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More on Marital Power

Upon reading Mona Scheuermann’s “Letter to a Colleague” (November 1994) concerning “power relations” in marriage, I was reminded of the time a young woman from a “Human Relations” class at our local university came to interview my husband and me. She was doing research for a class assignment and had been given a questionnaire that purportedly would measure where the power lay in our marriage. We had agreed to this moderate invasion of our privacy because she was a friend of a friend and seemed a most sincere and earnest young woman. I was also not a little curious as to what kind of scientific measuring device her professor had concocted. The questions turned out to be quite predictable. Three examples will suffice:

Q: When you are traveling together in the car, who drives?

A: Husband.

Q: Who pays the bills and takes care of the checking account?

A: Husband.

Q: Who cooks dinner?

A: Wife.

As our interviewer read off her questions and recorded our answers, it was transparently obvious that I was steadily sinking in her estimation. I was revealing myself to be just one more downtrodden housewife oppressed by her domineering husband. She seemed disappointed, as if she had expected something better from me and I had let her down. As she was putting her notebook away I asked if she would like an explanation for any of our answers. As hope returned, she eagerly answered, “Oh, yes.”

My husband drives on our trips together, I explained, for three reasons: (a) I often have a briefcase full of work to do; (b) if I don’t have work, I want the time for prayer, writing, or just enjoying the scenery; and (c) driving has a highly sedative effect on me and if I drive more than thirty minutes I am likely to fall asleep. I also observed that driving, far from being an exercise of power, might well be seen as servitude. People with money often hire chauffeurs. No one ever considers the chauffeur to be in a position of power.

My husband pays the bills, I continued, because after doing it many years myself, I asked him to on the grounds that it would give him a better understanding of our finances and would relieve me of an unpleasant task. Furthermore, I own and operate my own business and have quite enough bills to pay at my office. As in the case of chauffeurs, people with money usually hire accountants and secretaries to do such tasks for them, so it would seem to be service rather than power.

Concerning cooking, my husband usually has his main meal with colleagues at the university at noon and I often have lunch meetings, eat with friends, or with my employees at work. In the evening a light meal suffices, and when we want a large meal we usually eat out. My cooking is hardly a burden, and certainly more than a trade-off for my husband’s shoveling snow, mowing grass, maintaining the furnace, plumbing, and general upkeep on an older home, which I didn’t recall her asking about.

At the end of our conversation our student interviewer had mixed reactions. She was relieved that I had not “let her down” after all, but now she didn’t know what to do with her “research” instrument, which had proven so unreliable.

If I had answered her questions during one of the years of our marriage when I was a full-time homemaker and mother of small children, she would most certainly have concluded that my husband had all the “power” in our marriage, yet that would have been as faulty a conclusion as her questionnaire yielded today. The problem, however, is much deeper than devising measuring instruments.

When the young woman asked Professor Scheuermann whether it isn’t “absolutely necessary that before people marry they settle the power issues in their marriage,” she should have been asked what kind of marriage she had in mind. Whether or not power is a valid issue in a secular marriage is a subject for another article, but I protest that it is most assuredly not a valid issue in a Christian marriage. What, after all, is the basis of a Christian marriage? Is it not a sacred covenant, entered into by a man and woman who believe they are called by God to live their lives together, faithfully following Jesus Christ in a life of service to one another, their children, and the larger community?

The commitment to service annihilates the attempt to obtain and exercise power over others. The example of Jesus Christ is total self-sacrifice. It is no accident that the cross is the central symbol for Christians, and it would certainly be appropriate for wedding rings to bear this image. I know a woman whose husband has Alzheimer’s disease. She cares for him with loving patience and constancy such as she used with their small children many years ago. I know a man whose wife has an incurable debilitating disease. He bathes her, dresses her, and feeds her. He lovingly tries to understand her sadly garbled attempts to speak.

Where does the concept of power come into these marriages? The healthy spouses are obviously making all the decisions. Are they therefore powerful? Or might we consider that the helpless spouses are exercising power because they are commanding constant service?

Feminists in academe, feminist syndicated columnists, and talk show hosts on TV have been highly effective in promoting the practice of analyzing all human relationships in terms of power, oblivious to the distortions that ensue. Concomitant with this is the unexamined assumption that power per se is desirable. The tragedy is that so many Christians are docilely accepting this.

We need to hear again the shocking, revolutionary command of Jesus, “Those who would be greatest among you must be the servants of all.”

M. T. Anderson
St. Cloud, Minnesota

C. S. Lewis Today

Much of Alan Jacobs’ article, “The Second Coming of C. S. Lewis” (November 1994) is unexceptionable: no one could duplicate exactly C. S. Lewis’ unique contributions and we ought not waste energy looking for a second Lewis. One throwaway line and one major point, however, should not go unchallenged.

