Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Normative Argument

A lot of modern evangelicals are pretty old-fashioned — especially where gender roles are concerned. Being the contrarian I am, I always have to ask why.

It's not unusual to get a response that appeals to what was "normative" during the time when the Bible was being written.

While I don't think that's completely invalid, we need to be able to base our answers on more than that simply because there are a lot of things that were normal during ancient times that aren't now.

During Jesus' lifetime, it was normal for extended families to live close together. The men worked while the women kept the home and raised the kids. They honored the aged, disciplined the young, worshipped together, and took care of their neighbors.

That all sounds great. This doesn't:

The men performed back-breaking labor from sun up to sun down hoping desperately to scratch a living out of the earth. The women stayed home because there was little else they could do, and someone had to watch the kids. They tended to have lots of them because ... well, there wasn't much else for a married couple to do for entertainment once the sun went down. Plus, the mortality rate made it necessary to have lots of children so that a few would reach adulthood.

"Aged" was fifty. A man answered to his father for as long as his father lived. In some parts of the ancient world, a father could kill his children at any point for any reason, even into adulthood (though that was rare).

Disease was rampant, there wasn't enough food, and what food they had couldn't be stored for long. Sanitation was non-existent. People bathed infrequently, and they went to the bathroom in a hole dug in the ground.

This was normative.

You think it's best that women stay home and raise the kids? You think large families, homeschooling, and careful religious instruction of your children is healthy? Great, so do I. You think it's required? Why?

We can't just appeal to what was normal during Jesus' day without explaining why we no longer poop in a hole.

15 comments:

Nancy said...

Ahhh....revelation of inconvenient truths...*; )

myblessedhome said...

Hello, I found your post through a google alert listing for posts about large families. I had to respond. :-)

From a homeschooling mom of 7, who doesn't have a paying job, who takes religious instruction of her children very seriously...

I don't think I ever heard the "normative argument" as a reason for the choices we've made.
To be honest, I'd be very surprised that anyone would make that kind of lifetime commitment - large family, homeschooling, giving up half of their income (and the bigger house, extra car, etc.) to serve their families - just because it was normal in Bible times. My guess is that there is a lot more to it than that, but these people are giving you the "short answer" because they think you don't really want to hear the long one. Probe a little more, and I suspect you'll find a more thoughtful answer. :-)

We've made our decisions based upon Biblical mandates and clear leading from God, rather than simple examples of Bible times.

Children... well, God says they are a blessing and a heritage, and we believe Him! We've experienced for ourselves that it is true. (For more on this, you can read my blog post here: http://myblessedhome.wordpress.com/2009/04/08/faqs-about-our-larger-than-average-family/)

Regarding homeschooling and instruction, several Bible passages were very convicting for us (Deuteronomy 6, Proverbs 13:20, for example) and God made it very clear (literally, neon-sign clear) that He wanted us to do this.

As to gender roles, it seems that perhaps those roles were normative then because God *designed* men and women differently, with different gifts. Not that there aren't exceptions, but those gifts very often make us perfectly suited to those "old-fashioned" roles. It's only been in the last generation or two that the traditional roles have become a mockery. It's sad that a mom who gives her all to her family is treated with such little honor in our society. Regardless, most of us are very joyful in our lives, and we're not out for the stamp of approval from the culture around us. Our families do love and appreciate us, and those are more valuable than anyone else's opinion. As Proverbs 31 says, "Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her." I also have the joy of knowing that God sees and will one day say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Religious instruction... we believe that the Bible is true, so how could we *not* teach that which we believe to those we love? We want them to be in Heaven with us one day, and I don't think much more elaboration is needed on that point.

That's a longer answer, but if someone in the grocery store, or even passing by in church, asked me "why, why, why?" I'd be hard-pressed to give an answer in 15 words or less that explained the depth of the reasons why. But sit down with me for a cup of tea, and if I think you *really* want to know, I might be able to do a better job.

ChrisB said...

Sorry to take so long getting back to you.

Your assumption is actually totally wrong. This is from a person who's quite capable of looong answers, and we've discussed many such things at length.

Please don't get me wrong: I think homeschooling, religious instruction, etc are good things.

But when people try to use the Bible to show that their way is the way everyone should do it, they have to face having their argument -- are citations -- closely analyzed. The "normative" argument first appeared after just such a dissection.

dobson said...

I find myself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with ChrisB...

On the subject of the Normative argument - don't you think it's time you turned your attention to California's Proposition 8.

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Anonymous said...

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ChrisB said...

You may repost it with a link to my blog.

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Really enjoyed this post, how can I make is so that I receive an email when there is a fresh post?

ChrisB said...

There's a link at the top of the page for RSS and FeedBlitz (email).

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