Sunday, December 28, 2008

Moses contra mundum

Loud and clear now: "Ideas have consequences."

One idea that had particularly happy consequences for me--as a woman--was the Judeo understanding of marital monogamy. Michael Novak gives a succinct and enlightening review of philosopher Dennis Prager's work on the advent of that idea.

"The ancient world considered sexual “normality” to be fulfilled in the ungoverned sexuality of males, to which women were merely instrumental. In many of the cultures surrounding Israel, sexual acts between males were given equal or even superior value to those between males and females...

Against this common vision of sexual normalcy stood the towering Moses. He taught Israel, virtually alone, to embrace a new standard for human sexual life. This standard gave its blessing solely to sexual acts between a man and a woman in the covenanted relationship of monogamous marriage. What a great channeling of sexual energies this provision achieved. What a great concentration of energies it brought to the world. What great, non-instrumental dignity it gave to women."

The basis of our society's insistence on equality between the sexes is precisely the Mosaic law. Sexual intercourse no longer plays center-stage in human affairs: it has a place, and it is that place that provides sexual equality.

"Is sexual activity the highest end of life? For Moses and the people of Israel, it assuredly was not. It was of course a great good, and one essential to the perpetuation of the human race. Sexuality was not meant to be repressed. But it was meant to run—and to run deep—in only one channel."

If men and women share an ethic that requires the same continence of each, then both are judged according to the same standard: their respect for and dedication to that one channel. Equality. At the same time, there is still room for a robust understanding of masculinity and a true appreciation for femininity. There's no need for women to become "like men," eradicating their fertility or their particular vulnerabilities in order to dominate.

Interlude: The last two pop feminists (I make a distinction between "pop" and true feminists because the popular feminism that refuses to ground itself in biological/historical/spiritual reality cannot liberate women in any meaningful sense) with whom I spoke at length insisted that the death of Judeo-Christian ethics in the public square would, finally, free women from guilt. I think they meant that, although they enjoy almost every conceivable freedom and are essentially "the same as" (rather than "equal to") men, they still see the existence of human beings who ascribe to Judeo-Christian sexual ethics as ... well, a downer.

I think they just want to be free from guilt-inducing downers.

But to return to Moses: It is ironic that these so-called feminists seek to eradicate the very tradition that made feminism as an idea (and therefore as a reality) possible. Novak again:

"From this sublimation [of sexual activity to marriage] there arose two great social consequences. First, women achieved sexual equality with men in the holy union of marriage. 'In His image [God] made them, male and female He made them' (Genesis 1:27). This text says clearly that the divine radiance in human life shines through the marital union of man and woman. Therein, each person finds completeness. Only together, fully one, does the married couple bear the image of the Creator.

The second great consequence is to channel immense energy into society through its fundamental unit, the family—and not just energy, but also a continuity of consciousness, and the dream of a more perfect future. Thus Judaism gave birth to the idea of progress. Judaism introduced the ancient world to the reality of progress... Making progress is always, in time, an unfinished business."

There is a lot of unfinished business as far as bringing the ideal of Judeo-Christian marriage into practice--both at the macro- and micro-levels. It is imperative to note, however, that without this ideal, the very bedrock ideals of feminism will crumble. Ideas have consequences.

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