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Our (God) Problem with Patriarchy

“I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me” (John 8:28b).

“I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me… The Father is greater than I…  [so] I do as the Father has commanded me” (John 12:50; 14:28b, 31).

These are the words of Jesus Christ according to the Gospel of John.

Now, if we didn’t know any better, we might think these were the words of a raving patriarchist, forever enabling male domination upon the world of women and children; If we didn’t know better, we might say this is nothing but toxic masculinity parading in religious garb so as to hide its misogynist instincts and its subtle domination over the Western civilization; If we didn’t know better…

Well it seems that many today do not know any better; or, rather, do not know the words of Jesus Christ. Either way our culture is facing a problem—a “problem with patriarchy.”

And it is a “problem,” there’s no getting around that; and it is our problem, since it is staring Western, post-Christian, secular culture square in the face. Even the most conservative “fundamentalist” Christians (Baptist, Evangelical, Catholic, or Orthodox) can’t avoid its onslaught upon the Western psyche. It is here now and must be dealt with head-on. (Whether it faces non-european cultures is not the point).

Surely, those on the conservative side of the debate should not react to the feminist critique as though patriarchal society was without flaw, or that patriarchy has not often been distorted and perverted throughout history. Indeed, it was precisely certain patriarchal assumptions of ancient Judaism and paganism that Christianity opposed from early times. And Christendom was very much the conversion or sanctification of human patriarchy under the rulership of God, our Father in heaven. So what is the issue today? What is the heart of our problem with patriarchy?

Really, ours is a problem with fatherhood, to put it precisely.  What is fatherhood, and where does it come from? Who is my father? Who is our father? How do we relate to, or honor, our father? What does father even mean? Why is this important? All of these questions are existentially present (and prescient) whether we are consciously aware of them or not. Questions of “fatherland” and “patriotism” are of course all bound up with this as well (as are questions of motherhood, motherland, natality, nationhood, etc; which is the feminine pole of this question, and will be discussed as elsewhere).

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Ultimately, however, this becomes a religious question as well, or a “God-question.” Because in the Western world Christianity has taught that God is called Father. Our most famous prayer begins with, “Our Father…” The Nicene Creed begins, “I believe in one God, the Father….” And all this emphasis upon God as Father clearly comes from nowhere if not Christ’s teaching in the Gospel. Now, one might think that such old-world religion, biblical texts, and ancient dogma, have no part to play in the present dilemma facing modern progressive culture and its recurrent waves of so-called ‘feminism.’ But it does. In fact, I would argue that it is largely our ignorance regarding traditional Christian doctrine that has brought us to our current dilemma. One may easily begin with the question: Why was Jesus so intent on honoring his Father that he made it one of his most recurrent points throughout the gospel of John? Our Lord repeats himself so many times that we cannot help but hear the echo throughout eternity.

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:19-23).

Of course, in Jesus’ time his words about the Father weren’t exactly popular either. And if we study the Gospel closely at all, we notice that it was particularly these teachings about his personal “Father” that brought about the most antagonism from the chief priests and leaders of the Jews. “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill [Jesus], because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). This discussion engendered a knock-down-drag-out over respective paternities, and thus different patriarchies.

“I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father… You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.”  Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:38, 41-44).

Hot (incendiary) stuff, to be sure. But, it’s all framed in terms of paternity. In fact, the most profound statements of Christian theology Jesus makes entirely in relation to his Father. “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). It was precisely Jesus’ teaching about the his personal “Father” which became the essence of Christian teaching about God and Man (later known as Christology) and the linchpin differentiating Christianity from Judaism, and later Islam. For both Judaism and Islam deny that God should be understood as Father in a personal way; Father is merely a metaphorical term in Judaism; and it is avoided entirely in Islam, where God is understood as the absolute un-related, and un-relatable. At the end of the day, the difference between the faithful and the damned came down to a question whether you were willing to accept Jesus’ personal relation to his Father or not.

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So this is all a religious question; not merely a social one. And so is our problem today in the modern world. Since Western culture inherits both this religious debate, and centuries of applied Christianity (aka. Christendom), contemporary anti-patriarchy must be understood in this context. Our problem with patriarchy is fundamentally a religious one.

This anti-patriarchy reveals itself in various social and religious revolutions throughout history. For patriarchy is ultimately about authority, and the idea that God has ordered the world in a certain way.  And if God has ordained authorities on earth (spiritual and physical) we are actually able to meet him in—and through—those authorities. “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1b). The Christian idea, furthermore, is that God delights to be found and honored in the authorities he himself, providentially, places over us for our own good (whether a physical father, or spiritual father). And to be extra-clear, this has nothing to do with whether these authorities are perfect or sinless within their respective offices; rather it is entirely based upon the providence of God, and whether these officers possess legitimate authority from God or not. Surely, many officers might forfeit this legitimate authority by their negligence and perversion; but the exception doesn’t disprove the rule. For example, poor parents don’t invalidate the principle of parenthood. Rather, honoring one’s parents—often times in spite of their imperfections—pleases God very much: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with promise), that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth'” (Eph. 6:1-3).  (Notice that honoring both father and mother are part of this Christian framework; and it involves a certain relation to the land—fatherland/motherland/natality).

