Behold … Can, Worms, and the Lid Ajar

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).

9 Responses to Behold … Can, Worms, and the Lid Ajar

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  2. Interesting post. I haven’t heard this articulated before, though I would have said that the paragraph where you articulate “Our very diaphora (difference) give rise to differences of ability and learning, which yield natural hierarchy.” is the very point at which a lot of gender/race theorists have a problem precisely because they don’t see the hierarchy arising as ‘natural’ at all. I guess that’s sort of what you’re saying, although the point about coercion being used in place of authority is pertinent because – from an egalitarian POV – this coercion is precisely what has caused the inequality in society, rather than any ‘natural’ authority a group holds.
    I wonder how, in concrete terms, you see this hierarchy working in a future society – a hierarchy free of coercion, and wedded to equality, freedom and love? Who, in such a society, would act in what role in the hierarchy, and on what grounds of authority?

  3. Kate,
    I think, perhaps although I haven’t read much race/gender theory, that the difference in this particular view of authority/coercion can be seen from following the French political philosopher, Jouvenel. He writes that authority and coercion are antithetical. That is, if you have authority in a certain matter, you will be obeyed sans coercion. Coercion is required precisely when authority is lacking. Every human society generates/develops a hierarchical structure, and certainly coercion is not required for this to develop.

    It’s my (admittedly outside) opinion that race/gender theorists reject hierarchy as natural in the absence of the observation of its prevalence but because they can’t conceive of it coexisting with equality. My suspicion at this point is that error is a crucial misreading in the nature of man, i.e., that hierarchy is not natural and thereby not realizing that seeking hierarchy that respects and coexists with equality and instead trying to reject hierarchy is a fatal flaw in their doctrinal development.

  4. Pingback: Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » Race, Gender, and all that

  5. Mark,

    I’m having trouble seeing how this is supposed to be distinct from complementarianism. As far as I can discern, the main point you’re making in this post is exactly the main point complementarians insist on when they try to stake out their middle position between egalitarianism and traditionalism.

  6. Jeremy,
    I guess, I was unaware of the third position, i.e., traditionalism and was grouping complementarianism in with them. Thanks for the heads up.

  7. Complementarianism arose as a way to accept hierarchy in terms of roles but without hierarchy in terms of ontology. At some point people had begun to see the biblical role differences as grounded in ontological differences, even though the scripture passages themselves ground them only in creation order (not a difference in ontology), Eve’s being deceived (not necessarily a difference in abilities), and the submission of Christ to God (not a difference in ontology unless you’re an outright heretic).

    Complementarianism (a very recent term) is pretty much defined as the view that we should retain biblical role distinctions (with variations as to what exactly those are) without accepting the traditionalist view that men and women are ontologically different in value. Some complementarians do accept different strengths and weaknesses in men and women (e.g. John MacArthur, I believe), but it is not because of any ontological difference in terms of being naturally inferior or superior, just different. Others do not accept any differences in fundamental capability to do certain tasks (e.g. D.A. Carson). But neither accepts the view that there is inequality at the ontological level, which I think you can find in a number of traditional defenses of gender role distinctions. Complementarianism formed specifically as a reaction to that view (although I think it’s been upheld somewhat throughout church history by some since the NT, where it is first expressed).

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