Posts Tagged ‘Fathers’

Patriarchy was a positive ideal, now fading

March 23, 2021

Patriarchy is a way of thinking about things that was accepted in every major civilization, until now.

The basic idea of patriarchy is that society is, and should be, organized on the model of the extended patriarchal family, guided by a powerful and wise father.

The patriarch had a responsibility to guide and protect the family.  In return, his children and dependents were obligated to obey him.

This was the rationale for the authority of Emperors, Kings, Popes and Caliphs, who supposedly stood in relation to their peoples as loving fathers to their children.

It was the moral basis of royal dynasties, feudal lords, family businesses and humble peasant households.

Not only society, but the whole universe was supposedly organized on a patriarchal basis. 

Jews, Christians and Muslims worship a Heavenly Father, a powerful, wise and good parent who loves us and watches over us, and expects our love and obedience in return.

The senior gods of the Greco-Roman and Hindu pantheons were patriarchal fathers who headed extended families.

There were places for women in many of these religions—the Virgin Mary and various saints in Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, goddesses in the pagan pantheons, but always in a subordinate place to a father figure..

The five filial relationships of Confucianism—son to father, student to teacher, younger brother to older brother, younger friend to older friend, and subject to ruler—are patriarchal relationships. Notice they are all male-to-male relationships.

All the relationships are parallel to the father-son relationship.  The father (teacher, elder, ruler) protects and guides the son (student, youth, subject) who gives loyalty and obedience in return.

Many different societies believed in a version of the Great Chain of Being—a hierarchical ladder stretching down from God through kings and aristocrats to humble peasants, who, however, exercised patriarchal authority over their wives and children.

The patriarchal hierarchy could be a system of amoral naked power.  Thomas Piketty, in Capital and Ideology, mentioned a medieval French aristocrat who punished rebels by cutting off their hands and feet and returning them to their families.

Even when the patriarchs lived up to their moral code, the system was still oppressive in many ways.  I wouldn’t want to go back to the old ways. 

But there was something valuable there, a relationship of responsibility and loyalty, that has been lost.

Our problem today is that our institutions are still organized as patriarchal hierarchies.  But the people in charge of them no longer have confidence in patriarchal authority or exercise patriarchal responsibility—neither paternal responsibility for those in their charge nor loyalty to any authority above them.

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Toni Morrison on her father

June 18, 2017

          Novelist Toni Morrison was asked why she had become a great writer, what books she had read, what method she had used to structure her practice.  She laughed and said, “Oh, no, that is not why I am a great writer.  I am a great writer because when I was a little girl and walked into a room where my father was sitting, his eyes would light up.”
                         ==Donald Miller, quoted in The Sun

A poem by Rumi

June 19, 2011

Rumi

Your old grandmother says,
“Maybe you shouldn’t go to school.
You look a little pale.”
Run when you hear that.
A father’s stern slaps are better.
Your bodily soul wants comforting.
The severe father wants spiritual clarity.
He scolds, but eventually
leads you into the open.
Pray for a tough instructor
to hear and act and stay within you.
We have been busy accumulating solace.
Make us ashamed of how we were.

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