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August 07, 2013

There, But for the Grace of God

Richard Cohen offers a beautifully written piece on humility:

I had always known precisely how I would react if she cheated on me. The relationship would end, swiftly, coldly, even sneeringly. My goodbye lines would be scathing, worthy of someone intending to make his living with words. But when she cried, when she begged, when she — let’s be honest here — looked so damned good, I wanted only to remain with this woman. Her betrayal was in the past. A whole future lay ahead. It could be wonderful. It turned out I valued Linda more than I was appalled by her infidelity.

This was a lesson to me. I did not behave as I had expected, and I do not — I cannot — ask anything more from others. I cannot gauge their love and I do not know their needs and I do not know what they value most. In the end, it was not Linda’s folk songs that taught me a lesson or her mushy philosophy or her cloying search for beauty, but her infidelity. I have the wisdom of the uncertain.

Posted by Cassandra at August 7, 2013 05:14 AM

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Comments

Well, yeah, except Abedin is a very public person and her husband's behavior is also very public. I don't think Richard Cohen was urging people to elect Linda to public office, swearing that she'd learned her lesson and cleaned up her act.

I find it interesting that Cohen feels perfectly comfortable referring to Weiner as "quite mad" but is quite uncomfortable with those (largely women, according to him) who find his wife just as crazy. After all, who knows why Weiner did what he did? I'm sure his reasons for doing what he did seemed just as valid to him as Abedin's reasons for cheer-leading for him seem to her.

As for Cohen's list of stick-with-it wives: As far as I know, Eleanor Roosevelt's husband was not speaking publicly about his indiscretions and expecting his wife to say publicly that they weren't a problem. Infidelity is one thing; public humiliation is another. I've always thought that while I might have survived Bill Clinton's serial adultery, I could never have survived his letting me make a public fool of myself claiming the stories about him were all lies from a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

I don't think women would object to Abedin standing by her man if they were private people. I think they hate that Abedin appears to be willing to be repeatedly publicly humiliated for the sake of her husband's career. It makes her look power-hungry and, worse, as if she believes she can only obtain that power through her husband's accomplishments.

Posted by: Elise at August 7, 2013 10:54 AM

I didn't take Cohen to be saying that no one's allowed to comment upon or criticize Abedin - merely that some of the criticism (like the pundits who seem to think she has some kind of duty to be an example to all women, or something similarly idiotic) is off base.

What happens in their marriage is, and ought to be, private. The woman just gave birth to a child. I'd like to think that she's thinking that one day, their child will be reading about this whole sorry episode.

It's bad enough that Weiner is setting an abysmal example for his son. I don't really think we need to demand that Abedin trash him publicly, too.

As for your last observation, Abedin has a career in her own right. I'm not sure I understand her choices (marrying Weiner being the major one), but I really hate the idea that public figures somehow "owe" it to anyone to publicly champion their vision of How A Modern Woman Should Behave.

I know that's not what you're suggesting, but I took that to be Cohen's point.

Posted by: Cass at August 7, 2013 03:16 PM

And FWIW, I cringe too every time I see a woman sticking up for a straying spouse. So I understand the feeling.

It's just that I thought Cohen's take a thoughtful one, and I really hate the whole "Think of the sistah-hood" school of commentary.

Posted by: Cass at August 7, 2013 03:18 PM

and I really hate the whole "Think of the sistah-hood" school of commentary.

This is another example of putting the shoe on the other foot.

If it had been the female politician who had the affair, do you think the outcry would center around the guy setting a bad example for men?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 7, 2013 04:54 PM

If it had been the female politician who had the affair, do you think the outcry would center around the guy setting a bad example for men?

Thanks for noting that. I had a similar thought whilst typing my comment, but decided to leave it unvoiced :p

Or untyped. Or... something.

Posted by: Cass at August 7, 2013 05:02 PM

Well, nobody -- nobody who matters, anyway -- will call out Cohen for forgiving his wife. His prerogative.

My own sense is that I'd forgive my wife, but cut the head off the other man and post it on a stake. It's a family tradition.

Posted by: Grim at August 7, 2013 05:21 PM

I don't know if Linda is Mr. Cohen's wife, or just an old flame. I had the impression this was a youthful fling, but I could be wrong.

I found his piece remarkable because it really is kind of unusual for men to write things like that. I thought it took courage for a man to put himself out there like that. It requires less courage for a woman to do so.

My own sense is that I'd forgive my wife, but cut the head off the other man and post it on a stake.

I suspect you may be funnin' with me, but I've never understood that way of looking at infidelity. When I was younger and dating I was always amazed at the way so many girls would blame 'the other girl' when their boyfriends strayed. The person who violated their trust wasn't the other girl - it was their boyfriend.

I only had this happen to me once, and it was in the 8th grade. I had seen it coming a mile away (even talked to the girl - a friend of mine - about it before I left on vacation). And I placed the lion's share of the blame on my boyfriend. He was the one who had asked me to go steady with him. I had no such arrangement with her.

I don't honestly know if I could forgive my husband for cheating. I'm a forgiving person by nature, but once my trust is lost... wow. How do you ever move past that? Only with enormous grace and strength.

I'd like to think I'd try, but my willingness to do so would depend on the circumstances. A one night stand is one thing. Repeated infidelities (and the lies that go with them)? I doubt it, unless I had married him knowing this was an issue and I would never marry a man I already knew I couldn't trust. What Weiner did? Nope, because (as Elise noted) he acted with reckless disregard for his wife and for the sanctity of their marriage. A person who will do that is not truly committed to the marriage.

Marriage asks a lot of both men and women. In my case, it meant that for more than 20 years I devoted my whole life to supporting his career, raising our children, and putting any of my own hopes and dreams on the back burner. And I'd do it all again, even with the wisdom of hindsight (I might do it *differently*, but I'd still do it!)

But if I gave all that up only to find I couldn't trust the most important person in my life...

That has got to leave scars on the soul.

Posted by: Cass at August 7, 2013 05:41 PM

It's not simple fun.

When we were first thinking of marrying, we talked about it, and I said, "If you should ever love another, and you find in your heart that you really care about him, you'd better stay far away from him. Because if you love him, if you truly love him, I assure you that you don't want him to come into conflict with me."

And I think that's true. She might love another -- life is like that -- but if she does, she'd better keep him from me. Life is like that too.

Posted by: Grim at August 7, 2013 06:53 PM

If your wife were to come to love another, why would you hurt him?

I don't understand this. Her affection is not property. How would hurting someone she cared for make anything better? You can't win affection back by destroying the competition. I think that would only ensure my permanent hatred.

I'm not saying this to be nasty. I genuinely don't understand. A woman's (or a man's) love is not a bone to be fought over.

Posted by: Cass at August 7, 2013 08:07 PM

What is the difference between what you describe and Muslim honor culture, in which women are treated as things to be controlled?

Posted by: Cass at August 7, 2013 08:09 PM

It's different in the sense that I'm not controlling her, nor presuming to do so. If she loves, I might accept that she loves. The Muslims would not do that: they would stone her, not forgive her.

