Friday, November 9, 2007

Old Fashioned Pagan Patriarchy

by P. Andrew Sandlin

The article appeared originally in the January 2004 issue of Christian Culture. Visit the Center for Cultural Leadership web site:

Today’s secular culture is at war with the family. Lax divorce laws, radical feminism, rampant pornography, legalized abortion, “children’s rights,” mainstream homosexuality, and inheritance taxes — all these and other factors collude to assault the family, particularly the Christian family.

The (Over)Reaction

It is perhaps inevitable that the Christian reaction will at times become overreaction and that the family, a central institution in God’s plan, should begin to monopolize all of life. In fact, a renewed patriarchalism in some quarters is working for hegemony over the other legitimate spheres of God’s authority. But patriarchalists don’t justify their (over)reaction only to the ravenous egalitarian society. They also (over)react to a reckless, egocentric Church that is oblivious to family prerogatives (“After all, I am the elder [or bishop, or pastor, or deacon, or what have you], and I am the supreme authority in the Church”). But the solution to social and ecclesiastical tyranny is not patriarchal tyranny, which, in fact, is no less culpable than the former. Tyranny is tyranny, and “spiritual” tyranny is perhaps the worst form of all (think: Spanish Inquisition).

Old-Fashioned Conservative Tyranny
Today’s hegemonic patriarchalism seems at points to bear an eerie resemblance to the pagan patriarchy of ancient Rome (before the rise of the Empire). Pre-Empire Rome was a patriarchal culture. The housefather was given virtually unlimited authority. His word was law — not metaphorically, but literally. If his wife bore a daughter, and he preferred a son, he could simply cast the daughter into the streets to die of starvation or be eaten by a wild animal. He could beat and otherwise abuse fellow family members at will. With limited exceptions, the father was the central authority in society. Many other ancient cultures were similarly clan-based, and these extended families (not just Mom and Dad and Junior and Susie, but the grandparents and third cousins and “in-laws”) ruled the countryside by blade and blood. At the center of this tyranny was the patriarch, generally the oldest surviving male of the family. (Mario Puzo’s rendition of The Godfather furnishes an embellished, but generally accurate, portrait of this arrangement.)

For this reason it is sometimes ironic to hear Christians declare that they are championing a “conservative view of the family.” If they are conserving the old-fashioned pagan patriarchy, they are deviating from Biblical Faith, which repudiates this tyranny. We are called first to be obedient Christians, not card-carrying conservatives. Today’s Christian patriarchalists are far removed from the violence of the pagan patriarchalists (in most cases, at least!), but in their commitment to hegemony, they are too close for comfort.