This book was sitting in the room when I arrived early for Sunday School last week, so naturally I picked it up and started reading it. And, since I hadn’t finished it before I left, I naturally had to take it home to finish it.
The Proverbs 31 Woman, or the Virtuous Woman — or, as this author calls her — the VW — is the image of a perfect woman which you will find in the Bible. If you are not familiar with her, you may be in for a surprise. She is not stupid, submissive, or silent. She is strong, intelligent, wise, talented, brave, and hardworking. I find this an excellent role model for a woman. The perfect woman of modern American magazines and TV shows, by contrast, is thin, heavily made-up, sexually irresponsible, not very bright, and filled with angst. I will be glad to hear about it if you think I am wrong — I don’t watch all that much TV, after all — but I think that my description about covers it.
This book is a light-hearted and humorous collection of little stories. Essentially, it takes the position that the VW may be impossible for us to live up to, but it doesn’t matter, because our families and God will love us anyway.
I’m tired of this position. I mean, of course your family and God will love you anyway. Does that mean that it is okay to strive for thinness, a sufficiently made-up face, and a culturally acceptable level of sexual irresponsibility, and not for virtue, wisdom, and strength? I don’t think so. And yet, even in churches and other popular sources of religious and ethical teaching, we get the message that being non-judgmental is the highest virtue of which we are capable, and that’s what God is into, too. If we are lazy, materialistic, and selfish, well, that is just what we are like, and it’s okay. It’s natural.
Are we actually non-judgmental? Of course not. Listen to any group discussing others in an unguarded moment. The judgements may focus on style more than substance, but they are there. At best, we have a sort of moral laissez-faire which amounts to, “Oh, well, if he wants to screw up his life, it’s none of my business.” Is this really the most we can ask of ourselves?
C.S. Lewis wrote about how we compare ourselves with other people. We admire ourselves for being more humane than the people of the past, he said. But it is not reasonable of us to admire ourselves in comparison with crueler ages unless we are also willing to compare ourselves with their virtues. The medieval Europeans, while they were more cruel than we, were also much better at courage and chastity. If we consider how appalled we are by the cruelty of the people of the Middle Ages, then we can understand how appalled they would be by our softness and self-indulgence. That could give us a compassion and insight that might allow us to move toward actually being non-judgemental.
And possibly toward being courageous and chaste, as well. Our dog Toby is filled with original sin. We can tell that he knows what it means to be good, and that he wants to be good. He is happy when his people tell him he is good, and proud of himself when he manages it. But when an opportunity to be bad presents itself, we see him trying to make up his mind, just as in old cartoons the characters had a devil sitting on one shoulder and an angel on the other. And after a few seconds of inner struggle, he jumps to be bad. Every time.
We may be like this ourselves. It may be very hard, and perhaps impossible, for us to be wise and strong and good and brave on a regular basis. But I think it is worth the effort. The Wall Street Journal said not long ago that a person who wants to do good in the world should focus on making lots of money (their argument was not persuasive enough to be repeated here). It is a lot of trouble to do that, and a person determined to make lots of money has to give up a lot of other things in order to meet that goal. Is it less worthwhile to make an equal effort to reach moral or ethical goals? We do not really want future ages to remember us as a people who decided that doing right was too much trouble.