Blog neighbor David Schraub at The Debate Link is frustrated it seems with apologetics. In his case, race and feminist apologetics … as is the anonymous Thinking Girl. Now, I’m probably just part of the target of their complaints, because I’m frankly pretty ignorant about the ins and outs of “Critical Race Theory” and post-modern feminism (not to speak of post-modernism itself). However, I’d like to put to question one of their common sticking points. That is, everybody’s favorite whipping boy these days … the pale male. Marxism fell on its face because it made some incorrect assumptions about the nature of man. There is the possibility that these modern young theorists are making mistakes as well about the nature of the problem.
As my readers are aware, I’ve recently been reading Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church, a book by Metropolitan John Zizioulas (a leading 20th century Eastern Orthodox theologian) who finds a common thread (perhaps, indeed answers) between modern existentialism and some particular patristic writers of Late Antiquity (mainly the Cappadocians and Maximus).
Let me try to briefly illuminate two threads from this book and then tie it to the arguments of race and gender. Please note, I’m just sketching here, the argument is fleshed out over many pages of the above linked book.
Thread One: Ontology
At the heart of problems like race and gender is the violence found shifting from diaphora to diaresis (difference and division). Differences between us are a thing to celebrate. Division is what keeps us apart. Crossing this gap, bridging our distrust of Other is key. “The essence of sin is fear of the other”, writes Zizioulas. The problem of difference and division, if it were merely a moral problem, ethics would suffice to be the cure. But, St. Maximus recognized in this problem, as not merely universal but of “cosmic dimensions”. If the problem of diaphora/diaresis is ontological in nature (that is fundamental to the nature of being) then the solution must be one which addresses the ontology of the problem correctly. Zizioulas, the author of Genesis, and perhaps Sartre(?) seem to indicate that this problem is indeed not moral but more fundamental. Hence the requirement for a more fundamental solution.
Thread Two: Hierarchy
Implicit in the assumption of many is that hierarchy and equality are at odds. And in fact, this is indeed often the case. That is, that in societies or social situations where we find hierarchy, equality is not found. However, that is not proof that hierarchy is antithetical to equality but instead that often hierarchical structures lead to habit of mind that give rise to in-equality and vice versa, that in absence of equality, hierarchy can be found. However, philosophically (and/or theologically) the Cappadocian formulation of the Trinity forms a counter example. The key point here (again fleshed out in the book) is that the Father is hierarchical different in that He generated the Son and spirated the Spirit but that at the same time the freedom and equality of the three have an ontologically basis, their being is based on their relationship and their freedom is not the freedom of individuality but the freedom to be oneself. Zizioulas writes, “This is the difference between moral and ontological freedom: the one presupposes individuality, the other causes individuality, or rather personhood.” I’m not going to pretend I fully understand (or am capable of a good defense even … but I’ll try). But the important point is the following: hierarchy and equality are not necessarily at odds.
Hierarchy itself, from a non-theological standpoint, is noted (I think) by the gender/race theorists as being at the heart of the problem. But, hierarchy it seems I’d argue is fundamental to human-ness. Our very diaphora (difference) give rise to differences of ability and learning, which yield natural hierarchy. Jouvenel writes that an entity has authority is when it’s instruction or command is obeyed willingly. Coercion is used because (when?) authority is lacking. Hierarchy arises because among us, in different spheres, people naturally come to have authority. This is not “wrong”. It is the nature of diaphora. Rejecting hierarchy on principle is a fundamental error mistaking how human’s are made.
In Christian theological circles the gender argument takes on the name, “complementarian” vs “egalitarian”. In light of the above, both sides get it wrong. The problem isn’t “who’s in charge” or “how to best distribute authority”, but instead how to best find a way to live out hierarchy rightly, that is to have hierarchy but always keeping it in an atmosphere of freedom, equality, and love. And for this, if we seek a model, we might turn to the Trinity or if (gasp) you’re not Christian, the formulation/description of Trinity as given to us by the Cappadocian’s, Maximus (and perhaps explained by Zizioulas).
For the Trinity holds and answer to the ontological problem in that the otherness of the three is constitutive of unity not consequent. The oneness of the Trinity is insured by the monarchia of the Father (hierarchy is central). For men, then the answer to our ontological problem of diaresis and diaphora is Communion, that is via direct personal participation in that which holds the way clear of the problem. Similarly the solution to our “hierarchy problem” is that we don’t need to attack hierarchy so much as to weed out instances where it is not wedded to equality, freedom, and love (and in doing so we might recapitulate our theology).