Sex, Marriage, and Sexuality: October 2007 Archives

In case you haven't heard, J.K. Rowling was asked last week if Albus Dumbledore ever experienced romantic love, and Rowling revealed something that never appeared in the books: she'd always thought of Dumbldore as gay. This revelation makes sense of something in the last book that was a little puzzling otherwise, but I won't get into it in case anyone hasn't read the book and wants to get into it spoiler-free. I wish I had the time to write up my thoughts on this, but I'm glad someone has saved me the trouble. Travis at Sword of Gryffindor has already written up most of what I'd want to say:

See also the two comments linked to at the top of his post, in the update. If you haven't read the final book of the series, beware of spoilers in any of this.

A colleague who shares an office with me presented the following argument today (I can't remember where he said he got it from, but I'll try to ask him when I see him next Tuesday so I can give credit to the source):

1. If a complete stranger tells a woman to have sex with him or she'll never see her children again, she should have sex with him (and there's very good reason to believe he's telling the truth), because her children should be more important to her than her preferences about who she has sex with.
2. The issues involved with her decision are parallel to the issues involved in cases of rape and cases of a divorced parent preventing the other parent from seeing their children.
3. Therefore, preventing a parent from seeing their children is worse than raping someone.

Now some people might not accept premise 1. But assume premise 1 is true. I don't think you should have to deny premise 1 to get out of this argument. But the trick is identifying precisely where the argument goes wrong. Its conclusion is certain to be very unpopular. Rape is commonly viewed as one of the most despicable things anyone could do, and we never say anything remotely as bad about a woman who gains custody after divorcing her husband and preventing him from ever seeing his kids. But according to this argument, rape is not as bad as preventing him from seeing his kids. So where does the argument go wrong? Or is it actually true that, as bad as rape is, it's actually worse to rob a parent of access to their kids?

Update 10-23-07 1:17pm: The argument came from someone named David Thomas (not the founder of Wendy's, from a book called Not Guilty: The Case in Defense of Men). Second, I think I was overstating the conclusion a bit. It's not a comparison of the moral badness of the two actions. He was just trying to argue that we should care as much about men being kept from their children as we do about rape, and the fact is that we don't. Third, the cases he has in mind are not custody cases where men aren't granted visitation rights. He's thinking of the many cases when men are given visitation rights legally, but the police and courts won't enforce them, and the men never see their kids.

Numbers 30 deals with Israelite vows to God, i.e. declaring something to be dedicated to God. This would usually involve vowing something to God that one would give to the tabernacle or temple system much later, e.g. a certain percentage of the harvest that hasn't arrive yet or something of that nature. Some of the Pharisees in Jesus' time abused this system by vowing things to God that were necessary for caring for their parents, and thus they used these laws to get out of more important ones like honoring father and mother.

Jephthah in Judges 11 vowed whatever first came through his door, and it turned out to be his daughter. In that case, he tragically honored his vow when he shouldn't have done so, although if he had broken it he would have needed to make atonement. But other vows could be rash and should never have been made that nonetheless have to be honored. Typically if a man made a vow, he would have to honor it even if it was rashly made and burdensome to honor.

The regulations in Numbers 30 relate to girls and women making vows when under the authority of someone else. Normally a man would be responsible for his own vows. A girl under her father's authority would also normally be responsible for her own vows, provided that her father, when hearing about it, said nothing. But he did have the authority to cancel her vow. The same is true of a husband of a married woman. The father or husband would have to cancel the vow immediately when hearing about it, but the authority to cancel the vow came with being the father of a minor girl or the husband of a wife.

What interested me in reading this chapter recently was how it treats widows and divorced women. There were cases of widows and divorced women going back to live with their father, but there were also cases of widows retaining the property their husbands had inherited and serving as a head of household. These cases would have to have involved children, since otherwise the property might leave the clan, and property ties to tribes and clans was a very big deal in ancient Israel. But what's notably absent in this chapter is any statement about such women being under the authority of their father in terms of vows. As far as this chapter is concerned, a widow or divorced woman was simply responsible for her vows, and no one had the authority to cancel them.

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