Counter-Counter Cultural

Christians seem to think that they’re living a counter-cultural lifestyle by being stay-at-home moms married to hard-working dads. The world is a chaotic place to them, where moms hold down jobs and dads are the ones that stay at home. T.V. shows featuring male nannies have them quaking in their boots. What has really happened is that the world has continued to turn and they have decided that they’re just not happy about it. The Amish had the same predicament at the advent of technology. There was a time when the Amish and everybody else was indistinguishable. Both used the same sorts of tools to get the same sorts of jobs done. Then regular people changed and the Amish didn’t. Same principle here.

But let’s look further back in time. Christians point to teachings in the Bible about husbands having authority and wives getting to submit as the way that God intended all humanity to relate to one another. In the New Testament the household codes clearly define various roles. They weren’t the only ones to conclude that some people were more suited to one kind of task and other people to other kind of tasks:

Seeing then that the state is made up of households, before speaking of the state we must speak of the management of the household. The parts of household management correspond to the persons who compose the household, and a complete household consists of slaves and freemen. Now we should begin by examining everything in its fewest possible elements; and the first and fewest possible parts of a family are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children. We have therefore to consider what each of these three relations is and ought to be: I mean the relation of master and servant, the marriage relation (the conjunction of man and wife has no name of its own), and thirdly, the procreative relation (this also has no proper name).

That is the work of Aristotle. Before the New Testament talked about Husbands, Fathers, and Masters and Wives, Children, and Slaves, Aristotle wrote about them – roughly three-hundred years in advance, which is plenty of time for people to take up that idea, teach the idea, and raise generations believing in it. Don’t believe me? How long have Americans believed in freedom? Not even that long and none of us would even think of not being free. Likewise, in the old world, nobody would have thought that Aristotle’s ideas were outside of reason, they were pretty similar to what they already believed – just reasoned out to be teachable so the next generation could live the same way.

(On Masters and Slaves) But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature?

There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.

Sometimes we say that people are a product of their time, it’s a polite way of saying that in the past people had the ability to be unjust or were just unaware of how privilege kept them in positions of power where they could exploit their inferiors and think nothing of it. After all, Aristotle considered slaves “useful tools” and when your tool is no longer useful, you can discard it and get a replacement. It helps to view slaves as something less than your equal and not even the same as you.

The previous remarks are quite enough to show that the rule of a master is not a constitutional rule, and that all the different kinds of rule are not, as some affirm, the same with each other. For there is one rule exercised over subjects who are by nature free, another over subjects who are by nature slaves. The rule of a household is a monarchy, for every house is under one head: whereas constitutional rule is a government of freemen and equals.

Something that is difficult for us to fathom is the idea that the state could govern the household – but Aristotle views households as units of the states, so different kind of state-rule applies to households. For us, we don’t always understand that the ancient world lived in a world where freemen were superior to slaves, elders were superior to youth, men were superior to women, and the wealthy were superior to the poor. The best thing to be in the ancient world was an old, rich, free-man and the worst was to be a young, poor, slave-woman.

Of household management we have seen that there are three parts- one is the rule of a master over slaves, which has been discussed already, another of a father, and the third of a husband. A husband and father, we saw, rules over wife and children, both free, but the rule differs, the rule over his children being a royal, over his wife a constitutional rule. For although there may be exceptions to the order of nature, the male is by nature fitter for command than the female, just as the elder and full-grown is superior to the younger and more immature. But in most constitutional states the citizens rule and are ruled by turns, for the idea of a constitutional state implies that the natures of the citizens are equal, and do not differ at all. Nevertheless, when one rules and the other is ruled we endeavor to create a difference of outward forms and names and titles of respect, which may be illustrated by the saying of Amasis about his foot-pan. The relation of the male to the female is of this kind, but there the inequality is permanent. The rule of a father over his children is royal, for he rules by virtue both of love and of the respect due to age, exercising a kind of royal power. And therefore Homer has appropriately called Zeus ‘father of Gods and men,’ because he is the king of them all. For a king is the natural superior of his subjects, but he should be of the same kin or kind with them, and such is the relation of elder and younger, of father and son.

What might not be clear is that Aristotle is saying this: men and women are unequal. There is something honorable in the nature of men that makes them more fit to lead. There is something dishonorable in the nature of women that makes them unfit to lead. Therefore, husbands are the monarchs who rule over their households. Wives are their subjects. Aristotle believed in complementarianism – but in his day it was called patriarchy because he predated feminism by two and half thousand years or so.

