Is the Christian Bible a Good Source of Marital Advice?

I have yet to come across any religion that hands out good advice for marital problems. Since religions in general do an abysmal job of respecting the human mind and body as much as they do the human soul, they tend to dish out advice that directly opposes many psychological realities. For example, many religions that view divorce as a terrible moral failing also promote the absurd idea that every marriage can be turned into a positive thing if people are just willing to “work at it.” Religions do not acknowledge psychological trauma and the ways that such traumas impact people’s behaviors and internal resources.

It’s helpful to realize that all religions begin in specific cultural contexts, and those contexts greatly shape the tone and principles of the religions that get formed. Modern Christianity, for example, is a spin off of Judaism, and Judaism was launched in ancient Israelite culture. Many of the attitudes Christians have towards marriage, including many of the silly gender stereotypes (such as the notion that women’s hair should always be longer than men’s and that women ought to view their husbands as their superiors instead of their peer equals) are based on cultural customs that were popular in the Jewish society that Jesus did His brief ministry in. There was a strong favoritism of males over females in Jewish society, and this attitude resulted in laws that gave men excessively more power than women. I’m not talking about this modern day griping about “equal rights” which is often just code for “let’s give women a free pass to stomp on men.” I’m talking about laws which were so biased towards men that women were left in serious economic and social crises if they couldn’t get a man to marry them. Jewish men could get away with all kinds of shady shenanigans whereas women who pulled the same stunts would get hit with brutal forms of punishment. In short, ancient Jewish society was very far from being a good model of how men and women ought to treat each other.

When a religion is born out of a culture which says it’s great to use ethnicity as an excuse to treat certain people like scum, hold grudges for centuries, and treat women as inferior to men, you should expect the texts of that religion to be rather lacking in sound relationship advice. The Christian Bible wasn’t designed to be a marital guidebook. In fact, the Bible is a really bad place to look for help with any kind of conflict or trauma. Sure, there are some fabulous gems in it, like when Jesus tells people to treat others the way they’d want to be treated. That’s one of those priceless pearls that can help you really improve your social behaviors if you apply it well. But while the Bible has a lot of good stuff in it, it has a lot of bad stuff as well. When it comes to sharpening your spiritual discernment skills–which means learning how to tell truth from lies–the Bible is a great practice book. But when you insist on looking to the Bible for help in solving your marital problems, you’re likely to come away with two basic ideas: pray for your spouse, and act like a doormat (which is commonly referred to as “submitting” in Christian circles).

As popular as it is in Christianity to pray for other people, it’s actually a lousy idea. God simply doesn’t take orders from us, and telling Him all about how you think He ought to fix, change, or relate to some other human is only going to create problems for you in your own walk with God. In helping you with your relationships with others, God is going to turn the focus onto you and talk to you about what you need to be working on in the self-growth department. He’s not going to just rag on your spouse and tell you all about their personal issues.

When it comes to being a doormat, that’s lousy advice as well. Despite believing that God is the Creator of both Heaven and Hell, many Christians cling to the bizarre notion that God is not a fan of personal boundaries. In real life, God is a huge fan of boundaries, and He will teach you how to improve your own boundary drawing skills if you talk with Him about your problems with people.

This post was written in response to a request.

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