American Satis

We are created in the image and likeness of God, and as such our nature refers us to Him. The battle begins, therefore, against human nature. Ideologies, naturalisms, materialisms, sexual revolutions… Everything is one assault after another on the very concept of the human, to deny the obvious: our transcendence, the immortality of our souls, our need for God, our masculine-female complementarity.” (Qtd. by Rod Dreher)

It was a moment etched in memory for me when I was in graduate school. We had class that day in a local restaurant–a change of pace from our regular classroom. The topic of discussion was an article we had read about colonialism by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak.”

Spivak is an Indian woman who took issue with the British prohibition of sati during Britain’s colonization of India. The British had outlawed the practice of a woman placing herself (or being placed) on her husband’s funeral pyre and dying in the flames.

Spivak argued that the colonialist power was depriving women of their right to self-determination. A classmate of mine agreed with Spivak representing all the voiced opinions except my own.

“But what if she wants to?” she asked me when I lamented Spivak’s view.

But what if she does not? What if her culture/his family/her family have expectations that she will die–as tradition demands? Cultural demands ooze from the word sati–the name for women who die in the flames. Satis means “a good woman.”

What horrified me most was the nonchalant attitude of the instructor and the other students. How easy it is to claim “choice” when the person with the most at stake may not actually have a choice and may not even have a voice.

My instructor and fellow students saw nothing wrong with a custom that would label a woman “good” for wanting to die. And what would the label be for a woman who might prefer not to die? Or for one who might enter the flames in less than a fully conscious state so the family would not face the shame of her resistance?

That encounter reminds me of another one I observed years earlier. I was a volunteer in training at a pregnancy resource center. A young woman came in with an older guy. She was a teen–perhaps fifteen or sixteen. He was clearly older–perhaps in his twenties.

He wanted to know her pregnancy test results–a test the center offered for free–a test whose results we would provide only to her–alone.

When the veteran volunteer told him that we would not give him the results; we would only speak with her alone, he made clear his choice in the matter. “I’ll just drive her to Pittsburgh then,” he said–the city a couple hours away, where they could obtain an abortion. During the entire encounter, she did not say one word.

They left not knowing what we knew. She was pregnant.

Despite all the shouting about female autonomy and choice, she had no voice in the matter. He had already made the decision for her. And he didn’t make it with her best interest–or that of the child–in mind.

Graduate students sitting in a restaurant speaking theoretically about satis were far removed from the reality of such a situation. At the pregnancy resource center, I witnessed someone co-opting a woman’s “right to choose.” There was no theoretical life of a child, no theoretical wound for a mother. Those were real.

Dreher: “There is an “anthropological attack” on the meaning of the human person. What C.S. Lewis called ‘the abolition of man’ is upon us.”

When choice trumps meaning, we lose freedom rather than gain it. And in the process, we lose ourselves.

Photo Credit: Pexels

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22 Replies to “American Satis”

  1. I’m so glad you stood up for your beliefs over the Satis practice. I don’t think it was the woman’s decision at all–it was an established practice that women may not have had any say-so about. Once the action became expected, the woman had powerful peer pressure from both men and women to stick to the cultural norms. How long were women held in near slavery because of established patriarchal practices? Your example of the man’s dominance in the pregnancy center is another good example. Thank you for this informative and thought provoking message.

    1. Thank you, Katherine. Women have the freedom we have because of Christianity. Women first declared the resurrection. Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. “Choice” has been a lie of the devil all along. Thanks and God bless!

  2. Wow, tremendously eye-opening. It’s time we really started thinking about the reality of all these theoretical arguments. We’re talking about PEOPLE. Babies. The voiceless. Thank you, Nancy, for this thoughtful piece.

    1. It’s like grooming, convincing someone to “want” to do something they wouldn’t do on their own. Men pressure women to abort. The relationship breaks up anyway. Parents pressure daughters leaving everyone wounded. Thank you, Yvonne. God bless!

  3. It takes discernment to recognize culture vs Scripture. Thank you for sharing this real-life example of this very thing. The attack against humanity – what it means to be a human being made by Almighty God – us under full assault from every side.
    I once heard in a sermon, the unwanted children in abortions are the result of unwanted mothers. Father, let these precious women know they are treasured by you.
    Lord, have mercy on us all, especially the children.

  4. Good on you Ms. Nancy. I thought of how in the Far East, the custom of “losing face” is said to impact the family. It’s, for me, the same as suggesting Americans need to pay reparations for slavery. First, there are no (known anyway) American slaves today, except those who are slaves to sin and self. Second, I was never a slave owner and those demanding reparations today were never slaves. It’s when we can stand and be who God made us to be that we understand true freedom.

    1. I agree, JD. There are American slaves today because of trafficking. Many are pouring over our borders. Many have been groomed and exploited right here. They don’t need reparations. They need liberty. Thanks and God bless!

  5. Nancy, your messages always bring enlightenment to the problem with our humanness. The enemy often lulls us into stupor that misses the whole truth. This, “When choice trumps meaning, we lose freedom rather than gain it. And in the process, we lose ourselves.”

  6. Wow, Nancy. How sad it is that the concept of choice is the default acceptable response to many issues in society. And how sad, as you explained, that choice is often not even choice. Thank you for being a voice of clarity. I pray that many ears can become open to logic and truth.

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