Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Sex and Justification (the outrageous analogies of an orthodox rebel)

Just sayin'...

In ye olden times of the English-speaking world, "rape" was often spoken of as "dishonoring" a woman.

Now, describing "rape" as such doesn't have quite the punch most of us are looking for; calling it an "act of evil" sounds more appropriate (if a bit campy). Still, I think our ancestors were on to something, something very special and specific.

FOR HONOR!!!!!!!!
"Honor" is a word we are familiar with, though less familiar than we think. Klingons have honor, as do all their endless sci-fi imitators. (Warrior culture, yes? Expect "honor" to get a word-workout.) In some rare cases, we may hear someone be called a "man of honor". There we are referring to their character, viz., what kind of person they are, what kind of ethics they have subsumed, "who they are when no one's around," etc. That's about the extent of our understanding of "honor": having a specific character to which you should take pride in, pride enough to act according to that character.

Such an idea isn't far off the mark, but the real meaning of "honor" is much simpler. "Honor" simply referred to one's value, i.e., what you as an individual were worth. To gain honor, one had to do something(s) of note or merit (slay dragons, win wars, don't cheat on your taxes, etc.). To lose honor, one of two things had to happen: either you did something that was unbecoming of your value (in other words, it is antithetical to who you are) or you didn't do something that was in line with or would have increased your value, increased your worth. In short, you either did something you shouldn't have done, or you didn't do something you should have done. In either case, you "dishonor" yourself (and the family and/or community to which you belong). You have not treated yourself with the value that you have (or need), and thus acted (or did not act) accordingly.

Clear enough? Of course not. But let's move on.

You are without honor, sirrah.
Now, to be "dishonored" is different from dishonoring yourself. In the latter, you did not live up to the value that you have (or are called to). In the former, however, you have not been treated in accordance with the value that you have. To put it another way, anyone can dishonor themselves, but only valuable people can be dishonored. Both the man of honor and the rogue can dishonor themselves: the former by not living up to their value and the latter by not seeking to gain value; but only the already-valuable can be dishonored. Your honor, your value, is the gauge by which you measure dishonor. The less value you have, the less you can be considered dishonored. If you have no value, then you cannot be dishonored at all. A sacred place can be dishonored; a secular one, less so. You can dishonor a man more than a horse, and both more than a rock.

This is where I think them olden-folks were on to something: "rape" is to "dishonor" a woman because you are not treating her with the value that she already has. She does not lose value, mind you; she has been disvalued, not devalued. The assumption is that women have a set, intrinsic value simply by being a woman. That intrinsic value ought to guide how we act around and towards them, and rape is to act untowards a woman. It is to disvalue her, to treat her as less than she's worth, as a thing or an object rather than a unique individual with intrinsic value. It "dishonors" her, for she has honor. She is already-honorable, already-valuable, and should be treated as such. Thus, as Cameron Poe would say, "Don't! Treat! Women! Like! That!"

That. Is. The question.
A logical question to ask at this point would be exactly what is the "value" of a woman. What does it look like, or how "big" is it (so to speak)? I think the Christian answer would be this: every person, man or woman, has limitless value because (1) they are all made in the image of the God whose "value" is limitless (Ps. 8:1) and (2) they are each a unique manifestation of God's image, a one-time-only, non-repeatable subject.
 The first point speaks to God's objective value: whatever value He has as a being is our value as well. That is the special quality and privilege of a human being. The second point speaks to our subjective value: we are not cardboard cut-outs of the same theme, but rather each of us is a unique note in the symphony that is "the image of God". Each of us sees the world from a unique perspective; each of us sees God from a unique perspective, and thus worships and loves God from a unique perspective. There is unity of belief and creed, of course, but not necessarily unity of expression and person. We are each and all a specific "I", and our "I"-ness is a part of our value. That is the special state of a human being. Therefore, the combination of God's objective value and our subjective value means our value is limitless. We have been "crowned with glory and honor" simply be being human (Ps. 8:3-5).

Clear again? No again? Right. Moving on.
If human "value" is limitless (as I think it is), then a woman's "value" is limitless (as I also think it is). Thus, any act of "disvalue" towards a human person (both male and female) is wrong. Rape, murder, theft, kidnapping, lying to or against: every sin against another (including God) is in some way related to our disvaluing that other as a being. We deem them unworthy of respect or life or property or peace or obedience. I think that makes sense (a lot of sense), but it also creates at least one interesting...let's say, "issue".

Rape, in purely biological terms, is about sex. Sex in all the wrong ways, but sex nonetheless. Now, not to sound platitudinous, but sex in all the right ways is consensual, a natural outflow of love, and within the safeguards and security of a marriage covenant (at the very least). The "issue" is this: if a woman's value is indeed limitless, then there is no way you can be worthy of her. Your value may be limitless, too, but to demand any woman (or any one) on those grounds (i.e., your own worth or awesomeness or studliness or whatever) is to treat her as an object, a mere means to your own self-aggrandizing ends. It is dishonoring to her and to you. But then, how is this supposed to work? How can you ever be worthy of her?

The answer is: only if she declares you to be worthy.

"Love bade me welcome..."
Sex, in that it is a physical representation of love, is to be an invitation, i.e., an other invites and welcomes you to come closer than any one else. They must do the inviting; anything else would make us gatecrashers. Thus, we wait on their declaration, wait in hope that they will declare us worthy. Whether we actually are worthy is not the point; the point is that the other has declared us so out of love, and on the basis of that loving declaration we approach with boldness and yet humility. Boldness, because nothing now bars our way; humility, because it is all an act of grace. Like all acts of true love, sex is to be about grace.

The image of justification is hard to avoid at this point. Union with God is possible because He declares us worthy in Christ. We are not worthy; we could never be worthy of God. But I have good news: Christ died for our unworthiness, proving God's love, and providing us a worthiness not our own (Rom. 5; Phil. 3:8-9). God gives us worth because we have none to merit His favor, and He gives out of love and now invites out of love, invites all to come to the table and feast, to the waters and drink, to taste and see the goodness of God. Christ is the gracious invitation and welcome of God, and to try and enter by any other door is to be a rogue and cheat, a robber and thief, an attempted-rapist of the divine. We will fail, of course, but we will be rightfully punished for our insolence, for our pride, for our disobedience, for our deeming God and His ways unworthy of our respect or adherence, for daring to disvalue the purest and greatest and most extravagant Lover and Love of all:

In short as well as conclusion, the sacred symbols and realities surrounding romantic (and even sexual) love continue to surprise.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

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