Honor to Whom Honor

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“Render to all what is due them,” writes Saint Paul, “Tax to whom tax is due, custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:7, NASB).  When a zealous Christian offered to help Mark Twain understand the difficult things in the Bible, Twain said something like this: “It is not the things I don’t understand that bother me, but those that I do understand.”  In the United States of the 21st century, we understand tax only too well, alas, and we understand custom—or at least we used to in the days before globalization.  We certainly understand fear: fear of terrorists, on the one hand, and, less plausibly, of right-wing Christian extremists, on the other.  But honor?  Probably Twain understood that particular concept, but it seems to have dropped out of our minds even as it has almost disappeared from our vocabulary.

In earlier ages, honor was an item so precious to men that many a man challenged an opponent who had insulted him even when he knew his adversary to be a better swordsman or pistol shot.  For many, “Death before dishonor” was not an empty slogan but an inflexible rule of life—and death.  Better to die on the field of honor than to live without honor.  From a Christian point of view, dueling with deadly weapons has always been wrong, but honor was so highly prized that many Christians fought anyway,...

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