Thursday, September 15, 2016

Only a rib's worth

John Knox
Years ago I discovered quite by accident a pamphlet written by Scotland’s religious reformer John Knox in 1558, titled The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women, a daring polemical piece written against the female sovereigns of his day, particularly Mary of Guise, Dowager Queen of Scotland and regent to her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, and Queen Mary I of England. I never read it completely through, because the archaic language was a discouragement. Perhaps I should find a modernized edition of it, if there is one, and read it. Or maybe I should write a pamphlet myself on this topic.

Queen Elizabeth I
Just as his work was catching the public eye, a new queen, Elizabeth I, began her reign, and she was not happy with it. Not surprisingly, she was offended. As history bore out, Elizabeth I was probably one of the best monarchs ever to rule England, and arguably the best queen. In the archaic title of Knox’s pamphlet, ‘the Monstruous Regiment of Women’ means something like ‘the unnatural rule of women,’ and his ideas came directly out of the Bible.

The King James Bible? No, that hadn’t been commissioned yet. Knox composed his pamphlet while in exile in Geneva, Switzerland, where everyone who could escape Catholic England under Queen Mary I, ‘bloody Mary,’ holed up. The New Testament of The Geneva Bible, a Protestant translation, came out a year before Knox wrote his pamphlet, and the rest of the Geneva Bible two years later, in 1560. As a divine, Knox probably knew the Bible in the Latin Vulgate version. In any case, he made his case against women rulers by reference to Bible verses that made women subject to men, forbade them from having authority over men, both because they were inferior to men by virtue of being ‘taken out of man,’ that is, only a rib’s worth of what a man is, and because they were thus the weaker sex, not physically only, but in every other way.

21st Century ‘Happy Days’
Those were times when sweeping generalizations could be credibly made by prominent intellectuals—or radical ‘reformers’—and be believed, at least sometimes. I suppose the current age is quite similar in many respects. In the mid-sixteenth century, most people still didn’t read much, and writers could be catapulted into prominence if their ideas could find a hearing. Today, the same, as most people still don’t read much—at least not real books, just fantasy novels, and electronically, newsfeeds, blogs, twitters, and whatever else they fancy—and the media moguls feed us with reports and surveys spiced any way they like it. Wikipedia articles, written by who knows who with or without what credentials can divert the attitudes of self-made scholars to slant eventually the attitudes of a whole nation.

Notice, I said ‘attitudes’ and not ‘thinking,’ because the thinking man or woman has enough self-respect not to defer to such dubious authorities. But here we are, history doesn’t stop cycling and recycling the mistakes, and the victories, of past ages, thus keeping the Bible, especially the book of Ecclesiastes, relevant. Not only in America, heading for either the abyss or the next golden age, depending on whether you color yourself red or blue, whether you read, or go with the flow, but in much of the destabilized Western world, the uneducated public is being played with by the unprincipled privileged, and the things that really should matter are eclipsed by ephemeral, even fantasy, issues. If Knox were alive and writing his fiery pamphlets today, I wonder who he would target, using his faithful, old Bible as ammunition.

We don’t really need to wonder for long, because though Knox is long gone and perhaps spinning in his grave, matters far worse than women rulers have taken centre stage in state, church, and society at large. Whether or not the Bible should be taken literally as to the status of women, we nevertheless will always do what we want with this, and every other issue, anyway. The wise are not troubled by these things, but if they are Christians, they follow the Lord, all things—even biblical laws—being subject to His authority.

Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky
Then, there are Christians who will fight, even physically do battle, or threaten to, when what they perceive as ‘the enemy’ takes control of what they believe belongs only to God. My thought, for example, that a female president being elected in the States this November might provoke a mutiny in the armed forces, or widespread public revolt by ‘fundamentalists’ and other patriots, has already been voiced by the governor of Kentucky.

‘America is worth fighting for ideologically. I want us to be able to fight ideologically, mentally, spiritually, economically, so that we don’t have to do it physically. But that may, in fact, be the case,’ is what the governor said. This is an alarming thought that I’ve had, and now it’s even made it to the headlines, as though we are being prepared for a great default. These are critical times, times of what is called ‘krisis’ in Biblical Greek, meaning ‘judgment,’ and none of us, man, woman, or child, will be left untested.

Lord, have mercy.

‘Don’t worry, We’ll only take a rib’s worth…’

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