First, the throwaway line: Jacobs says that Lewis’ argument in Mere Christianity that any mere man who said what Jesus said would either be a madman or the Devil holds only if we agree in advance that the Gospels “provide an accurate account of what Jesus said.” Contra Jacobs, this undeniable fact does not undercut the force of Lewis’ argument (which is not unique to him). Lewis was refuting those who relativize Christ by calling him a “Great Teacher.” But they are as dependent on the trustworthiness of the Gospels as are those who believe he was God incarnate. If the Gospels are not a trustworthy account of Jesus’ teachings, the “Great Teacher” interpretation is meaningless-at best it was the early Church that was the “great teacher.”

Although it is unwise to search for a Lewis redivivus, I do not think we should concede the field to the nihilist and deconstructionist infiltration of popular culture by trying to fashion an apologetic that would speak its language. One cannot communicate with those who deny the possibility of rational communication, even if they playfully deny that denial. We need to do precisely what Lewis did-insist on the orderedness of reality and employ both faith and reason in speaking to our world. I suggest that Peter Kreeft’s work, for example, does this in an admirable way that is comparable to Lewis’ apologetic writings, although Kreeft does not have Lewis’ skill in writing fiction, nor is he a scholar of medieval literature.

Then, of course, there is that remarkable man named Karol Wojtyla, who has just published what will probably be a bestseller even by popular media standards. He has written fiction, although nothing comparable to the space trilogy or Narnia chronicles. Like Lewis, however, he thinks we need both reason and faith, that the best way to respond to moral and intellectual disintegration is to call its bluff.

People may say they don’t believe in absolute truth, but just ask them if they have ever shouted, “that’s unfair!” (Mere Christianity, I.1 ff.)

Dennis D. Martin
Loyola University
Chicago, IL

Merely reading the title of Alan Jacobs’ slightly cranky essay on C. S. Lewis worship set my pulse racing. Surprisingly, despite my status as one of those apparently somewhat befuddled American devotees to super- Brit, super-Christian Lewis, I found myself giving Jacobs two cheers by the time I had slugged down his carefully spooned-out remedy for the apologetics doldrums. Two cheers seemed ample considering my membership in the C. S. Lewis Foundation headquartered in Redlands, California. . . .

Jacobs hints strongly that Christians are foolhardy to continue with what he calls their “continued fascination with Lewis.” To this myopic viewpoint I reply that to abandon Lewis is tantamount to throwing away the flashlight when you are lost in the desert at midnight. Rather Christians should study Lewis’ remarkable versatility and persistence and model their behavior on his, engaging others by lovingly illuminating the black holes in modern logic and lives.

Jacobs is right when he says the likelihood of finding another blazing star like Lewis is extremely slim, but the cumulative radiance of a critical mass of articulate Christians banding together under Lewis’ tutelage may be just what our fractured world needs.

I found it amusingly ironic that the very next essay in the issue lauds ideas of C. S. Lewis not once, but twice, the latter of which (a passage from Lewis’ criticism of King Lear), writer Gilbert Meilaender claims undergirds his title, “On Bringing One’s Life to a Point.” Precisely.

Virginia Starrett
Orange, CA

“The Second Coming of C. S. Lewis” offends me deeply, chiefly because the article has nothing whatever to say. Its putative point, that we must not wait idly for another C. S. Lewis, is beside the point: Lewis has not left as long as his books remain in print, nor have the self- promoting relativists produced knowledge that requires new apologetics.

The article is offensive, too, in its cavalier dismissal of A. N. Wilson, whose defection to the Devil’s party grieved booklovers mightily. Wilson seemed for a time to be the best Christian satirist of contemporary morals since Walker Percy, the only one in fact. Christianity Today was indeed publishing news, sad news, when it reported that Wilson had repudiated Christianity. . . .

Eloise K. Goreau
Princeton, NJ

Alan Jacobs replies:

Dennis D. Martin is right to point out the inconsistency of those who find authentic only those sayings of Jesus which comport with what they want to believe. I was merely noting that such people (e.g., members of the Jesus Seminar) will not be moved by Lewis’ famous declamation about the great choice Jesus confronts us with. However, I thank Mr. Martin for emphasizing, as I did not, who is fundamentally in error on this point.

I am sorry that I gave Virginia Starrett the impression that I think lovers of Lewis “befuddled” and “foolhardy,” and that I want us to “abandon” Lewis’ works. I can only point out that I said nothing of the kind, and that the ambivalence of my last paragraph is genuine, not a mask for derision.

Given that Eloise K. Goreau is “deeply offended” by my having “nothing whatever to say,” I can only wonder what response I would have elicited by saying something.