But I have a natural right to compete with competitors.

Posted by: Grim at August 7, 2013 08:14 PM

Women aren't prizes. That way of thinking is completely alien to me and quite frankly, a bit terrifying.

The heart cannot be compelled, nor can genuine love be won as though it were some carnival trinket. Our esteem is worth more than that, or it ought to be.

There is something very disturbing about the notion that if a woman loves someone else, you can make her prefer you by injuring someone she cares for. Love doesn't simply transfer over from one person to another. Eliminating (or intimidating) the competition doesn't magically cause her affection to transfer from him to you.

One competes for love, if that even makes sense at all, by being a better person. But in my experience, love is rarely that rational.

I can't see why "competing" (really, fighting) would have any effect on any of this except to upset and intimidate a woman. Or make her hate you.

Posted by: Cass at August 7, 2013 08:46 PM

The heart cannot be compelled! That's a beautiful sentiment. If she hated me at the end of it, well, I suppose I'd have to understand.

But I don't think she would. It's been a while now, and I think I know the lady. Maybe someday you'll know her too. She's not afraid of me. That's not to say that I'm not fearsome, in my way; it just means that she knows she has nothing to fear from me.

I can't imagine she'd give her heart to another man, especially not after all this time. But if she did, and if I killed him, I'm sure she'd understand.

All I know is the truth of my heart. She's in no danger from me. A man who messes with her, he'll know what he's doing, and he's taking his life in his hands. I'll give him a fair fight, but he's only getting what he himself chose to take on. I can't see anything in the world wrong with that.

Posted by: Grim at August 7, 2013 08:55 PM

I don't really know what to say here, Grim. The only way I can make any sense of what it sounds like you're saying (that a woman's affection can be "competed for" by killing off rivals for her affections, and furthermore that you have a "natural right" to go around murdering anyone who catches your wife's eye) is to wonder whether you're trying to apply something you've read in some ancient text.

I can't see any place for such a philosophy in a world that sees women as human beings who aren't handed out like contest prizes and whose choices shouldn't be coerced by forcibly removing options you don't want her to have.

I even slept on this, because I wanted to be fair.

If your wife were to come to love another and you killed him, that would cause her great pain and suffering. Maybe you see this as "justice" for the crime of caring for someone else, but it's not love in any sense I understand it. Love puts the other person's happiness first.

If my husband fell in love with another woman, I would never seek to harm her. Nor would I even dream that I had any kind of "right" to his affections. I suppose it is possible that there are women out there who enjoy having men fight over them.

When I was young and still dating, there was no situation I hated more than that one. So I can only say that I don't understand and absolutely don't agree that you have any kind of right to kill off rivals for a woman's affections. That's jealousy, not love.

I don't think love can be treated as a possession. I can remember girls saying something like, "She stole him from me", and I always used to think, "But you never owned him (or his affection). That is his to bestow as he chooses, and it can't be 'stolen'."

Posted by: Cass at August 8, 2013 09:26 AM

Your view seems to be the currently popular one; adultery, as you know, is nearly a complete non-issue legally outside of the military now. You are thought to have little if any right to act against a man who interferes with the sanctity of your marriage; and certainly, if you should use violence against him, the law won't support it.

But the old view is not entirely dead. I was listening to the radio the other day and there was a country song featuring a man in prison you were supposed to root for, so the reason he was said to be in jail was that he'd caught another man with his wife. This was a new-ish song, so I assume the author thought his audience would reason that this was an understandable reason to have killed another man.

In fact, I can think of several similar songs, now that I reflect on it. Probably you can too. So the culture is being led to an embrace of adultery and divorce, and away from the idea that marriage is a sacred and permanent bond that should not be trespassed. But it hasn't quite forgotten, not yet.

The issue isn't about anything like property. It's certainly not about punishing the spouse. It's about punishing the bad actor who should have known not to invade someone's marriage, and did anyway.

There's a great deal of harm done when adultery damages a marriage, as I know you agree. I also know you don't like violence, so your position is understandable. But I think that between men, society should support more violence than it does. When a man has seduced your wife it is a clear case, from my perspective, where the duel should be legal. You ought to have the right to demand satisfaction from him for his offense.

Posted by: Grim at August 8, 2013 10:14 AM

The remedy, in my opinion, for adultery is divorce. Not murder.

Accepting that idea isn't the same as saying adultery has no consequences. It does. But it defies common sense to punish the person who committed the lesser offense (the 3rd party) and let your wife off the hook. SHE is the one who violated the marriage vow, if she did more than simply have feelings for the other man.

FWIW, I never thought much of the old songs about the jealous husband killing his rival. And indeed, in a great many of those songs he kills not just his rival, but his wife. In this example, the person who had the greatest duty receives the least punishment.

That, in itself, is fundamentally unjust.

Posted by: Cass at August 8, 2013 10:30 AM

Punishment may be justly forgone in cases of mercy, and one ought to be merciful to one's spouse above all people. Thus, I take it to be proper to forgive the spouse; but one does not have the same bond with the intruder.

Nor am I suggesting murder, but a fair fight. That the law is currently constructed to wrap all this into the same box doesn't mean that this is the only or the right way to think about it. Murder is properly the intentional killing of the innocent. Killing the guilty is not part of that box; we have done wrong to build our laws in such a way as to make the distinction impossible.

You take this kind of killing as murder, and think therefore that murder is worse than divorce. I take it to be killing, in a fair fight, the kind of man who breaks up marriages. From my perspective, divorce is a greater evil than removing a bad man from the world.

One might be merciful toward the intruder too, of course, especially if his reasons were genuine feeling rather than Anthony-Weiner-style lusting. Such might even be praiseworthy (certainly it might be more in accord with Divine law). But one cannot be merciful if one is thought to have no right to be otherwise. You should not be forced to endure, without punishment, predators who destroy everything you hold dear -- and what is more dear than the love of one's spouse, and the sanctity of one's marriage?

Posted by: Grim at August 8, 2013 10:37 AM

One more thing, here.

You framed the original question around your 'natural right' to compete, not around justice.

I reject the idea, because it makes no sense to me that love would be awarded to the person who wins a fight (or that love for someone you killed would somehow magically transfer to you). I can only reiterate that this would have exactly the opposite effect upon me.

When I said that the competition aspect made no sense, we moved to justice. I can't see how, when two people both commit a punishable offense, it is in any sense "just" to punish the one who committed the lesser offense harshly while "forgiving" the one who committed the greatest offense.

So I don't think the justice framing works if you're only interested in partial justice. Neither of these rationales holds up for me.

Posted by: Cass at August 8, 2013 10:44 AM

I suggesting murder, but a fair fight.

What if the other person doesn't want to fight?

You talk of removing a bad man from the world. If he's a bad man for committing adultery, your wife would be an even WORSE woman. By your logic, she should be killed and removed from the world.

