The ancients understood something about the world that we, too often, don’t.
They understood that the patterns of being and interacting in each sphere of the world were establishing ways of being and interacting that affected the others.
When Aristotle wanted to make hay about politics, he started with the most basic political unit: families. More specifically, he started with husbands and wives.
The assumptions he made at one level permeated each other level. In the home, as in society at large, there are people who are given to foresight and planning–who are, in short, superiors. Things would only work well if these superiors ruled their inferiors.
Where does such superiority come from? From the ability of the reason to conquer the passions of the body. From the ability of strength to subdue the weakness that would ruin a home, a city, or a kingdom.
Men were to rule at home for the same reason that Alexander the Great should be the great emperor over all the inhabited world: each epitomizes reason, virtue, and physical power.
At a conference recently, some folks were wrestling with why male power in the church is such a difficult thing to dislodge in America–a place with enough theological education that we should know better.
If we look around we see the seeds of undoing the models of society that uphold the power of patriarchy: when we say “all men are created equal” we actually have to mean all human beings, not just all males. Once we’ve said and meant such a thing, there is no longer any basis for ascribing rule to men alone.
If we look “down” we can see the seeds of undoing the models of society that uphold the power of patriarchy: we strive, now, to have our children settle their disputes without fighting. We call exercise of physical power of intimidation “bullying,” not “manliness.” Our change in vocabulary says that we refuse to be a society governed by physical might as though this is some demonstration of the superiority that gives you the right to lead.
But when we look “up,” it’s an entirely different picture.
While we bemoan gun violence at home, our country is perhaps the greatest perpetrator of gun violence around the world–through exporting of not only arms but also of persons to pull the triggers.
While we righteously deplore the justice of human rights violations in places like North Korea, we violate the human rights of our own political prisoners either in Guantanamo Bay or through extraordinary rendition.
A couple of thoughts about all this.
First, the ancients were right. And, we will not be able to have the microcosms of safe and flourishing communities we desire while we are creating a cosmos of danger and destruction. As long as the national narrative is one of power through violence, that will be the micronarrative of our communities as well.
Second, in the United States, Christians are the greatest hindrance to the alternative economy of peace coming to fruition on the national stage. This is because Christianity is the strongest perpetuation of the narrative of patriarchy in our country.
Patriarchy is about a way of understanding rule through power. And Christians are the boldest, loudest group of people who still maintain that the power of the man (which is always a power of physical might and of a presumption of fundamental inequality and of exceptionalism) as the order of the cosmos.
There is a power in the narrative we teach our children, that simple narrative whose mandate is, “Use your words.” I.e., don’t use the coercion of your fists.
That microcosm has the power to create a different kind of cosmos. Here, I would argue, the power comes not from any inherent power in words, but in the economy of the kingdom of God as put on display in the cross of Christ.
Peace has a chance, not because weakness is inherently better than power, but because of the promise of the power of the God who gives life to the dead.