Christian traditions bound us to policies and laws that (1) subordinate women to men, (2) impose unreasonable restrictions on divorce, (3) condemn homosexuality, and (4) threaten to reduce sex to procreation.

They do this on the basis of sacred texts, most especially from the first chapters of The Book of Genesis. Do the texts support the views spun from them? I don’t think so.

First, the very first chapter of Genesis presents being male and being female as equally important human representations of God in the created order. In each, God’s likeness is fully manifest.

Second, although the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis’ second chapter is in an important sense about an indissoluble relationship, it is not about a joyful commitment to mutual nurture. It is rather about a lonely man who wakes up from a divinely-induced sleep enamored more with himself than with his God-fashioned companion.

And it is about a woman whose sexual interest in the only man available is something imposed on her, along with the pain of childbirth, by this same God as punishment (3:16) for having led the man astray among the fruit trees. (3:1-7).

Third, the Old Testament’s condemnations of homosexuality are the product of a desperate search for identity in a land which ancient Israelites conquered only with great difficulty. The Canaanites’ homosexual practices gave the Israelites an excuse — a poor one — to assert their differences from them as evidence of a superiority over them, and thereby to put forward what they believed was a rightful claim to the land.

And fourth, although the Eve of this story is given her name by Adam, and with it the designation mother of all human beings, in her created state she is anything but this. She is an inquisitive, self-assertive, and courageous person whose fecundity should in no way be misconstrued as a validation of her sexuality.

Undoubtedly, religious traditions will continue to have significant impact on the institution of marriage in our society. But normative teachings about marriage are more difficult to defend by the primary sources of these traditions than many of their followers readily admit.

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