Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Instone Brewer on 'Any Cause' Divorce

Anglican Pewster had an interesting post on God the Father and the Breakdown of the Family Analogy. This led us to today's reading in Mark on divorce and the parallel reading in Matthew. And thus to the pioneering work of the Rev. Dr. Instone-Brewer, a Senior Research Fellow in Rabbinics and the New Testament at Tyndale House, Cambridge.

Matthew 19:3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking,(F) "Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?"

This is a little disturbing for a couple of reasons:
1) it shows that what we would think is the ordinary sense of the words actually has a particular meaning for the culture of the time. The plain meaning of the text turns out to be wrong and
2) it reminds me of the easy divorce permitted in Islam.


The Underground Pewster said...

Thanks for this. I can remember when divorce (in America) was a shameful thing that was not a subject of polite conversation. Now we hear such common terms as "ex" in everyday parlance. The words and the connotations have changed.

now said...

Civil divorce makes sense to me.
Most people are not living religious lives where they are cultivating and practicing virtues, nor are they living together under a set of spiritual and moral principles. Most people, even if they marry in a church, are really entering into a practical monetary dyad. I think the number of divorces not only makes sense but is understandable. People should not stay together if it is not right or if they are not entering into an agreement to grow together spiritually. Forcing people to stay together is wrong. And forcing people to be together only if they want to grow together spiritually is also wrong.
That said, for those who do chose to enter into a spiritual and monetary agreement - they will do the work no matter what (if both people are truly faithful to themselves and the other).

now said...

All of that said, I think people are look deep down for spiritual commitment and growth with each other and in a community. If spiritual communities and systems of belief caught up with all the changes that have happened technologically and globally since the Enlightenment, more people would gravitate to a spiritual life. A sense of connection with others and place, depth, cyclical ritual, mutual understanding - all these things are lacking in the everyday Joe's life.
If churches could establish these in a way that made sense to people, more people would participate and more people would make spiritual marriage commitments.

The Underground Pewster said...

Now, now, you must explain a "spiritual marriage commitment."

now said...

Spiritual marriage when people agree to marry in order to grow as persons. It's more than being in love or wanting to live together. It's more than being financially committed or deciding to have children. All these may happen in a spiritual marriage, but the container (primary agreement) is to growth. So, what's good for both people? Sometimes a spiritual commitment may lead 2 people to change the form of their relationship. For instance, a total commitment to someone would be courageous and loving enough to decide not to be sexual partners, if both people realized that the decision to enter into a sexual relationship was premature. Say one person believes children would ruin their life, but the other person knows that children are part of their path. What do you do if you are already married? Staying together like that would be a farce- not growth-supporting for either person. But, deciding to be best friends might be more appropriate. A spiritual marriage can't be entered as easily as another marriage because he nature of it will prevent people from being together in ways that aren't authentic.

Perpetua said...

In traditional marriage, the two people make a commitment to stay together even in times when it is not in the perceived short term interest of each of the partners. They stay together "in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer".

It is easy to imagine that if one person gets sick, the healthy person might think his/her personal growth was not best developed in a care taker role of a sick person. Or if the male wage earner looses his job and the finances are tight, it is easy to imagine that the female might think her spiritual growth was not best facilitated in poverty and would choose to find a richer partner.

I would argue that one grows spiritually through these trials. But it may not be evident to the individuals at the time. So the problem I see with this idea of spiritual marriage is that it privileges the individuals perceptions of what would best facilitate their growth in the moment. While I think that spiritual growth happens when we face and confront our problems.

now said...

Personal growth isn't same thing as selfish decision-making. Fierce reflection and examining perceptions are essential. And any perception that seems to lead to an easy way out is probably a delusion. That said, active commitment to growth (which includes the practice of virtue- patience, fearlessness, kindness, non-greed, honesty, not misusing sexuality, not slandering, not killing with thought, word, or deed, etc) should be life- affirming and opening.

The agreement to be together thru sickness or health, rich or poor does not necessarilly lead to the practice of virtue. It can lead to bitterness and hatred for self and other if there isn't also a primary commitment to loving, which leads to growth.

It has been my experience that churches often do little more than lead people thru a ritual. They don't seem to have the wisdom and resources to teach how to love.

Instead, most marriages seemto be civil agreements where people build or work towards fiscal safety-which is good, but let's not think that because people went thru the motions of a vow that their inner lives are connected.

I think these things because I don't believe that trudging thru a connectionless marriage develops virtue.

The Underground Pewster said...

I remember that day, the day I was married in church, and I believe the marriage vows were not just between two mortals, but also between us and our Lord and Saviour. No mere ritual, but something "spiritual." Do people fail to recognize this when they have a "church wedding?" I have not looked into this to see if someone has studied this matter.

now said...

And where does "the Lord" go after the wedding?
Seems like the concept of the Lord may be different in each person's head - and something that is so subjective cannot guide virtuous living or connection between the two people.

The Underground Pewster said...

"And where does 'the Lord' go after the wedding?"

On the honeymoon of course!

now said...

"On the honeymoon" - that's witty and a great response! Thanks. :-)