Posted by: Cass at August 8, 2013 10:46 AM

You should not be forced to endure, without punishment, predators who destroy everything you hold dear -- and what is more dear than the love of one's spouse, and the sanctity of one's marriage?

Women are not prey, Grim. And men are not predators. Grant us a little agency and moral responsibility. Or at least some respect as human beings who know right from wrong.

Posted by: Cass at August 8, 2013 10:48 AM

If I wrong my husband, his quarrel is with me, not with a stranger. If he chose to obsess on the stranger while pretending he had no beef with me, I'd know we were finished -- assuming I thought there was still some chance for us after I'd cheated on him.

About Weiner: I can imagine forgiving a husband for straying, perhaps, but not for being an unutterably creepy public schmuck like Weiner. If his humiliating sexts weren't enough to convince me, his extraordinary recent press conferences would be ("But I warned you I'd probably get caught again!"). There's clearly no one home in there. I wouldn't give him the password to my bank account, let alone let him live with my children, or even my pets. And a responsible elected position is right out.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 8, 2013 11:10 AM

You and I may simply disagree too fundamentally here to come to an understanding, but I'll try again to at least be clear about what I'm intending to say.

You know I believe in natural law, by which I mean not that we should be allowed to do whatever is natural to us, but that the law should be based on refining and perfecting what is natural in us.

When I say, therefore, that there is a natural right to compete, and then go on to talk about law and justice, I'm not intending to 'move on' from one rationale to another. I'm intending to point to the natural thing that underlies what the law and justice should say.

Your framing of this issue doesn't make sense to me, because it is not a perfection of the natural but a rejection of it. The response you suggest to a man choosing to compete with me for my wife is to let him have her by divorcing her and leaving her to him.

That doesn't make sense to me, because in order to do that you have to abandon (not perfect) something basic to nature. The duel is a perfection of this natural drive, because it formalizes and limits the harm done -- you don't get people shooting up workplaces, you get two men dealing with each other in a fair fight where the harm that will be done is limited to those two.

However, because the law endorses the duel, it can serve as a counterweight to bad behavior. A man who thinks that the worst thing that will happen to him if he seduces a wife is that she might become divorced (and available) is not in any way constrained except by his conscience. A man who has to face the possibility that the law will endorse the husband challenging him must think on different terms.

Likewise marriage is meant to be an institution of law and justice that orders and perfects something natural about us. That natural need is the sexual one, which is perfected in marriage because it provides the stability needed to carry sexuality through to its true fulfillment (which is not just children, but a stable family in which the children can be educated, and which can serve as a source of wealth that will give them a springboard). That was the reason we had marriages at all.

If we come to respond to adultery with simple divorce, then the marriage bond is worth no more than being single. You may as well simply have children with someone without marrying them. The marriage bond offers nothing stronger than what you would get by being unmarried; you will simply break it up when you or your spouse gets tired of it.

Posted by: Grim at August 8, 2013 11:13 AM

Well, let me take a shot at this. I somewhat empathise with Grim on the emotion, though can not condone the action.

1) Property is not the perspective we take on the relationship (it's not wrong, just not ours)

2) The Marriage is a thing unto itself (not owned by either party).

3) Marriages should be respected, both by those inside them and outside them.

4) As such, both the spouse and the stranger have committed an offense by violating the sanctity of marriage.

5) Those we know and have longstanding relationships are easier to forgive than strangers.

While it is true that the stranger has made no committment to me, the guy who cut me off in traffic this morning didn't either. He still pisses me off, even though I didn't "own" that section of road.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 8, 2013 11:33 AM

I think it's stronger than it's easier to forgive your spouse. There's a kind of duty created by the marriage -- well, several of them, one of which she (in this case) has violated.

Tex and Cass seem to be reading what I'm saying as a kind of insult to the woman, because she's not being punished but forgiven. But I don't mean to imply that there isn't a very serious issue between you and your spouse created by adultery. I mean that the marital duty is to try to work through it, and that forgiveness (at least if it is a first offense, and especially if remorse is genuine) is properly extended to the spouse before others. If you're supposed to love your neighbor as yourself, you're supposed to love your spouse as if you were one flesh. Working through it will doubtless be hard, but forgiveness and healing is the thing to strive for -- not divorce.

You might forgive the other man, too, I said; it might even be right and praiseworthy to do it, if he was motivated by deep sentiment and not simple lust. But he's not a stranger. If you and your wife are indeed one flesh, she has created a real bond between you and the other man. That has to be dealt with one way or the other, and I think the duel is one way that is valid.

Because we don't permit this natural drive to be exercised in a perfected way, we get it in its very imperfect form -- murder-suicides, shootings in the workplace that endanger others, and many other similar things. Not every part of human nature is nice, but the law ought to perfect the nature we have -- not deny it. Denial leads to worse consequences.

Posted by: Grim at August 8, 2013 12:05 PM

The response you suggest to a man choosing to compete with me for my wife is to let him have her by divorcing her and leaving her to him.

That's hardly the only option. You could certainly demand that she change her ways and decide to forgive her, but I don't really think your subjective feelings of betrayal or offense or whatever are sufficient grounds for killing another human being.

I don't see duels as being much of a deterrent, frankly. People aren't rational where sex is concerned.

If we come to respond to adultery with simple divorce, then the marriage bond is worth no more than being single. You may as well simply have children with someone without marrying them. The marriage bond offers nothing stronger than what you would get by being unmarried; you will simply break it up when you or your spouse gets tired of it.

I don't agree. Being married is nothing like being single and divorcing is nothing like breaking up with a boy- or girlfriend. Divorce has real negative consequences. It's expensive, painful, and unpleasant.

To Yu-Ain's point, I'm not saying you shouldn't be pissed off. I'd be pissed off at a woman who was involved with my husband, too. I just don't think my feelings are a good enough reason to kill her. Grim's "solution" ignores that innocent 3rd parties (the other man could well have children of his own, a wife, parents, siblings) are harmed when they did nothing wrong.

His proposed solution makes an already existing situation worse.

Posted by: Cass at August 8, 2013 12:07 PM

And Tex, I agree with you 100%.

Posted by: Cass at August 8, 2013 12:08 PM

To Yu-Ain's point, I'm not saying you shouldn't be pissed off. I'd be pissed off at a woman who was involved with my husband, too.

Which seems to lead to a question for Grim: If a husband cheats on his wife, is the wife's proper response to meet the other woman in a fair fight?

Posted by: Elise at August 8, 2013 12:14 PM

I just don't think my feelings are a good enough reason to kill her.

While I would agree that lethal retribution is too far, I do agree there ought to be some cost to the outsider as well. I really don't know what form that should take, though.

Grim's "solution" ignores that innocent 3rd parties (the other man could well have children of his own, a wife, parents, siblings) are harmed when they did nothing wrong.

This is always true, though. The thief who stole your TV could well have children of his own, a wife, parents, siblings who are harmed by his jail time when they did nothing wrong.

