A Crying Need for Casuistry
A young man in social media has posted a complaint, which has been going around. His girl friend wanted to go out with her female friends to visit a place the man thought unsafe and unsuitable. He made her promise not to go, and the next day he learned she had gone, with the predictable result of rape and battery. How should the boyfriend respond?
The young man declared that was enough for him and he broke up with her. Many commenters thought he had done the right thing and condemned the girl friend out of hand, and declared that she was obliged to do what her boyfriend had told her to do. When some ventured to suggest he was being too harsh, one told them they were being haters. I composed the following response but for obvious reasons I did not post it:
As a student of Christian ethics, I would modestly suggest there are at least two moral questions here--probably a third, which is how stupid can he have been to be going out with a woman who lies in order to justify going places she shouldn't?--and the first has to do with whether or not he should continue to go out with her, much less regard her as a girl friend. Here the answer is clearly, no, unless there is some complicating factor such as she is carrying his baby, or he had done something foolish to provoke her.
The second, is do we have an obligation to lovers and friends when they are in trouble, even when the trouble is caused by their own bad decision? Absent aggravating factors, the more probable answer in this case is, yes. A visit with friends, a few kind words would not be out of place. Yes, she did something very foolish and is paying a terrible price for it, but if he had cared enough for her when he regarded her as his girl friend, then even when he as decided to escape from the erotic tangles, he might be expected to behave decently toward a woman he has probably been sleeping with.
Since all we have is his version of the story, however, one should not rush to judgment in either direction, and if he saw her the next day, he may well have done the right thing by doing something to comfort her in her distress. Nonetheless, if this were an example in a casuistry handbook, I'd say charity should be shown in particular to those to whom it is due. Suppose as a parallel a good male friend had let him down when he was most needed--refused to bail him out of jail, even though he had the money, or did not show up to testify in court, when his testimony was needed, and then the next day this friend got into a near-fatal car crash. Does he visit him in the hospital, when he asks, or does he tell him to get stuffed for being a false friend?
One question we cannot answer, because of the brevity and self-righteousness of the man's account, is how much of his rejection is based on a rational judgment that she is someone to avoid and how much comes from resentment she did not do as she was told.
By the way, I should suggest that if a man wants the right to tell a woman what to do, there are a few preliminary steps such as buying the ring, getting engaged, getting to the church on time. As a final note, the equation of the right thing with the hard thing has an awfully Puritanical, even Manichaean ring. It is hard for a parent to reject a wilful child--and probably wrong. We are so constructed by our Creator that often the right thing is what we are programmed to feel good about it. But neither pleasure nor pain are a proper criterion for making moral judgments.