Kathryn & Carl

December 9, 2009

Liberalism: It’s not about short skirts

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn @ 6:19 pm

When I took a break from the Angrifying Issues a couple of weeks ago, it was HIGHLY tempting to simply shelve both sides under a victim label. The rabid anti-feminists were really just women who’d grown up in a feminist culture and now hated feminism because it symbolized the hurts and rejections they’d experienced as young people. My leanings toward feminism could be explained away by my negative experiences with patriarchy.

God knows compassion for self always comes easiest—so, of course, there is some truth to the above point—but, I’m beginning to wonder if dismissing such big issues with the shrug of personal experience is… I dunno…. wise? realistic? fair?

Anyway, this post isn’t really about feminism per se. I don’t have much new to add to that, but I have been thinking about ideology and how to describe and engage both ourselves and our world.

I’ve also been watching documentaries and reading about humanism and the Enlightenment and liberalism and political ideologies of the early twentieth century.

And, what stood out to me is just how deep the philosophical divide is between feminism and neo-patriarchy. I’ve been surprised by how vehemently the anti-feminists denounce the Enlightenment (what can I say? I was raised with American textbooks. The Enlightenment was taught to me as a bunch of guys in wigs who thought reason made sense and people probably shouldn’t make slaves of each other. What’s to hate?), but it makes more sense now. Patriarchy can’t be at home in liberal philosophy; the ideology is incompatible. Feminism, on the other hand, is a natural product of Enlightenment thinking.

Don’t jump ahead of me. What I’m NOT interested in saying is which philosophy is “godly,” all I’m trying to point out is how deep the philosophical differences really are.

Stephen Hicks, a professor of philosophy and Executive Director of the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship (which took me forever to spell right), compiled a list of two opposing ideologies of the past 100 years or so. I found this so interesting, I even took notes. Yes. I am taking notes on documentaries. My sickness is complete.

On the one hand, we have 5 core beliefs or principles of group A, heirs of the Enlightenment:

  1. Individualism
  2. Reason
  3. Production/win-win trade
  4. Liberalism
  5. Capitalism

This list is heavily critiqued by anti-feminist thinkers who argue, among many things, that “individualism” is just a fancy word for selfishness, that reason has become our culture’s god—the exchange of science for religion, that cooperation is great… until we realize that we’re cooperating with a world full of sinners who hate God, that liberalism in education and culture encourages young people to fall away from their faith, and that capitalism—well, capitalism is ok.

Contrast this with Hick’s list of the 5 core beliefs of group B:

  1. Collectivism
  2. Instinct, passion
  3. War/conflict cannot be avoided
  4. Authoritarianism
  5. Socialism

Let’s sort through this. Collectivism is valued as an anti-feminist principle, because collectivism is the opposite of selfish individualism. Collectivism sees all Christians as part of the body of Christ—what could be more biblical than that? Decision-making shouldn’t be concerned with individual welfare (say, what the wife wants) because the real good to be considered is the good of the family (or church) as a whole. And, what’s good for the family? That there be order, structure, and peace (which begs point 4, as we’ll see).

It’s interesting to me how frequently military language is used in patriarchy/Quiverfull circles too. Maybe this book title by Rachel Scott says it best: Birthing God’s Mighty Warriors. The idea is that we as Christians are in a battle against the forces of evil, we must be courageous, ready to fight, ready to die for our beliefs.

The fourth value is also a given. Patriarchy is big on authority. God’s authority over us, a husband’s authority over his wife, parental authority over children. Obviously, as the opposite to anarchy, some amount of authority is necessary for any society. However, I think the constant insistence on the importance and God-given “right” to authority makes it fair to say this is a core belief of patriarchy.

What’s interesting to me is that socialism is actually considered an “evil” according to anti-feminist blogs, although socialism makes a lot of sense given the rest of their ideology. This difference will become more odd as we look at what names Stephen Hicks gives his two groups of conflicting ideologies:

Group A he simply labels Anti-Nazi.

Group B represents his understanding of Nazi thought.

What I’m not saying is that patriarchy = neo-Nazism. What I AM saying is that both share a similar ideology of opposition to modern, Liberal thought. According to one documentary I watched, the Nazis even gave medals of honor to women who gave birth to four or more Aryan babies. I don’t know any Quiverfull moms who would appreciate the comparison, but my only point is that the underlying, core belief is oddly similar.