Perhaps the thief should have kept that in mind.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 8, 2013 12:16 PM

Death is a lot more serious consequence than jail, though.

Some costs to the outsider might be public shame/disapproval, damage to his marriage if he's married, shunning by people who think adultery is wrong, loss of the relationship with his fling, etc.

Marriage is more like a contract than property ownership, and the outsider is not a party to that contract. I could see something analogous to the civil offense (tort) of intentional interference with a contractual relationship though.

Posted by: Cass at August 8, 2013 12:29 PM

If I wrong my husband, his quarrel is with me, not with a stranger.

I would agree that there is a quarrel with you. Just not only you. Cass mentioned the harm to innocent 3rd parties. What of the harm to the innocent spouse and children caused by the affair? The outsider knows that they will be harmed by the affair and yet harms them anyway. That isn't ignorable. The outsider has "agency", too.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 8, 2013 12:30 PM

Which seems to lead to a question for Grim: If a husband cheats on his wife, is the wife's proper response to meet the other woman in a fair fight?

Heh :)

I was going to ask that, so I'm glad you did!

Posted by: Cass at August 8, 2013 12:30 PM

Elise:

I don't know. I'm rooting my opinion here on two things: the natural fact about men, which needs to be perfected by law in order for the law to be just; and the marital bond, which joins man and wife as one flesh.

Now the second part of that is the same for both. So if there is a difference, it would have to be rooted in a difference between the nature of men and the nature of women. It is not clear to me whether there is a difference here or not. On the one hand, I know women who absolutely would want to do just that; on the other hand, women on average have a different relationship to violence than men.

I could be persuaded either way. Traditionally the duel was open to women, though few elected to fight them. That might be the right solution here too.

Posted by: Grim at August 8, 2013 12:31 PM

The outsider knows that they will be harmed by the affair and yet harms them anyway. That isn't ignorable. The outsider has "agency", too.

Sure. That's why we used to have adultery laws, but there is no public support for them nowadays. And frankly I would think small govt. conservatives wouldn't favor such laws. I can think of all sorts of damaging behavior that conservatives insist is private and between the parties.

So why is this different? What about a guy (like Weiner) whose obsessive sexual online antics damage the marriage? If we're willing to criminalize adultery, I don't see why we wouldn't criminalize watching porn to the extent that you refuse to have sex with your own wife because it's not 'exciting enough', or that you develop porn-related ED (which has skyrocketed recently).

Heck, maybe we should sue the industry too!

There are tons of ways to destroy a marriage. Adultery is just one of them.

Posted by: Cass at August 8, 2013 12:36 PM

Well, I'm not saying there should be laws against it. (I'm not saying there shouldn't either. I am undecided on that point.)

I'm just saying that the quarrel is not rightly limited to only those inside the marriage. The agrieved spouse does have a legitimate beef with the outsider.

To what I think was Tex's point, is that it is not rightly limited to only those outside it as well.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 8, 2013 01:04 PM

"...hindsight."

I've heard of eyes in the back of your head, but there, too?
0>:~}

Posted by: DL Sly at August 8, 2013 01:25 PM

Back to the topic of knowing (or not) and/or understanding (or not) why someone chooses to stay (or not):

A woman I know is going through this right now. She discovered her husband had and off and on affair for around a decade. It started shortly after the birth of their youngest and only ended after he was diagnosed with an aggressive and degenerative neurological disease (and when the other woman, who was also married btw, wanted nothing further to do with him. Yep he picked a real gem, didn't he?).

Her husband is completely occupationally disabled and so only has insurance through her. The retail cost of his drugs are tens of thousands of dollars per year.

I don't think a soul could blame her for leaving. But she hasn't.

She hasn't told me her reasons, now would I ask, for they are hers alone.

But I do imagine that it would be hard for her to look her children in the eyes and tell them that she is willing to do something that would, essentially, send him to an early grave.

He ought to be grovelling at her feet the rest of his days, but I don't think he will.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 8, 2013 03:59 PM

...nor would I ask...

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 8, 2013 04:00 PM

"I would agree that there is a quarrel with you. Just not only you."

Absolutely, and I wouldn't expect my husband to have warm, fuzzy feelings about the man I was having an affair with. It's just that, if he made it clear he wasn't going to engage with me for my betrayal, but instead was going to concentrate exclusively on killing my paramour, I'd know he saw me as a possession rather than as a person with whom he had an intimate, adult relationship. The least whiff of that and, well, we'd never have been together in the first place.

It's not about whether he's angry at the stranger, too. It's about whether he can face up to what's wrong between us (and there would be plenty wrong!), or insists on distracting himself with a dominance game with a stranger who intruded on his territory. It's actually a whole lot like avoiding a conflict with the wife who's sitting in the car with you while obsessing on the guy in the next lane who just dissed you. It's likely to make your wife say, "If that guy is the human being who's the most important to you in these circumstances, why don't you two move in together, and I'll leave."

I actually feel much the same way about the unfaithful wife's decision to drag a stranger into the relationship. Presumably she had problems with her husband, but rather than confront them she dragged in a third party to play out the conflict through. It's emotional cowardice, and it's death to relationships.

Posted by: Texan99 at August 8, 2013 07:44 PM

(a+b)(c+d)(e+f)


Love is the condition where someone else's happiness is a prerequisite to your own. (RAH)


So many possibilities.


If I'm c and Spice is d, and her happiness gets wrapped up in a fling with e ... how can I both love her and object to her fling? Harming f won't make her happy!


(a+b) are couples we've known for decades, our closest friends. I don't want to have flings with the b's (and they don't want to have flings with me), but they and I can understand that in some circumstances it might happen and we take great care that it doesn't. (I suspect that real truth is that we all want those flings -- b&c and a&d -- and don't want the consequences; we talk, instead, defusing or at least damping the desires. In some ways our culture's demand of perfect monogamy may produce more stress than one that allowed for lapses in monogamy.)


I don't see that duals or killings are ever appropriate responses. They make make the winner or killer feel better, but the consequences after that will be a net loss.

Posted by: htom at August 10, 2013 07:16 PM

In some ways our culture's demand of perfect monogamy may produce more stress than one that allowed for lapses in monogamy.

I'm always somewhat amazed when I hear someone make that argument.

How many news articles do we see every day about "the culture" shunning someone for being unfaithful to their spouse? How many do we see about some guy murdering his wife for wanting to leave him (or for having fallen for someone else)? And how many women, finding that the man who promised to forsake all others and keep himself only to her has been spending the time and money and affection that were supposed to go towards building a family on someone else, react with a bored, "Ho hum...".

In my experience, it isn't culture that demands monogamy - it's husbands and wives who were promised one thing and then lied to and cheated upon.

I get wanting to cheat. There's no human being out there (or few) who have been married any length of time who haven't entertained the notion. What I don't understand is callous indifference to the heartbreak and devastation I've seen on the faces of people who have been cheated upon.

I can't honestly say that worrying about what the culture thought of me has ever made one iota of difference to my willingness to keep my marriage vows.