Thus it is clear that household management attends more to men than to the acquisition of inanimate things, and to human excellence more than to the excellence of property which we call wealth, and to the virtue of freemen more than to the virtue of slaves. A question may indeed be raised, whether there is any excellence at all in a slave beyond and higher than merely instrumental and ministerial qualities- whether he can have the virtues of temperance, courage, justice, and the like; or whether slaves possess only bodily and ministerial qualities. And, whichever way we answer the question, a difficulty arises; for, if they have virtue, in what will they differ from freemen? On the other hand, since they are men and share in rational principle, it seems absurd to say that they have no virtue. A similar question may be raised about women and children, whether they too have virtues: ought a woman to be temperate and brave and just, and is a child to be called temperate, and intemperate, or note So in general we may ask about the natural ruler, and the natural subject, whether they have the same or different virtues. For if a noble nature is equally required in both, why should one of them always rule, and the other always be ruled? Nor can we say that this is a question of degree, for the difference between ruler and subject is a difference of kind, which the difference of more and less never is. Yet how strange is the supposition that the one ought, and that the other ought not, to have virtue! For if the ruler is intemperate and unjust, how can he rule well? If the subject, how can he obey well? If he be licentious and cowardly, he will certainly not do his duty. It is evident, therefore, that both of them must have a share of virtue, but varying as natural subjects also vary among themselves. Here the very constitution of the soul has shown us the way; in it one part naturally rules, and the other is subject, and the virtue of the ruler we in maintain to be different from that of the subject; the one being the virtue of the rational, and the other of the irrational part. Now, it is obvious that the same principle applies generally, and therefore almost all things rule and are ruled according to nature. But the kind of rule differs; the freeman rules over the slave after another manner from that in which the male rules over the female, or the man over the child; although the parts of the soul are present in an of them, they are present in different degrees. For the slave has no deliberative faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has, but it is immature. So it must necessarily be supposed to be with the moral virtues also; all should partake of them, but only in such manner and degree as is required by each for the fulfillment of his duty. Hence the ruler ought to have moral virtue in perfection, for his function, taken absolutely, demands a master artificer, and rational principle is such an artificer; the subjects, oil the other hand, require only that measure of virtue which is proper to each of them. Clearly, then, moral virtue belongs to all of them; but the temperance of a man and of a woman, or the courage and justice of a man and of a woman, are not, as

“Silence is a woman’s glory, “

but this is not equally the glory of man. The child is imperfect, and therefore obviously his virtue is not relative to himself alone, but to the perfect man and to his teacher, and in like manner the virtue of the slave is relative to a master. Now we determined that a slave is useful for the wants of life, and therefore he will obviously require only so much virtue as will prevent him from failing in his duty through cowardice or lack of self-control. Some one will ask whether, if what we are saying is true, virtue will not be required also in the artisans, for they often fail in their work through the lack of self control? But is there not a great difference in the two cases? For the slave shares in his master’s life; the artisan is less closely connected with him, and only attains excellence in proportion as he becomes a slave. The meaner sort of mechanic has a special and separate slavery; and whereas the slave exists by nature, not so the shoemaker or other artisan. It is manifest, then, that the master ought to be the source of such excellence in the slave, and not a mere possessor of the art of mastership which trains the slave in his duties. Wherefore they are mistaken who forbid us to converse with slaves and say that we should employ command only, for slaves stand even more in need of admonition than children.

So much for this subject; the relations of husband and wife, parent and child, their several virtues, what in their intercourse with one another is good, and what is evil, and how we may pursue the good and good and escape the evil, will have to be discussed when we speak of the different forms of government. For, inasmuch as every family is a part of a state, and these relationships are the parts of a family, and the virtue of the part must have regard to the virtue of the whole, women and children must be trained by education with an eye to the constitution, if the virtues of either of them are supposed to make any difference in the virtues of the state. And they must make a difference: for the children grow up to be citizens, and half the free persons in a state are women.

So were the ancient Christians counter-cultural? Let’s see … husbands are the ‘head’, masters are the ‘head’, fathers are the ‘head’ and wives are to ‘submit’, children are to ‘submit’, and slaves are to ‘submit’. Christianity’s household codes look a lot like Aristotle’s household management teaching. What was counter-cultural was that Paul didn’t equate authority to lording-over, or ruling as if one were a monarch. He reminded masters that they were slaves to their heavenly master. He reminded fathers not to embitter their children. And yet he left the idea that women must submit to men untouched?

