Monday, September 10, 2007

Another Commandment, And Thou Shall Read It
"Neither shall you commit adultery." This is a lot harder to write about then "you shall not murder," and not just because my wife is a third of my audience.

First of all, while wrong and right are always tough positions to identify, that is doubly true when love and marriage are involved. I'm not going to condone cheating, but relationships are hard work and because of that they often fail. If society doesn't allow for that failure, than adultery not only becomes more understandable it may even serve a critical function by allowing people to fulfill their emotional needs and continue to be married. Even when society recognizes the frailty of relationships, and encourages individuals in their efforts to leave relationships that are abusive, hurtful, or have just been grown out of, it still seems wrong to crucify unfaithful spouses. Love and lust aren't logical, and decisions aren't always well informed or good. People should be held accountable for their actions, and I would think long and hard before I stayed with my wife if she was cheating on me, but I wouldn't have her banished to the second circle of hell.

Second, this Commandment is confusing even on a detached academic level. This Commandment has been lauded as an early protection of women, as it legally limited a man's ability to pursue other women. Historically, however, this Commandment has been as much about the maintenance of power relations as "honor your father and mother." It doesn't take much knowledge of history or biology to guess whether it was men or women who were most often labeled and punished as adulterers.

So, once again the spectre of context wrecks the neat world of the Commandment. A conclusion that can be reached without dissecting the institution of marriage. I think marriage is a good institution, as long as it is openly entered into and can be freely exited. I also believe that it is a contract that should be taken more seriously than any other. I am still unwilling, given that the humans that make laws and fall in love with one another are human, to proclaim that adulterers are sinners. We're just too complex and variable for that.

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