Monday, August 06, 2007

It's All The Feminist's Fault!

Or, at least so Anthony Esolen believes.

I'm not going to dissect Esolen's argument piece by piece here - that's just too much like sandblasting a soda cracker at the moment and doesn't reach the topic that Esolen's brushed up against.

Long time readers will have long ago figured out that I don't exactly "follow" anybody's particular religion. The simple fact is that I have yet to find a religion that isn't more about furthering the personal power and objectives of its clergy than the congregants.

Esolen's entire argument (which is amazingly sloppy, actually) boils down to the notion that because his Bible happens to reflect a civilization where a patriarchy is dominant, that somehow all of society's ills today are related to feminism and the gains that it has made.

Now, that's a pretty silly argument if you look at it rationally, but consider the roots from which Esolen is arguing - a set of scriptures that are (depending on the particular book) between 2,000 and 4,000 years old. Two thousand years ago, men were the natural leaders of the world by what right? No more than brute force. By sheer force of muscle, men ruled the world - treating women as property and children even worse.

The social roots of any faith are very interesting, but they also speak to the time in which that faith emerged. However, as a given faith matures, it moves from being quite dynamic and adaptive (the early Christian church is an excellent case study - as it adopted "new" traditions to replace the various pagan traditions it encountered while it spread through the known world.

However, as a faith matures, it also becomes codified. Things are written down, common practices become "law" within the community. Uniformity becomes valued quite highly, and strong hierarchies emerge within the leadership. (This is especially true of Christianity, which emerged to replace the amazingly structured and legalistic religion of the Roman Empire.)

However, with codification seems to come a calcification of thought as well. The need to adapt to the world one finds is replaced by the need for the world to adapt to you instead. After a while, the roots of various beliefs and proscriptions are lost in time, and simply become "the way it is" (or should be), and literalists begin to emerge, claiming "inerrancy of scripture" and other semantic tools to justify their positions.

The longer that a religion has been codified, the more inflexible it becomes, until it reaches a point of brittleness where it fractures into multiple sects. Such is the place that Esolen finds his faith today. He looks about the world in which he lives and complains loudly that feminism is the cause for all the disruption he sees socially, without acknowledging that in the intervening millenia from when the scripture he worships from was written, that society has changed dramatically - new knowledge has emerged, people have questioned and rejected large tracts of "scriptural truth".

As if to reinforce my point earlier that religion is more about power and control than anything else, we find Esolen closing his argument with the following whinge:

And we men, who should be the heads of our families, what do we do about it? We help the folly along, just to keep the peace, as if a great spiritual harridan had invaded the nation, one that must be appeased at all costs. We are the chumps. And women -- conservative, leftist, traditional, feminist, young and old -- despise us for it. As they should, eh?


I think, Prof. Esolen, that it is time to get your head out of the idealized world of the past you inhabit, and start asking yourself how your faith can be relevant in today's world. There is a reality today that didn't exist 2,000 years ago - or even as recently as when the King James bible was created. Your claims that "men are the natural heads of households", and other essentially anti-feminist ravings, are based a world that no longer exists. ( and arguably hasn't existed since sometime in the 19th century - although it has taken much of the 20th century to even begin the process of breaking down the clinging grasp of past power structures ) Rigidity of belief merely ensures that the faith will eventually shatter.

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