Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Two crimes against human dignity: rape and domestic violence

In yesterday’s post, I wrote that second-wave feminism bought into male chauvinists’ devaluation of the domestic sphere — inferior, less valuable, less this, that and the other thing — and turned it into a cult of hatred for motherhood and child-rearing.  A lot of things have changed for women as a result of that denial of female biological difference, some for the better and some for the worse.

Two things haven’t changed: domestic violence and rape.  Well, there’s a slight difference … women don’t have to be married to be battered and abused by the men in their lives.

No Catholic in his/her right mind believes for a second that women are inferior to men, that they can ever “deserve” to be battered or violated.  While more traditional families may subscribe to the doctrine that men have authority over the household, they equally assert that the authority doesn’t make the men superior or better human beings.  To quote Pius XI:

This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband’s every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is not customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs.[1]


In a later passage (29), Pius refers back to Leo XIII’s own words on the matter:

The husband is the chief of the family and the head of the wife. The woman, because she is flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone, must be subject to her husband and obey him; not, indeed, as a servant, but as a companion, so that her obedience shall be wanting in neither honor nor dignity. Since the husband represents Christ, and since the wife represents the Church, let there always be, both in him who commands and in her who obeys, a heaven-born love guiding both in their respective duties.[2]

In such a matrix, where love and respect for the dignity of the other is the rule, there’s no room for violence, humiliation or betrayal of trust; indeed, whether the abuse is physical or emotional, it can be considered a kind of adultery.  As Bl. John Paul put it in his great encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem, “The matrimonial union requires respect for and a perfecting of the true personal subjectivity of both [man and woman]. The woman cannot become the ‘object’ of ‘domination’ and male ‘possession’.”[3]

Nor is this “out of synch” with Scripture (and St. Paul’s supposed misogyny):

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ [Gen 2:24; cf. Mt 19:5, Mk 10:7-8]. This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband (Eph 5:24-33).
Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them (Col 3:19).
Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are joint heirs of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Pet 3:7).

Rape has always been recognized in the Judeo-Christian ethos as a crime, beginning with the Law of Moses (Dt 22:25-29).  In rape, the cardinal sins of Lust and Anger are combined: “Nothing prevents a sin from having a greater deformity through being united to another sin. Now the sin of lust obtains a greater deformity from the sin of injustice, because the concupiscence would seem to be more inordinate, seeing that it refrains not from the pleasurable object so that it may avoid an injustice.”[4]  The Catechism states bluntly, “[Rape] is always an intrinsic evil.”[5]

Blessed John Paul again: “Unfortunately the Christian message about the dignity of women is contradicted by that persistent mentality which considers the human being not as a person but as a thing, as an object of trade, at the service of selfish interest and mere pleasure: the first victims of this mentality are women.”[6]  In fact, one problem in common between contraceptives, abortion, cohabitation and pornography is that all of them enable that “persistent mentality”, especially in men, and foster the abuse of women as masturbation tools.

If there’s a difference between conservatives and liberals in regard to these social evils, it’s the extent to which the State can play a role in reducing them.  But it’s certainly not a case of “it’s not my problem”: the first duty of the commonwealth is to protect the life and dignity of the human person.

Rape and domestic violence need solutions.  Contraception and abortion don’t even begin to address either problem.