Strangely, however, by swapping socialism for capitalism, the conservative, patriarchal group here actually believe they are the intellectual heirs of a grand ole Americana.

Again, my point isn’t that patriarchy = fascism, but that we should do our best to understand the ideology that’s supporting its framework and the really significant ways it differs from—and can critique—the more liberal view point.

I think it’s also important to realize that neither set of values is perfectly aligned with Christianity—or, maybe more honestly, that BOTH sets can be explained in spiritual terms. While the Bible frequently talks about Christians as a “body” or a single, collective unit, there is also strong teaching about personal, individual salvation, frequent examples of Jesus going off by himself to pray, an ultimate sense that every person stands alone before God.

We are told to follow God’s “calling” and listen for His “voice”—concepts that are nebulous at best, requiring instinct and passion to discern. Yet, like the Enlightenment mindset, Christians are also encouraged to test every new idea according to the scripture, to use reason to determine whether or not something aligns with God’s word.

Certainly, we are told that there is a spiritual war to fight, to take on the whole armor of God, but more often than not, Jesus describes evangelism as gathering in a crop. This agricultural metaphor is the same one that gives us the term “husband.” Maybe not so military.

Finally, while the Bible makes clear that God is our ultimate authority, that we are—as much as possible—to obey and live in peace with our earthly authorities, the examples of Jesus and Paul and many other saints is anything but authoritarian. The lion and the lamb. A righteous judge and a mother hen.

The irritating truth is that while echoes of Christian truth can be found in almost ALL major ideologies, the only result is that Christianity often gets mocked for everything. Christians are reviled as angry, rigid conservatives; Christians are mocked for being bleeding liberals.

My opinion? Christianity is a paradox, deriving it’s strength not from choosing ideological or political or human sides, but swallowing up the tensions whole. In college, I had a philosophy professor with a baseball cap that read “If you don’t understand it, both/and it.” I’d like to think I didn’t get my view of spirituality from a baseball cap, but maybe I did.

More importantly, I’d like to think my opinions about patriarchy aren’t merely the result of a few bad experiences or a knee-jerk reaction to fascism (thanks, BJU history books) or even the natural law that all children must oppose their parents’ beliefs. Although, of course, there’s a grain of truth in each.

The problem for me is that when I agree that the real issues at stake are ones of the heart—issues that can’t be neatly packaged in any political ideology or cultural label—it’s generally assumed that I’m agreeing that, say, liberalism and fascism are equally wrong because neither tells the whole truth.

I don’t believe that at all.



  1. Wow. Interesting. I need a new category. I wonder what that means. I would never have put socialism under the second camp’s values but maybe it we label it Libertarianism….where every man governs himself and we do away with government all-together it captures a similar idea? Strange stuff.

    Comment by botanyhead — December 10, 2009 @ 11:39 am | Reply

  2. I’m with b-head. I need a new category, too. I don’t think I really fit in with either group A or group B.

    On #1. I think leaders need to protect individual freedoms or it leads to horrible abuses. But I also think that individuals need to put others first or it leads to horrible selfishness. Is that individualism or collectivism? I don’t know.

    On #2. While I acknowledge that I am swayed by emotions, I don’t feel like I value them quite as highly as reason as long as that reason is based on Scripture. BUT my love of Scripture is based on belief, which isn’t exactly reason. What does that mean?

    #3. War can’t be avoided, but only because of human depravity. Eventually someone’s going to throw a tantrum or be a bully. Kind of like kids on school playgrounds. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Ideologically, I’m fairly pacifist.

    #4. I believe we have authorities and need to obey them, but authorities are supposed to be servants and examples, not dictators. 1 Peter 5 puts it well. The elders (v.3) are supposed to to exercise oversight “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” But then in v.5 it says, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.”

    #5. I am grieved by the selfishness that goes along with Capitalism, but I greatly dislike the systematic trampling of individual rights and individual choice that happens under socialism. And I definitely have Libertarian leanings.


    I really liked where you said, “Christianity is a paradox, deriving it’s strength not from choosing ideological or political or human sides, but swallowing up the tensions whole.”

    Comment by Andrea — December 10, 2009 @ 10:29 pm | Reply

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