Ms. Goreau and Mr. Martin both claim that we Christians need not adapt our apologetics to “self-promoting relativists” who “deny the possibility of rational communication.” Some day, indeed, we may have to shake the dust off our feet as we leave that house, but are we sure that day has come? It would be absurd to speak the language of nihilism in order to reach the nihilists; but we should seek, like St. Paul and with precisely the same constraints, to be all things to all men. That the overtly Christian writings of Lewis, and of his more thoughtful successors (like the estimable Peter Kreeft), are read almost exclusively by Christians strongly suggests that the message is not getting to the people who need it most, and while it may be more convenient to blame that situation on those nasty old closed-minded relativists, I think it is wiser (for reasons both practical and spiritual) to take the blame upon ourselves and to keep working to address unbelief in any and all of its forms. Those who fail to respond to the writings of C. S. Lewis are not ipso facto unreachable.

Who’s Afraid of the Religious Right?

If he approached the matter seriously, I doubt David R. Carlin would find amusement in the alarm of so many over the growth of the Religious Right (“Right Thinking About the Religious Right,” November 1994). True, most of its supporters are traditionalists reacting to the excesses of the sixties and seventies. They’re upset over the social ills of disintegrating families, drugs, crime, teen pregnancies, and the fashionable nineties agendas of gay marriages, abortion rights, euthanasia, and condoms in school.

However, these social agendas are public for all to see. (I approve of none, incidentally, and many other “right thinkers,” to use Carlin’s term, don’t either.) On the other hand, the core agenda of many leaders of the Religious Right is well camouflaged beneath layers of conservative sloganeering. Joining in this “confuse the enemy” shell game, intellectuals like Carlin refuse to dignify the hidden agenda hypothesis with so much as a passing reference, never mind refuting it. Rather, he digresses to the fifties crusade against subversives by Joe McCarthy, dead now for nearly four decades. Meanwhile, today’s subversives, the Christian Reconstructionists, are very much alive and working today to replace democracy with the new Puritanism. . . .

While many of their fellow travelers would deny it, I strongly suspect that the long-term goals of the Reconstruction movement provide the fuel that energizes the Religious Right’s takeover of school boards and city councils and its attempts to gain control of political parties at the state level.

Some First Things scholar could research an article assuring us that Reconstructionism threatens neither Protestant nor Catholic-no matter that its theologians regard dispensationalists and Catholics alike as apostates and, under theonomic law, would lump the lot of them in the criminal class without citizenship or attendant rights.

A. J. L’Hoste
Grand Prairie, TX

David R. Carlin is correct in addressing a wrongheaded secularist mentality that attempts to deny conservative Christians their legitimate right to participate in the American political dialogue. Hypocrisy often underpins the ideology which declares that only the foundations of a thoroughly secularist agenda can bind together a nation of citizens with varying philosophical and religious views. Also, while the rhetoric describing a war for the culture is indeed unsettling, the late John Courtney Murray’s argument that we must acknowledge and embrace certain consensus truths cannot be avoided.

Nonetheless, we should not conveniently overlook the outright viciousness and divisiveness of certain high profile Christian leaders and their followers. The sound of silence from Carlin and others has been deafening. One does not have to be a rabid secularist to declare the radical religious right as out of the mainstream, a danger to the Republican Party, and most definitely at least a minor menace to the commonweal. Too many of these people indulge in angry, mindless, and ruthless populist rage. They refuse to concede that toleration is not merely an option for the American vision, but a mandatory necessity. Their near abandonment of faith in our political system has unnerving Jacobian undertones. This should not be surprising, for utopian yearnings inevitably lead to frustration and those so inclined ultimately perceive all disputes as leading to Armageddon. . . .

David Thomson
Houston, TX

David R. Carlin replies:

May I respectfully suggest that A.J. L’Hoste and David Thomson reread my article, which was not meant either to praise or to blame the Religious Right. It was meant instead to suggest that anyone who wants to find fault with the Religious Right (as L’Hoste and Thomson want to do) should begin by finding fault with the Cultural Left, whose never-ending provocations have caused the emergence of the Religious Right. No doubt there are those among the Religious Right who go off the deep end-a fact I have no wish to deny. But that wasn’t the subject of my article.


I write to correct an injustice I committed (unintentionally) against my friend and colleague, Hillel Fradkin, in my essay, “Educating Father Abraham: The Meaning of Wife” (November 1994). I ungenerously referred to his work only in passing and only to expose a difference we have long had about the role that Abraham’s love for the beautiful Sarah plays in his education. I should have pointed out the vastly more important fact that Fradkin has for many years been writing and speaking about “the education of Abraham,” read against the background of the earlier chapters in Genesis, based upon his own meticulous and thoughtful interpretations of the Genesis narrative. Readers of First Things should know his fine essay, “God’s Politics: Lessons from the Beginning,” published in This World (Winter 1983); I regularly assign it in my course on Genesis. His beautiful recent essay on love in the Hebrew Bible will appear in a forthcoming volume, Reflections on Love and Friendship, edited by Stephen Gregory and Nathan Tarcov.

Leon R. Kass
University of Chicago