But what really happened? Didn’t the world change from Aristotle’s teaching into a new of thinking – even though it was at a glacial pace. Up until the Black Death in 1300s England, women had one of three potential roles: maiden, wife, or widow. With half of the world’s population wiped out, men and women both found it difficult to maintain tradition. New positions opened up and for the first time it was acceptable for women to work outside of their traditional gender roles. Such a thing didn’t happen in the Bible, so tradition ruled unimpeded.

Yet here we are, seven hundred years later, the product of even more advances in thought, the result of countless movements where slowly women were accepted outside the bounds of tradition or whereby the tradition changed to accept some degree of work or other. A good example might be two different members of my family tree. The first, a man who was a teacher, as was the case in his day, almost all teachers were men. Over a hundred years later and one of his descendants is also a teacher, as is the case in her day, almost all teachers are women. We saw it again when baseball players were sent off to war, women took up the sport and inspired our entire nation.

Perhaps that’s why so many read the Bible and see that it doesn’t fit. They conclude then, that it is us who err, having been so far removed from God’s ideal as revealed in his word. But that’s on the matter of the New Testament, what of the first three chapters of the first book of the older one?

The story almost needs not be told – except for it’s being re-told in a whole other way. Let’s imagine for a moment that when God placed the man and the woman on the face of this earth, that he meant them to exist as the prototype for the ideal lifestyle for people in general. But we don’t mean that they were naked, because that’s shameful and has been known to be fatal in inclement weather. But we also don’t mean that they were ideal in vocation either, because they were gardeners and we can’t all garden gardens now, can we? We also don’t mean in that they didn’t have kids then, because they did after they fell so that can’t be all bad. The way that is mean is that they were a man and a woman, and that’s what marriage is going to be everywhere for all time. But in the next chapter or so, one of their descendants had multiple wives. How is it that a guy who marries when A&E are still alive not get it that he’s fouled up the most important thing that God set in stone since the one rule his ancestor’s broke? Sure, blame sin, but he’s not an isolated example. Patriarchs had multiple wives, took up concubines, David cheated on his wives with another man’s wife, and Solomon collected them by the hundreds. By the time of the New Testament, the church leaders felt it important to create a rule that church leaders ought to have only one wife – so any man who didn’t want to be a church leader was technically still permitted to marry as many wives as he could afford. How is it then, that we plainly see A&E as the prototype for marriage when for thousands of years sinful human beings didn’t? Perhaps it wasn’t there to see.

Like with head coverings. Up until the 1960s men and women wore hats everywhere, but women wore theirs inside buildings and men usually took theirs off when indoors. Then fashions and tastes changed, and people stopped wearing hats. Now the practice is trying to be revived, the reason being that hats are a symbol of the submission of women to their proper male authority. Which really isn’t what my grandmother remembered about hats, but somehow we see it and she didn’t. Perhaps it wasn’t there to see. Perhaps in both cases somebody has recently been spreading the teaching that the first marriage was a prototype of marriages and that head coverings are a symbol of submission – which explains why people got it all wrong in the past – decades and centuries ago before the recent teaching existed to teach us how things really were meant to be as God intended. If only they had figured it out years ago it could have kept people from getting in the wrong sorts of marriages or from giving up head coverings.

So what make’s someone counter-cultural? Going against what culture is doing. But when culture changes for the better and you’re against that, then you’re against all the good that is done in the process. When cultures decides that it’s been oppressive and grants freedom, being counter-cultural is being oppressive and denying freedom. When culture decides that it’s been wrong and tries to make things right, being counter cultural is deciding that you’re right and the world is making things wrong. When culture decides that it doesn’t have a monopoly on how people ought to live and lets people make their own choices, being counter-cultural is declaring that you possess the truth about how people ought to live and there isn’t any choice but to live things your way.

Therefore, being counter counter-cultural would be just being cultural. To a degree that isn’t a bad thing. Culture is, after all, how we live. America is a freedom-loving culture. being counter-cultural is being against freedom. America is a diversity-accepting culture, being counter-cultural is being against accepting differences. Sure, we’re a work in progress, but it’s one of our cultural traits that makes us who and what we are. The world moves on, it’s up to us what we do with that. The thing is – we can’t help or save something we refuse to be a part of and we can’t change others to suit us. We can just live as best as we know how, getting along with others, and that’s not counter-cultural – it’s what we’re supposed to be doing as good, regular people.


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