Hard-Headed Practical Wisdom

Source: Tom Perrota, The Abstinence Teacher (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007) 106, 141.

On and off for the next few days, I’ll be commenting on my favorite passages from this book. Its author looks so familiar to me, but I can’t place him! The back flap says that he lives in Boston, so maybe I saw him while I was living there. Or perhaps I saw him on TV, or he looks like someone I know.

So far, I’m really enjoying this book! It has all sorts of characters. There’s the lonely divorcee teacher (Ruth) who doesn’t like the abstinence-only sex ed program she’s forced to use. Then there’s the vulnerable recovering addict (Tim), also a divorcee, who’s part of the ultra-conservative church that persecutes Ruth. One message that comes through in this book is that everyone has a story, something we should remember in our age of polarization and stereotypes.

Today, I want to deal with two quotes:

1. Pastor Dennis wants Tim to marry a nice Christian girl in the congregation– “for Tim to remove himself from the temptations of bachelorhood, to stop questioning himself and his commitment to Jesus, to bind himself to someone who shared his faith and his priorities, and to get on with his life as a father, husband, and servant of the Lord.” Pastor Dennis cites I Corinthians 7:1-2, which says that it’s better for a man to marry than to burn.

Tim’s reaction: It was a weird verse, Tim thought, encouraging marriage not as a good thing in itself, but simply as the best of bad alternatives. Hardly the stuff of love songs. And yet, like a lot of stuff in the Bible, it possessed a kind of hardheaded wisdom that resonated with his experience of the world and his circumstances at the present moment.

This quote resonates with me. In my opinion, a lot of the Bible has a hard-hearted practical wisdom to it. Watch yourself! Don’t retaliate against your enemy! Love, don’t hate! Don’t sleep with anyone and everyone, but reserve sex for your wife. These ideas can bring health and happiness to a person, or they can at least keep one out of unnecessary trouble!

This quote reminds me of Jamie Kiley’s posts, Original sin: This story resonates and Why I am a Christian. Jamie says she’s a Christian because the Bible corresponds with what she observes in real life. From what she can see, people have something within them that inclines them to evil, just as the Bible presents!

2. Tim is thinking about the topic of homosexuality. Although his church preaches vehemently against it, Tim doesn’t see what the big deal is. We learn that Tim once knew a gay person, who for years tried hard not to be gay! Tim observes that Jesus doesn’t say anything about homosexuality in the Gospels.

Tim’s thoughts: It seemed like a glaring omission, considering that Jesus had a fair amount to say on other points of sexual morality, including one that was particularly inconvenient for Tim: “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery.” You couldn’t get much clearer than that, and yet Pastor Dennis hadn’t objected to Tim’s marriage to Carrie, far from it. He’d just let the whole remarriage-adultery thing slide, tempering God’s harsh law with a dose of human compassion. Tim couldn’t help feeling like gay people deserved a similar break, a recognition that a choice between a life of sin and a life of celibacy was no choice at all.

This quote resonates with me because, although the Bible has a hard-headed wisdom to it, it also appears to be utterly unrealistic in its demands! Don’t lust after women? Don’t hate? Don’t divorce? What if a husband and a wife simply don’t get along? I can see a certain logic even to these commands, since lust dehumanizes women, plus it would be nice if we could be so loving that we’d stick with someone unconditionally–till death do us part! After all, divorce can have a negative impact on children and women (as I’m seeing as I watch First Wives Club). But I’m not sure if I have that kind of love within me.

I don’t think the author gives a fair shake to the evangelical view on divorce. This is puzzling because he says in the “Acknowledgements” that he went to a Promised Keepers’ weekend. Sure, there are pastors who leave their wives for younger babes and keep on pastoring, without objection by the church. And most of the men and women on my Christian dating site are divorced. But many of them would say that their divorce and subsequent pursuit of a mate are biblical, since their mate was not a Christian. He either left them or cheated on them, and, according to I Corinthians 7 and Matthew 19:9, those are legitimate grounds for divorce.

Some argue that a Christian should not remarry, a view that goes back to the second century C.E. Christian writing, the Shepherd of Hermas (see Shepherd of Hermas on Divorce). But I heard Ron Dart appeal to human grounds this week in his critique of such a view, for he said that people crave companionship with other human beings. Why shouldn’t this apply to homosexuals as well? Why should they have to be celibate for the rest of their lives? Is this practical or realistic? Does it take into consideration how people are?

At the same time, I wouldn’t want to say that people should just follow their attractions wherever they lead, since that can result in all sorts of anarchy!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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1 Response to Hard-Headed Practical Wisdom

  1. Pingback: Posts I Wrote Engaging Ron Dart’s Thought | James' Ramblings

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