I mentioned that the Jews and chief priests didn’t like Jesus’ teaching about his personal Father. And why was that? Well, minimally one could say that it had to do with both theology and politics. For what Jesus said was about authority, and who one was to obey. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt 6:24). Clearly, the problem was about politics; for the God question always has political implications, whatever people try imagining to the contrary. And, frankly put, this is why Jesus was killed: Because of his teaching about God the Father, and by extension the social and political implications his authoritative spiritual words about God (theology) presented. “We have no king but Caesar” became the incoherently hypocritical political rhetoric of the conservative right-wing Jews, pretending to be good Roman pagans, just to silence Christ’s witness to even higher authority. For as Christ made it clear to Pilate, the whole showdown was over authority, and who’s claims out-ranked who’s?

So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”  Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin” (John 19:10-11).

And as the Gospels all imply, Pilot got the hint and immediately tried to remove himself from the situation. He realized he was outranked in the hierarchy of authorities given by ‘the gods’ (as any normal Roman pagan would understand). Even his wife told him as much, saying she suffered from a dream about Jesus. But Pilate had to contend with the will of the powerful political rabble-rousers, and their threat to blackmail him and ultimately get him in trouble with the Roman Empire; this geo-political pressure proved too much for Pilate. And the rest is history.

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What does this all mean for us today? Simply put the principle is as follows. The teachings of religion and God are inherently political because they are about authority. And so the inverse is likewise true; the contemporary social and political questions over patriarchy are inherently religious, because they are about authority. The modern radical feminist impulse against patriarchal authority is nothing new; it’s the same old siren song merely reaching a more feverish pitch.

Fyodor Dostoevsky identified the problem with modern secular culture as essentially a Luciferian impulse to “throw off” (revolt against) every authority. It matters not if that authority be spiritual (the Church), familial (father, mother) or civil (monarch, governor). The only legitimate authority according to the Lucifierian view is the Self—the Individual. Conversely, any external authority is always already illegitimate and thus oppressive and must be opposed and ultimately thrown off and destroyed. Notice the direct inversion of Christ’s words, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” The Luciferian logic always inverts divine revelation. And so goes the Revolutionary spirit or “zeitgeist” of the age. In other language, this is radical individualism; this is radical libertarianism; this is cultural marxism; this is so much of what we face on every side today.  And as a result we are fragmented; without land; sans patrie; we are un-related and non-relatable. It seems the theology of Judaism and Islam, rather than that of the Gospel, fits much more closely with the secular standards of the post-Christian world. And one wonders whether this is not entirely by accident.

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Indeed, the many revolutions that have taken place since the time of Christ have the same root issue; it has always been the Gospel message of Christ the Son of God, and the divine words of paternal (i.e. fatherly) authority upon human society. This was the struggle of the pagan emperors and secular leaders who resisted God’s word and authority. Thus we have both Peter and Paul standing up to the Roman Empire and being martyred for it. Even after the conversion of Constantine, that same pagan struggle lived on through countless emperors who opposed Popes and Patriarchs alike. Sometimes we’ve been given outstanding saints, like Pope Leo the Great, who stood against the godless powers, such as Attila the Hun (Attila means “daddy”). And at other times we witness the collapse of the Christian world, like at the fall of Constantinople. The struggle has aways been against the witness of Christ, and the responsibility it places upon the human leaders and how they ‘rule’ over the people. Some Christian monarchs accepted this responsibility, however they may have failed to fully live up to its high calling. Modernity, however, has by enlarged rejected this Christian ideal completely, and opted entirely for the radical autonomy of the individual self, thereby shouting down the vox dei with the vox populi. This became the central struggle for the British and French Revolutions; and especially of the Bolsheviks to overthrow the Christian monarchs all over the world. It would seem that only now the Western world is waking up to the reality that such anti-patriarchal impulses have left only desolation in their wake. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was the catalyst which instigated WWI; likewise the murder of the last Russian Tsar (Nicholas II) and his family was just the beginning of a slaughter of at least 60 millions Slavs.  The world has been given many martyrs at the behest of the anti-patriarchy. When will we learn?

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Likewise, this struggle (“kamph“) of the radical fascists throughout Europe to engineer an entirely secularized state power, unencumbered by religious (divine) authority, continues to lead toward further draconic and totalitarian regimes (often styled as ‘unions’).  Today, we even face extreme measures to disintegrate parental authority over children born in a traditional family to a father and mother. In this case, even gender assignment is seen as patriarchal and oppressive. Furthermore, the entire confusion of sex and gender has at its root this incredulous inability to deal with the divine division between male and female, in the image of God the Father. For without this distinction between male and female, “father” fails to have any meaning. And this is also intentional. Such is our modern world, and its problem with fatherhood; its problem with patriarchy; its problem with toxic masculinity. But at root, our problem is with God.

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In the end, the words of Christ and the Gospel stand unmoved and unchanging to the end of time. And so I will end with the following observation:  When Jesus speaks with the greatest sense of wonder and awe—in fact the one place where he reaches the most rhapsodic and almost euphoric  language—it is entirely in reference to the Father and his children. Contrarily, some of Jesus’ sternest warnings are against those who would “lead any of these little ones astray.” Jesus, as the Son of God shows most precisely the heart of the Father. “Don’t you know me?” Jesus asks. “For when you see me, you see the Father” (John 14:9).

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children;  yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Matt 11:25-27).

The Gospel plays a different tune than the one we hear everyday in our godless world. But if it is to make any difference we must first let it change the subtle vibrations of our own hearts and minds. For, if the Christian Gospel is true, nothing less than a divine unveiling of heavenly order (cosmos) might once again appear upon the scene of our chaos and confusion; and peace on earth might once again enter the realm of human possibility. It is high time that we,began imitating Jesus’ own example. For as he was sent by his Father, so he sends us. I believe it is high time we began to be about our Fathers’ business. Amen.

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The Medieval Professor View All

"We need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.” — C.S. Lewis

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