The thought of wounding the one person I swore to love until death? That's another thing entirely.

Posted by: Cass at August 12, 2013 08:09 AM

I probably shouldn't have said "culture". There's a mish-mash of perfectionisms from law, religion, family, ... that create what can appear to be an unmeetable standard. Probably from misunderstandings of Mathew 5:27-28, where ... who lusts for a woman has committed adultery in his heart with her [gender bias in the original] ... which in some eyes makes admiration or desire with no intent to act on those the same as actual adultery. I'm sufficiently "un-churched" that I think He made women to tempt me, and made me to rise above that temptation (and vice-versa.) Blinding myself to their charms is not what He had in mind, but the self-control to keep to my promises in spite of those charms. A lapse may be forgivable, multiple lapses (Tiger Woods comes immediately to mind for some reason) probably not.


Attacking your spouse, or the person your spouse fell for, or their partner, still seems wrong. Dissolving the marriage seems a better choice.

Posted by: htom at August 12, 2013 08:24 PM

One thing I haven't seen mentioned in this discussion is those instances of infidelity where the unfaithful person hides the fact of their existing marriage from the person with which they are having an affair. Would that truly innocent person (who has no idea they are involved with someone else's spouse) be deserving on punishment for the "wrong" they have supposedly done to the cheated-upon spouse, especially of the extreme type advocated by Grim?

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at August 12, 2013 09:37 PM

That's an excellent point, MLB.

This is the problem I've always had with Grim's argument about home grown, vigilante justice. In his vision, people would never act hastily or on bad information. They would never act from malice or stupidity.

There's no such thing as perfect knowledge, and once you've executed a "rapist" on the spot, there are no do-overs. That's why we have trials - to get the emotion out of it and hopefully establish the facts before punishment is handed out.

Robert Heinlein had a great quote about assumptions:

"Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How's that again? I missed something."

"Autocracy is based on the assumption that one man is wiser than a million men. Let's play that over again, too. Who decides?"

Both assumptions are flawed, but one is less flawed than the other.

Posted by: Cass at August 13, 2013 07:57 AM

Probably from misunderstandings of Mathew 5:27-28, where ... who lusts for a woman has committed adultery in his heart with her [gender bias in the original] ... which in some eyes makes admiration or desire with no intent to act on those the same as actual adultery.

I've always interpreted "lusts for" in that passage, not as simple attraction (as you correctly note, no one is immune from that), but as dwelling on the attraction. I don't see simply noticing an attractive man or woman as "lusting for" them. Repeatedly thinking about someone other than your spouse, or allowing yourself to dwell on the attraction or fantasize about acting upon it is what leads one into sin.

That's not at all an unmeetable standard - it may be difficult (it *is* difficult) but I've never seen a church demand that people never, ever sin. Just that they realize that it's they're supposed to turn away from it and when they fail, to repent and try again.

Posted by: Cass at August 13, 2013 08:03 AM

Well, to be fair to Grim, a duel isn't an immediate blood lust affair. They usually happened at least a day after the challenge. Secondly, the challenged party does have the option to apologize, at which point there would be no duel.

This, I believe would be Grim's "out" in the case of the other person being unaware of the marriage. A simple apology and everyone goes on their way.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 13, 2013 09:06 AM

I should also mention, that because of the challenged party's option to apologize, the duel only really happens if the challenged party is willing to kill the spouse over the affair.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 13, 2013 09:13 AM

Again, that assumes the best case scenario: someone who is willing to accept the word of the other party.

This isn't the only time he has argued for what I consider vigilante justice. He has suggested several times that people be hanged people for various crimes. Rape is one.

In theory, that sounds workable but in practice it is rarely the case that all the facts are known with certainty. And the problem with making it legal for individuals to take the law into their own hands is that no one is monitoring them. The police have training and standards and limits and (being human) there are still abuses.

To think that somehow - magically - we can give the same powers to individuals with none of those safeguards in place and only the Good People will avail themselves of them seems overly optimistic at best. Lots of crimes have no witnesses.

So Noble Citizen A summarily executes Evil/Bad Citizen B for the crime of violent rape. He claims he saw B running away and the victim says B did it. And we have laws to punish that sort of thing, but for some reason we can't wait for all this wonderful evidence to be presented to a jury of B's peers because... well, I'm not really sure why.

If A is on the scene and shoots B to defend the victim, that's already legal. I don't think it's a good idea to let A hunt B down and kill him. What's the hurry?

We can't just consider the cases where there's perfect knowledge and noble intent. We also have to consider the vast majority of cases where things are decidedly less clear cut.

Posted by: Cass at August 13, 2013 09:16 AM

Well, I've lready said I disagree with Grim's proposed solution of a duel for infidelity. And for many of the reasons you lay out.

I think there are enough holes in his actual proposal.

Grim's proposal of duels does not necessarily create a death sentence for the unwitting 3rd party.

*That* isn't the problem. The problem is that this safety valve only really works among the "Gentry" and not gangland. There really are those who would kill a spouse for sex.

Duels only work among the honorable, but the honorable would have no need of it.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 13, 2013 10:37 AM

I believe we are too far apart on our basic assumptions to come to agreement here, as I said before. I appreciate YAG's attempts to defend my position in theory, at least.

One assumption we are at variance on is that divorce is a possible acceptable alternative solution. I think that's completely wrong, just as I think that dueling is in fact acceptable.

I've given you the natural law reading of why above, so I won't repeat it here. But there are two ways of understanding the moral law, natural law and divine revelation. In America we can't formally rely on the latter for legal codes, but we can talk about it in terms of discussing the morality behind the actions. Since you've embarked on that already, I will lay out why I think divorce cannot be the solution according to divine revelation.

Jesus clearly regards divorces of this type as formalized and continuing adultery. The Bible says 'what God has joined together, let no man put asunder,' yet we are letting any man do so provided he can obtain the agreement of the woman. We are expecting the husband -- indeed, requiring him -- not to fight putting it asunder, but to join in and endorse this direct violation of the moral law. Jesus goes on to say that if the man who committed adultery should remarry the woman, the both of them are adulterers in a permanent and continuing way.

Furthermore, Jesus says that divorce was only ever permitted because of 'hardness of heart,' and his charge is that the adultress should 'sin no more,' meaning that she should return to her marriage, not leave it. (In passing I will mention that I disagree with Cass' interpretation of this passage, but I think we've discussed it elsewhere at length. I take the point to be that the standard is so high that no one is fit to throw the stone.) Neither should the husband cast her out if he acts best, though he is permitted to do so if his heart is too hard to do otherwise.

So this idea of divorce as solution is a direct violation of the natural law, and also what we believe we know of the divine moral law. Now sometimes those two come into conflict, which is interesting if God is the author of the natural world; but we often say this is a fallen world, so where we think we've learned about a conflict, we might choose to prefer the divine law if we believe in it. Or we might follow the natural law.

