Gloria (Secular Feminist)
Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)
Moderator: Gloria and Sarah have stated their positions. Now we will hear from Abraham who will represent neo-patriarchy. Let me remind the audience one more time that we are engaged in a dialogue on the ethics of male/female relationships in society, church and home, focusing on the decisive and most contested issue in the contemporary discussion, that is, male power and privilege. As moderator, I will not take sides but will attempt to enforce civility and encourage clarity. And I will try to keep our speakers from straying from the topic under discussion.
Programing Note: Dr. Ron Highfield, on whose blog we are conducting this dialogue, asked me to warn the audience against taking the views expressed by any of our participants as identical with his own. His interests in sponsoring this debate are clarifying the basic decision points that divide these three perspectives, allowing everyone to hear a coherent and intelligent presentation of a view other than their own, and presenting a model for civil and rational debate on important and emotion-laden issues, such as the one we are discussing.
Abraham, please state your view clearly, explain your grounds for holding it, and detail some of its practical implications for society, church, and home. And may I suggest that you begin by explaining why you call your viewpoint neo-patriarchy. I find it interesting that you would adopt a label that includes the term “patriarchy,” a viewpoint associated in many people’s minds with oppression of women.
Abraham: Thank you Moderator for the opportunity to defend neo-patriarchy, the most enlightened and person-affirming of all views of male/female relationships in society, church, and home. Indeed, I am aware that “patriarchy” is associated in the popular mind with prejudice and oppression of women. Whatever truth there is in this accusation—and its truth is not beyond dispute—I do not subscribe to traditional patriarchal philosophy. I am a neo-patriarch. Neo-patriarchy maintains the core insight of patriarchy but places it within a Christian framework and takes into account the equalizing effects of modern technological advancements.
You asked why I chose the term neo-patriarchy even though it’s sure make a bad first impression and prejudice the audience against my arguments before they hear them. The answer is two-fold. First, I chose it because it accurately describes what I believe. Second, it is a protest against our politically correct, progressive culture in which anyone who dares defend a traditional moral view is met with indignation and outrage. In calling my view neo-patriarchy, I embrace my marginality and refuse to be intimidated by insults and threats. I express my confidence in its truth, certainty of its rationality, and clarity about its moral superiority to the alternatives.
Christian neo-patriarchy asserts that God created every human being in his image. Each and every person is loved by God beyond all measure, which means that each person’s worth to God is incalculable. Men are not loved by God more than women. Nor are they worth more to God than women. But we do not conclude from this truth that men and women should be treated equally in every respect. Feminists and egalitarians sometimes fail to notice that equality is a comparative concept. You can love your neighbors equally even if you do not love them at all! Equality is a morally neutral term. It belongs in mathematics and not in moral philosophy. It provides little comfort to affirm that God loves everyone equally unless you also specify how much! Neo-patriarchs argue instead that God loves each person, male or female, infinitely. Hence we place ourselves under obligation to treat women (and men) according to their infinite dignity. We hold ourselves to higher standards than the ones proposed by secular feminism and egalitarianism.
Moderator: I’m confused. You don’t sound at all like a patriarch. Patriarchs don’t treat women as having infinite dignity, do they? Help us out here.
Abraham: You are confused because, despite my disclaimer, because you still expect me speak like a traditional patriarch. Apparently, you don’t yet understand significance of the “neo” in neo-patriarchy. Perhaps, I can best explain it by examining traditional patriarchy and then differentiating neo-patriarchy from it. Traditional patriarchy is a product of reason, common sense, and accumulated experience…with a big dose of sin thrown in. Let’s consider patriarchy in its most enlightened form rather than looking for its crudest examples.
In his book Politics, Aristotle examines the most basic unit of society, the family. For Aristotle, the family unit includes slaves, wives, husbands, and children. The ruling order of the family is determined by nature. The natural slave has a strong body but lacks the intelligence and wisdom to rule himself or others. Wives possess the wisdom and intelligence required for ruling but do not possess the strength to rule men, who possess both. The husband possesses both natural strength and wisdom and so is the natural ruler of the household, and by extension the city. A wise woman will accept this order and remain soft-spoken in relation to her husband and other men, since it is unwise to rebel against the unchangeable order of nature or provoke fights one cannot win.
