Monday, January 31, 2022

Anonymous Asks (182)

“Conventional wisdom disagrees with an increasing number of Bible proverbs. Is it possible some were of their own time and do not apply to us today?”

What a great question! Most of the Bible’s proverbs are over 3,000 years old, so we certainly cannot discount the possibility that applying all of them literally is borderline-unworkable. It sent me combing through Proverbs from beginning to end in search of the most controversial examples I could find. (I am leaving out Proverbs 31, since I dealt with the cultural relevance of the “excellent wife” here.)

So, let’s see about those “irrelevant” proverbs then ...

1/ Loving the Honey Dripper

Modern conventional wisdom will tell you being in love is what matters, regardless of where you find it. In Psychology Today, Douglas LaBier writes, “Some affairs are psychologically healthy. An affair can help leverage you out of a destructive or deadened relationship that’s beyond the point of renewal. An affair can help renew your relationship with your existing partner.”

Proverbs, on the other hand, says this:

“The lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.”

Now, LaBier is right in this: people often cheat on their spouses in order to create a crisis they can use to justify leaving a marriage in which they have lost interest for one reason or another. Where he and Solomon disagree is in how that is likely to end up. LaBier is speaking as a practicing psychologist who believes he knows how adultery will turn out for his patients in the long term because they are sitting in his office talking about their feelings — to the extent they understand them themselves, and assuming they are not lying — as they are going through the affair and in the immediate aftermath. Solomon is speaking by the Spirit of the God who created man, and pointing to what the effects of the affair on the patient will be long after Doug LaBier has finished dispensing bad advice and pocketing the profit therefrom: long term damage to children, inability to trust a new partner, financial havoc, estrangement from the friends who take the wronged spouse’s side, etc., etc.

As for renewing a relationship with an existing partner, it’s true that a wronged partner may opt to stay married to a man or woman who strays. There are many reasons for this — fear of the growing old alone, concern for the children, a desire to avoid financial disaster or public stigma, or even loving the evil jerk. I do not imagine “relationship renewal” is high on the list.

Between Doug’s advice and Solomon’s, I’m sticking with Solomon.

2/ Universal Basic Income

A poster on Reddit writes, “I refuse to be a part of this … ‘work’ thing by wasting my time to get paid to do things that technically don’t have to be done by humans anymore, and I certainly don’t feel bad about what I’m doing.”

Then there are the less obviously selfish arguments in favor of a Universal Basic Income: “UBI helps ensure that individuals maintain autonomy and dignity without falling through the cracks in our economy.” “Lifting people out of poverty early in their life is less expensive than paying for costly interventions (such as medicine for chronic illnesses, elder care, and incarceration) later on.” “Inequality breeds class resentment,” and so on.

The book of Proverbs differs, of course:

“How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”

Hey, poverty can be clarifying: ask the prodigal son.

Now, some people are poor for reasons outside their control. But there is at least one class of poor people who deserve their fate: those who will not work. Not just Proverbs, but the teaching of the New Testament bears this out. “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Scripture is consistent in maintaining that it is good to be productive, and that laziness is not a virtue. Moreover, “class resentment” is just a polite euphemism for envy, which is related issue but a separate sin, and equally sinful. A society that is really concerned for the well-being of its citizens will concentrate its efforts on providing those who are able to work with meaningful employment opportunities rather than creating a class of idle dependants.

Again, I’m with Solomon here.

3/ Being Yourself

If you ask the professionals, the consensus about venting is all over the map. But the ubiquity of social media makes it obvious the current conventional wisdom is that it’s a good thing to air your opinion at any and every opportunity, including putting others on blast when they offend you by disagreeing with you. The desire to appear “authentic” trumps all. “Be yourself,” we are told.

Again, Proverbs will differ. There are times when it is better to rein self in:

“The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.”

A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.”

In scripture, the man or woman who does not control his tongue — even under pressure — is a fool. James calls the tongue “a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. Venting may feel good in the moment, but it can do incredible damage to relationships. A man or woman who can restrain their impulses in the area of communication is wise indeed.

Proverbs may be an old book, but on this subject it is right in sync with the teaching of both the gospels and the epistles.

4/ A Rod for the Back

Shame is a forgotten and much-maligned virtue. Properly administered, shame is a societal preservative that discourages behavior very much in need of discouragement. However, modern conventional wisdom has made shame a bad word. “Fat shaming is dangerous,” claim the editors of, yes, Psychology Today. Other kinds of public criticism are equally out of bounds, except of course when the person being shamed has expressed a politically incorrect opinion.

On the other hand, Proverbs indicates public shaming is appropriate in some cases of misbehavior:

“A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools.”

A public caning or belting would not be tolerated today, but in times past it served the useful function of declaring to someone who refused to get with the program that his society would not tolerate his conduct. Under the Law of Moses, public beatings had limits prescribed to them in order that they would not do permanent damage. The intent was to modify behavior, not destroy a man’s ability to make a living or permanently humiliate him. A jail term or permanent criminal record for relatively minor offenses simply do not serve the same function, but rather foster recidivism.

The principle of shaming is a good and scriptural one, but in order for it to be effective, the justice system that administers corporal punishment or other forms of public shaming must be governed by biblical standards of right and wrong. That makes it awfully tough to practice today.

So I’m with Solomon in the sense that a rod for the back of fools is still as appropriate as a whip or bridle. I just don’t know who in our political class would be morally qualified either to hold a rod or to prescribe the correct number of blows for an offense.

These are fun. I may have to do a few more next week.

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