What we shouldn't do is what we actually do, which is to enact laws like the divorce laws we have that violate both. These are said to be humane, though, because they suppress violence (which is painful) and allow people to pursue love affairs without punishment even if it breaks up others' marriages (which love affairs, at least, are pleasurable).

Now Utilitarianism says that all morality comes down to increasing pleasure and avoiding pain. But Utilitarianism is only the newest word for a more ancient philosophy, Hedonism. It has severe practical problems as a mode of ethics -- chief among them that you can't set the rightness of an action based on the pleasure/pain that will be consequent, because it is impossible to know the final consequences of any action. But it is also directly out of order with both the natural law and, for those who believe, divine revelation.

Posted by: Grim at August 13, 2013 11:45 AM

Two points:

1. In a diverse, secular society, what Jesus would want can't be the basis of law.

2. I am thinking that Jesus wouldn't sanction challenging the other man/woman to a duel (or killing him or her, either). I can't think of a single Biblical teaching that makes me think that sort of thing is OK with God, but I'm happy to be corrected on that point :p

I was actually going to bring this up earlier, but didn't want to be unduly argumentative.

Posted by: Cass at August 13, 2013 01:48 PM

We are expecting the husband -- indeed, requiring him -- not to fight putting it asunder, but to join in and endorse this direct violation of the moral law.

I don't understand where this is coming from, Grim.

No one is requiring him to divorce his wife. Having an option is in no way the same as being required to use it. No one is saying "You must divorce her" - only, "You can't kill anyone who catches her eye".

Posted by: Cass at August 13, 2013 03:29 PM

Even then, giving the offending spouse the option would make the innocent spouse the "victim" of divorce, not a participant. Nothing about being divorced requires consent nor endorsement.

Lastly, there is a difference between a civil divorce and a religious one. Catholics know this well. A civil divorce ends the secular relationship, but does not end the religious marriage. It's why Catholics must seek an annullment of the first marriage to be remarried in the Church.

In this way the innocent spouse must remain single (but in the case of an unrepentant spouse this is a given), but cannot be said to be endorsing, joining in, or be otherwise complicit in the other's sin.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 13, 2013 03:58 PM

"You can't kill anyone who catches her eye".

I wouldn't describe a duel as "killing anyone who catches her eye". A duel requires both parties to be willing participants in mutual combat. It isn't tracking someone down and shooting them in their sleep.

The other guy can elect to simply not show up. If that happens the challenger "wins" the duel and it's over. There is no tracking the bastard down and dragging him to abandoned warehouse to fight. He is simply branded a coward in polite society.

Which, being a low-down-dirty-scum-sucking-bastard, probably hurts his poor wittle ego immensely. Which he promptly salves by ****ing your wife again.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 13, 2013 04:10 PM

OK, this has got to be a guy thing b/c I cannot for the life of me see what is settled by a duel.

The person who wins a fight is not always the one in the right. Often it's the one who is the most willing to cheat, or simply the stronger or more ruthless or aggressive. Or angry.

So the fight settles exactly nothing about the marriage. It's not really a "contest" or "competition" for the wife's affection b/c she's a human being, not a thing whose regard can be shifted by simply killing or discouraging anyone she takes a liking to.

Maybe Grim's point is that she shouldn't have the choice at all between him and another man. That's an interesting point b/c she did promise to remain faithful and could be said to have forfeited her right to choose. If so, killing him certainly removes that choice. But I think he stated earlier that he wasn't interested in coercing her decisions, so that makes no sense. Nor does it fit with what I know of him, or think I know. That said, telling a woman, "If you ever develop feelings for someone else you'd better stay away from him b/c you don't want him to come into conflict with me" is a threat, pure and simple.

And love doesn't generally grow from threats. It's hard to see how threatening a person would make them love you or be more committed to the marriage (except out of fear, which is a poor foundation for a lifelong partnership).

What is the purpose of this fight? What does it settle?

Posted by: Cass at August 13, 2013 04:35 PM

The duels purpose, I think, was much like the Sword of Damacles. It's power was that it hung, not that it fell.

Within "Polite Society" (read, not the peasants) your honorable standing greatly affected your ability to amass wealth as being known as dishonorable (or being from a dishonorable family) precluded you from business dealings. "Honor" then, was about more than ego. It kept your children fed.

Duels were often more about being willing to risk your life for your reputation than for killing the other person for damaging it. And, being willing to risk your own in order to damage someone else's.

The problem it solved was being put in the poor house for being seen as less than upstanding and of untrustworthy character.

We don't have that problem now. Being called a "coward" in "polite society" has exactly 0 penalty, and so the "bad guy" will let you do it and continue doing what he had been doing. Absolutely nothing is solved.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 13, 2013 05:35 PM

You see fighting as a deterrent?

I'm pretty sure infidelity was a big problem even back when duels and such were legal. The kind of person who messes around with other people's wives is already a risk taker - for many, the prospect of a duel might even be an enticement.

Either way, I don't see how fighting "perfects" the sanctity of marriage? It all sounds more to me like an elaborate justification for the natural and completely understandable urge to thump someone who has made you angry :p

Posted by: Cass at August 13, 2013 05:55 PM

I should also say, there were 4 outcomes possible with a duel was proposed.

1) Publicly apologize and admit mistake: Both parties retained their honor and the matter was considered settled.
2) Refuse: The challenger retains honor and the challenged is accounted a "coward" in polite society and the matter was considered settled
3) Accept: Each party chose arms, seconds and location.
3a) The seconds acted as arbiters and worked to reach an agreeable settlement of the dispute (apologies or other restitution). If this was settled, then each party retained honor and the matter was considered settled.
3b) If the seconds could not reach a settlement, only then did the fight occur. The vast majority were not explicitly fights to the death. Many were to "first blood", though most were "until you can't fight anymore" which did often did lead to death.

The Marquess of Queensberry rules for boxing started as the rules for unarmed duels which would serve the purpose of taking the physical risks needed without being deadly.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 13, 2013 06:16 PM

You see fighting as a deterrent?

Yes and No.

I don't know about you, but I'm not a big fan of pain. :-) There are many things I don't do because they might hurt.

So Yes.

Refraining from adultery isn't one of them, though.

So No.

But my point was really only in describing the purpose as seen by its supporters. Not in defending whether it was actually successful in that purpose.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 13, 2013 06:22 PM

Cass,

You raise two points.

1. In a diverse, secular society, what Jesus would want can't be the basis of law.

I said exactly that, didn't I? "In America we can't formally rely on the latter for legal codes, but we can talk about it in terms of discussing the morality behind the actions. Since you've embarked on that already, I will lay out why I think divorce cannot be the solution according to divine revelation."

2) I am thinking that Jesus wouldn't sanction challenging the other man/woman to a duel (or killing him or her, either). I can't think of a single Biblical teaching that makes me think that sort of thing is OK with God, but I'm happy to be corrected on that point :p

The actual Biblical standard is execution (Leviticus 20:10), apparently by strangulation in the old days; stoning in Jesus' time. I suspect you might prefer this to dueling, as you prefer the state to execute violence to having individuals do it; but surely the killing is not problematic. If you read back to 20:8, you find that this is supposed to be God himself issuing the command: "Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy."

