That’s what Jesus did. If we belong to Him, we ought to have strength enough to do the same, when we are called upon to do it. Do you know why we don’t? We are afraid. What would happen if we exposed Pharisaical thinking? Pharisees wouldn’t like us anymore, and we can’t have that, can we? I mean – they call the religious shots, right? We’ve got to tow the line so we fit in.
I just finished an intriguing book called Unseduced and Unshaken: The Place of Dignity in a Young Woman’s Choices by Rosalie De Rossett. I want to share some quotes that have the potential to shift paradigms. God has already done some seismic shifting in my own life in 2013, and this book clinched many things for me. Maybe some of these things will be helpful to you, too.
The title of the book is taken from John Milton’s Paradise Lost where he writes about Abdiel, the one angel who remains loyal after the fall of Satan: “Abdiel, faithful found;/Unshaken, unseduced, unterrified,/His loyalty he kept.” This book seeks to help women have a vision for being this kind of woman—unshaken and unseduced.
The first chapter deals with dignity, and that’s the chapter I want to focus on here.
“Dignity: formal, grave, or noble bearing, conduct or speech; nobility or elevation of character; the quality or condition of being worthy, esteemed or honored; inherent nobility and worth; poise and self-respect; formal reserve or seriousness of manner appearance, or language.”
“Dignity contains within it, as the definitions suggest, not only noble bearing, a facet of appearance, but also noble character which comes from inherent nobility and worth. That means the person is sure of her values and beliefs, she is sober and thoughtful about every part of her life. And, what this discussion is trying to do is to introduce you to dignity’s importance, not to present yet another unreachable ideal. If you can see the crucial role of a quality, it is possible to begin the journey toward that quality because it promises a life of greater integrity. The truth of the matter is that most of us are in process, no matter what our age. It is easier for some of us to look dignified than others, but to truly be dignified is something different that has a number of components.”
“When dignity is talked about among Christian women, it most often has to do with the passages about wives’ behavior in 1 Timothy and the proverbial “quiet and submissive spirit,” a phrase that is seldom correctly scripturally interpreted and is too often equated with passivity contributing to women’s voicelessness. Passivity, wrote one clinical psychologist, ‘is born of anxiety; it is a fear of using our energies lest we risk disapproval by others or risk failure in our own eyes….It is a disowning of our nobler part—our self-reliance, our courage under fire, our resolve to win, our determination to inspire others to greater heights.’”
“To be a Christian woman of dignity, a woman must know who she is before God; she must have dealt thoughtfully with her personhood and made decisions about who she will be. Dignity is a strong, chosen, deliberate way of life, the result of the totality of a person’s choices and worldview.”
One of the interesting things about this book is that the author uses literature to illustrate her points. In the first chapter on dignity, her classic of choice is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. She demonstrates how the main character, Jane, lives out dignity and true morality in the face of the self-righteous Pharisaism all around her.
Jane, who does not have the advantage of good looks or good fortune, survives in spirit because she chooses the path her life (spirit, mind, and behavior) will take, often against cultural mores and corrupt authoritative voices. She has a sense of voice from the time she is a child and tells the truth in every circumstance, even when it could endanger her well-being. Though she must learn to refine her expression, she will not silence the voice of her intellectual needs or mute her moral voice by compromising her character with poor relational or sexual choices for the sake of fleeting happiness. She rises to a higher standard, a God-given understanding of righteousness.
So, first of all, she tells the truth, a righteous truth. She trusts her instincts—something women are often prone to ignore. She doesn’t go along with the conventional wisdom that says, “keep quiet, take the abuse, answer questions the way you’re expected to.” She calls her aunt on her cruel behavior. She refuses to give pious answers to the evil school director, Mr. Brocklehurst, when he asks her supposedly “spiritual questions” about the Bible. Listen to the following exchange—starting with his attempt to intimidate her.
“Do you know where the wicked go after death?”
“They go to hell,” was my ready and orthodox answer.
“And what is hell? Can you tell me that?”
“A pit full of fire.”
“And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?”
“What must you do to avoid it?”
“I must keep in good health and not die.” [replies Jane]
The reader can’t help smiling at this childlike honesty, but also the kind of truthful spirit that will become “a strong moral sensibility.” That’s the kind of woman I think Jesus wants us to be—that’s the kind of biological and spiritual daughters He wants us to raise, women who have a righteous instinct for recognizing, naming, and resisting abuse and falsehood.”
Are we that brave? Do we dare to stand up for what the Word of God teaches – and not buckle when others want to add their own, self-appointed morality to the pot? Will we call a spade a spade? Are we OK when others disapprove because we have broken their rules?
Bronte wrote the following words in the preface to the novel’s second edition: “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.” In other words, what has always been done culturally is not the same as moral principle. Pointing out the hypocrisy of what a person or church has decided is appropriate is not an attack on the person of Jesus Christ.
I wonder how many young women reading this feel that sense of self, that sense of worth before God, a worth that extends to their choices and ability to stand for what they know is right? I wonder how many women in general can make the distinction between what their subculture dictates (the church, the circles they occupy) and true morality, between the self-righteousness of peer pressure and true conviction, between Pharisaical demands and what Christ wants His daughters to be?
I’d like to share more from this book sometime if you are interested. Reading it has been an enriching experience.