Note: In Aristotle’s day, the household was a semi-autonomous sphere headed by the father. The state intruded in its internal affairs only in extreme circumstances. The father could use violence within prescribed limits to enforce obedience on wives, children, and slaves.
In many ways Aristotle simply states the obvious. Because of their vastly superior intelligence, human beings rule the animal world. Ruling requires both superior physical strength and intelligence. Neither alone is sufficient. This is the core truth of patriarchy that neo-patriarchs accept because it is an indisputable fact. But Aristotle draws a conclusion from these differences that Christian neo-patriarchs reject. He attributes more natural dignity to men than to women, and he does so because he measures dignity in terms of fitness to rule. Slaves have less, women have more, but men have the most dignity. We reject this formula. As I argued above, the Christian gospel asserts that women and men possess infinite dignity, and men are obligated to treat women in accord with this dignity. And this rule makes all the difference. Men have no right to pursue their needs, desires or any other private concern at the expense of their wives or other women. Selfishness, male or female, is always wrong. Always!
But how does Christian neo-patriarchy incorporate the differences between men and women into its theory? Neo-patriarchs insist that we are obligated to love each other and treat each other justly. The concept of justice states that “each receives what he or she is due.” But how do we determine what each is due? Egalitarians appeal to the concept of equality to quantify justice. They insist that a just system treats men and women the same. Neo-patriarchs appeal instead to the concept of love, that is, each seeks what is truly good for others. We argue that seeking “what is truly good for others” is morally superior to seeking equality of goods and privileges among them. Things can be equally bad for everyone!
Moreover, treating men and women equally in every respect would disadvantage women by validating and institutionalizing the natural advantages men have over women in areas of physical strength and aggressiveness. Women would have to win the goods they enjoy in competition with men on an equal playing field. We do not believe this order would be just, because we define justice in terms of love and not equality. Instead of encouraging men or women to seek “what is truly good for others,” such a rule (equal opportunity, same rules), would reward them for pursuing their private interests at the expense of others. Exercising authentic love and justice toward everyone entails uniformly seeking the best for each individual, given their natural and historical circumstances. In so far as women differ from men, what is best for men may not be best for women. So, neo-patriarchs believe in equality after all!
I can see my time is running out. Allow me to speak briefly as a Christian neo-patriarch about how we believe men should treat women. Men are physically stronger and more aggressive than women, and they are keenly aware of it. Women are aware of this too, or they should be. Technological advances have lessened but cannot remove the advantage this difference gives men in the contest for power and privilege. Men must decide what to do with this advantage, and there are only two honest options. (The dishonest option is pretending that it does not exist.) A man can use this power to exploit or protect women. We believe the ideology of egalitarianism facilitates exploitation and harms women in the name of helping them. It forces women to compete with men in areas where nature has placed them at a disadvantage. As Christian neo-patriarchs, we believe that the male form of true love toward women counts every woman as a wife, mother, sister, or daughter. And because we believe our wives, mothers, sisters and daughters are of infinite worth to God, we are determined to use our strength to protect, love, and honor rather than exploit and despise them. We draw our ideals from the original neo-patriarch, the apostle Paul:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Cor 13:4-7).
Moderator: Abraham, I am sorry to interrupt, but we are out of time. I suppose you realize that you have not yet addressed all three areas I asked you to cover. Perhaps it’s my fault for asking you to explain why you chose the term patriarchy and for not interrupting you earlier to keep you on pace. But since our dialogue cannot proceed with responses and rebuttals until we have before us the full picture of all three views, I will give you an opportunity at our next meeting to finish your opening statement. You’ve certainly given our audience something to think about in the meantime!
Abraham: Thank you Moderator. I shall try to be more concise next time.
Programming Note: The second half of Abraham’s presentation of neo-patriarchy is scheduled to be posted on this blog at 6:00 am EST on Monday, November 19.