So assuming that Jesus means it when he says he has come not to destroy but to fulfill prophecy, there must be some way in which killing the adulterous couple remains lawful (since it was commanded by God according to the prophets). But Jesus himself raises a higher moral standard in his remarks on the adulterous woman.

This is where I think we see a conflict between not only the natural law and the law of revelation, but even within the law of revelation. I think it is often the case that the Old Testament is closer to the natural law, and Jesus' teachings point to a better law more proper to the otherworld, or to the kingdom to come. He is trying to prepare you to be a subject of that law, and not the law of the fallen world.

So I said it could be possible to forgive, and even that it might sometimes be best to do so. But you cannot be merciful if you have no power to do otherwise.

Now I will raise one more point, but only one.

I mentioned the verse about being 'one flesh,' (Gen. 2:24), but not the early Christian understanding about giving authority. (1 Corinthians 7:4). "The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife."

If you take these two verses together, it shows that the act of adultery is an act done to both the husband and the wife, as they are 'one flesh.' But the adulterous party did not have authority to consent to the sex, because it was done with their own body -- if you take 1 Cor. as legitimate, at least. Since it is from the letters of Paul, it lacks some of the authority of the older books. But there is surely a good point here about the need for mutual consent among the married couple.

In other words, I can almost see htom's point -- I couldn't accept it myself, but I can see where he might -- that a man who really loves his wife might let her take a lover if that was what it took to make her happy. But to do it without the consent of your partner is to involve them sexually without their consent, i.e., it is a sort of rape. You can see the force of this especially when you consider the possibility of sexually transmitted disease being brought into their married union without their knowledge.

Jesus seems to say that we shouldn't kill the adulteress, nor even divorce her if we would do what is best -- fit for the kingdom to come, as I read it -- and not merely what is permitted in this world where we must often harden our hearts. We might likewise choose to forgive the adulterer, and there are occasions when that might be best. But his death is lawful, well-rooted, and indeed directly commanded by God in the old law.

Posted by: Grim at August 13, 2013 07:09 PM

The problem with that is that the old law doesn't apply to gentiles. I don't have the reference handy, but it was decided not to put the yoke of Mosaic law on them when the Jews themselves could not near it. The Christian interpretation is that the laws function was less about enforcement than to demonstrate the need for a Savior by showing how far we fall short of the standard. It is not a physical death, but a spiritual one.

I am unfamiliar with the Jewish interpretation, but i don't see many Jews advocating for the death penalty for adultery even in Israel (which is, at least officially, a religious State).

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 13, 2013 08:46 PM

"It was decided" is the problematic point there -- by whom? If you mean to reference the historical debate about Jews in Israel deciding not to apply the law of Moses to gentiles, for historically contingent reasons, that's not obviously relevant to the question of whether these are in fact the moral laws governing the world.

If you mean that God decided it, then they never applied: God is eternal, not in time, so his decisions apply to all time evenly. But I don't know of this evidence.

(It is especially unimportant to the idea of what God wants that Israel, the modern nation, has not democratically enacted the law of Moses. If it is God's law it is God's law, even if it is highly unpopular.)

It's worth looking again at the old law. It does read like a kind of natural law, which in some cases can be overcome -- for example, the prohibitions on eating shellfish, which of old were very likely to be fatal and unclean. It's worth engaging the question of why the old law sometimes seems to conflict with Jesus' teachings, or with what we can divine by reason from nature.

Posted by: Grim at August 13, 2013 09:03 PM

The actual Biblical standard is execution (Leviticus 20:10), apparently by strangulation in the old days; stoning in Jesus' time.

You are conflating man's law (Moses' law, if we refer to what the Pharisees had to say when they tried to trick Jesus by bringing the adulteress before him) with God's law. In one place, supposedly Moses commands that adulteresses be put to death. In another, he is said to have permitted bills of divorcement. So it's not at all clear that there was a consistent law at all.

You are cherry picking, from a large number of verses, those that support your case and then pronouncing those verses to be divine revelation or God's moral law. But the Bible contradicts itself in many places on this topic. Several verses allow a man to put his wife away for sleeping with another man. These would seem to condone divorce:

[Deuteronomy] When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give [it] in her hand, and send her out of his house.

2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's [wife].

[Matthew] And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except [it be] for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.

[Mark] And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away [his] wife? tempting him.

3 And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you?

4 And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put [her] away.

5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.

6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.

7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;

8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.

9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

10 And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same [matter].

11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.

12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

Nowhere do I see any suggestion that Christ thought it was OK for a husband to kill his rival.

And I don't see anything in the 10 commandments that prescribes death by stoning or strangulation for adultery. Moses is cited as saying adulterers can be put to death, but he is also cited as saying divorce is justified. And Christ himself said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" as well as "Judge not, that ye be not judged". That's about as clear as it gets as a moral precept. it's a long stretch from there to, 'It's OK for you to play judge, jury, and executioner'.

Where in the Gospel does Jesus ever command anyone to stone anyone else, or suggest that's OK? And then there's 'vengeance is mine' (sayeth the Lord).

Both the Old Testament and the New contradict themselves on this point.

Posted by: Cass at August 13, 2013 10:27 PM

I'm not avoiding the fact that divorce is lawful as an alternative under the old law, only stating that Jesus especially decries it as arising purely from hardheartedness.

But I'm also not blurring the line between what men said and what God is supposed to have said. The citations from Leviticus are supposed to be from God directly. If you'll notice, I was careful to distinguish between that, and what Jesus says -- which I take to have greater authority -- and what Paul says, which I take to have less.

Let's try again tomorrow, if you wish. I don't expect to reach agreement, because I'm sure we can't agree. But it is important to me that you see, at least, that the argument with which you disagree is well-founded. You're free to reject it anyway, but it is one I have thought about a great deal. It is not reckless: indeed, variations of this form were the practical law in many places for more than a thousand years.

Posted by: Grim at August 13, 2013 10:39 PM

I think part of the problem is that Grim and I (and probably others) have very different understandings of what a marriage is, how it's created, what God has to do with it, and its lifetime.


I think it's a mutual commitment by (usually two) people, created by their public declaration, they request blessing by the God(s) they adhere to, and it lasts as long as they wish it to, perhaps for eternity. The role of the State is to record the fact of their public declaration, and perhaps referee in a divorce, should one be desired. I suspect that Grim will think this rather pagan of me.


Guessing: Grim thinks it's created by God for a man and a woman and is eternal.

Posted by: htom at August 14, 2013 01:32 AM

Again, I don't have the time to look up the reference, but the decision I'm talking about comes after a dream where God says something on the order of "Do not call unclean that which I have made clean". So while the decision was handed down by one of the apostles, it certainly rises to "divine revelation".

But that still doesn't address that the standard interpretation is that the law was laid down as spiritual law and not the mortal law which was to be imposed in practice.

So while you can claim that God's law says the those committing adultery *deserve* death, it is a far stretch to say that it should be actually imposed.

I think rapists *deserve* death. Ask Brian Banks if such penalty should actually be imposed.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 14, 2013 09:28 AM

Htom:

Not eternal, but for life. I've written a lot about marriage if you're interested, mostly in terms of natural law and not theology. I generally think the natural law arguments ought to serve as the basis for positive law because they arise from the actual and observable condition of the world; but the theological arguments are useful to understand something about why the world is the way it is.

YAG:

Acts 10:15. Formally, it relates to the food code. Peter is advised to "kill and eat" animals who had been unclean under the older law.

I'm happy if we can agree that death is warranted under the law. I certainly don't want to insist on the imposition of the sentence under the law. As you say, the duel is a voluntary process.

By the way, my position here is not the majority position of theologians. Theologians usually reject the duel as sinful, but there has always been a minority who disagrees on the point in certain cases. It's a very old argument.

Posted by: Grim at August 14, 2013 10:28 AM

I would say, literally, not formally. But then I don't think the parable about planting seeds on rocks versus fertile soil was meant literally either. Especially after Jesus, literally, told the Deciples afterwards that he didn't.

So while that statement was literally about the food code, it was metaphorically about the Gentiles who had been unclean being made clean by God. Trying to make them unclean again by holding them to the Mosaic Law, which they had never been asked to accept and to which even the Jews were incapable of upholding, was improper.

I'm happy if we can agree that death is warranted under the law.

Not warranted and not under the law. The death of the spirit may be deserving, but the death of the body for that sin is not warranted and certainly not divinely lawful.

And agreeing to the duel is voluntary, but his death isn't. If he volunteered to die, he could stick the gun to his own head without your "help".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 14, 2013 11:14 AM

I would say, literally, not formally.... So while that statement was literally about the food code, it was metaphorically about the Gentiles who had been unclean being made clean by God.

Well, dreams are usually not really about what they seem on the surface to be about. You can use literal/figurative as the way to talk about that, if you want. I meant something similar: the dream had the form of being about food, but it might rope other things in analogically.

Not warranted and not under the law. The death of the spirit may be deserving, but the death of the body for that sin is not warranted and certainly not divinely lawful.

The death of the spirit is not the subject of the law, and man has no power to kill the spirit in any case. That power is not given to us, a fact about which we ought to be grateful.

Thus, insofar as the old law calls for the community to kill the offender, it can only mean the death of the body. That has to be the power being delegated, not just because it's what the law actually says, but also because it's the only power we have.

I don't have a problem with the idea that people might forgo -- and forgive, which is a key part of the higher moral code that Jesus himself talks about -- but in order to forgo, they must have the right to the thing they are forgoing.

Posted by: Grim at August 14, 2013 11:30 AM

Thus, insofar as the old law calls for the community to kill the offender, it can only mean the death of the body.

No, that isn't the only thing it can mean.

The parent (God) tells the child (Man) that certain actions deserve a given punishment. This does not mean that the sibling is empowered to enforce this punishment. It is not man that forgoes the law against man, it is God who does so through Jesus.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 14, 2013 11:46 AM

Yes, that's right if the claim is something like, "The wages of sin is death." That could well mean the death of the spirit, eventually when God comes to judgment.

But Leviticus 20 is commanding the community to take certain actions in response to certain crimes. The delegation of authority to punish is clear. (If you think the delegation isn't clear in 20:10, see 20:15 and 20:16, which govern bestiality.)

Posted by: Grim at August 14, 2013 11:54 AM

Now, I'm certainly not advocating for the state to execute even bestiality-practitioners. I'm just saying that when we read the Christian writings, which are meant to fulfill rather than destroy, we have to read them in light of what it would mean to fulfill.

So say we forgive bestiality, and don't punish it. That isn't to say that we have no right to punish it. It is just to say that, fully possessed of the right, we are being merciful -- just as we hope that God, who is fully possessed of the right to punish our spirits, will be merciful and forgo it.

Posted by: Grim at August 14, 2013 11:57 AM

Well, I would disagree with the premise that forgoing something requires that doing that thing be correct. Only that it be possible.

If someone calls me a jerk it is possible to withhold forgiveness. But that, in no way, implies that doing so is proper.

In the same way, stoning an adulterer *is* possible. It's wrong, but possible, and so foregoing and/or forgiving it is still a moral act.

we have to read them in light of what it would mean to fulfill.

Agreed. But the fulfillment is that it is for God to punish (and far more harshly than man was to punish) and for God to forgive and forgo through Jesus.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 14, 2013 12:36 PM

That's one interpretation, though it has the problem that the old law was not just a religious law, but encompassed what we would today call positive law as well (e.g., there are instructions on how to purify a house that has become filled with molds or mildews). So it seems strange to say that fulfillment means that God takes on all the burdens that used to be done by the community according to the law; it ought to mean something else.

I think we got a great deal more leeway, as well as instructions on how to begin to obey not just the law of this world, but to prepare ourselves for the next world. But we don't end up losing the law, or the delegated powers; we just have more freedom to determine the forms of the law, and to make exceptions out of an analogue to divine mercy.

(But mercy to the cruel is cruelty to the weak, so another possible reading -- that we have been given a new, hard rule to always forgive everything -- is also unlikely.)

Posted by: Grim at August 14, 2013 02:37 PM

Joined into one, forgiving one's spouse is forgiving yourself. I can see how the innocent part could consider adultery as rape if it was a separate part, but it's not.


Rapists ought to be killed by their victims, on the scene. No possible confusion of identity.

Posted by: htom at August 14, 2013 02:47 PM

I agree with you about rapists. I can see your position on accepting (and offering a kind of consent for) adultery, when you are asked and given the option.

However, I don't agree that forgiving your spouse is merely to forgive yourself. For one thing, you are the person you ought to be most cautious about forgiving! It would be very easy to absolve yourself of everything, and carry on doing wrong. It should be much easier and more proper to forgive your spouse than to forgive yourself.

Or, to make a theological analogy, they are joined in one flesh: but they remain two spirits, however closely entwined.

Posted by: Grim at August 14, 2013 04:01 PM

Well, strictly speaking, a Christian is required to forgive anyone who asks for it (and arguable even those that don't).

We are commanded to forgive as Christ has forgiven us.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at August 14, 2013 04:48 PM

Yes, just so. But here we really are forgiving the spirit, not the body. We aren't commanded -- nor obligated -- to forgo corporal or capital punishment in cases such as, say, rape or murder.

This is just how we do it, too: you can think of the image of the priest accompanying the condemned to the gallows or the electric chair.

If we also forgive the body, as for example by pardoning a crime or refusing to convict someone for it, then we are doing more than is required of us. The right and power to punish the body remains lawful, even though we are obligated to forgive the spirit.

Posted by: Grim at August 14, 2013 05:38 PM