Marriage Tactics

John Michael Wright

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I suppose it must be theoretically possible to create an ethic without God or a god, but historically in the west it’s been a problem.

When Machiavelli developed the first utilitarian handbook on politics, that is to say, a book on politics that approached them without religion (except considered as a tool), he laid the foundations for Thomas Hobbes to develop his Social Contract.

Hobbes argued, following Machiavelli, that we are driven, not by reason, but by our appetites. That being the case, and to both it seems self-evident, though in Hobbes perhaps more explicitly so, society is not arranged around or by a moral law, but by people’s desires and passions.

The only way to organize such a society is through a continuous negotiation among its members. The fruit of this negotiation was the social contract. To maintain order, Hobbes argued, we need Leviathan.

Thus political tyranny and the whole western stream of politics-without-God walk hand in hand.

In the social contract we discern the basis of modern political theory, one that permeates economics as well, as it was applied by Adam Smith.

Without this notion of the social contract, we would have no Locke, no Rousseau, no American or French Revolution, no Marxism, and no special-interest industry negotiating their share of the social market with the representatives of the various parties appointed to oversee this great negotiation in Congress.

The reason the idea had such staying power in Machiavelli and Hobbes was twofold: one, much of the intellectual leadership of Europe was trying to escape the dominance of the Roman Catholic church and its appeal to a law of nature, and two, in a dynamic day to day sort of way, it is true that we are continuously negotiating the terms of our contract.

Under Machiavelli, Hobbes, and most other modern philosophers, the basis of that negotiation is personal advantage. We laugh at honor. We snicker at the idealist who would abandon his advantage for right and wrong.

Do not believe for a moment that I am referring primarily to financial transactions. On the contrary, I am talking about friendship, marriage, parent-child relationships, teachers and students, and so on.

Our underlying premise in every relationship is that we are engaged in a negotiation.

Think, for example, of the transition from the marriage covenant to the marriage contract. Think of the way people time their weddings to optimize tax benefits. Think of how parents are afraid to exercise their natural authority over their children for fear the children will reject the terms and hurt the parents.

I’m not sure, in such a context, good and evil are relevant terms. We have got “beyond good and evil,” to quote Nietzsche and Skinner.

Tom Wolfe expresses well the post-humanity of our condition in his 1998 novel A Man in Full:

Should he pour his heart?… Something told him that would be a tactical mistake. A tactical mistake. What a sad thing it was to have to think tactically about your own wife.

Sad indeed, and yet that is precisely how we are conditioned (and I use that word carefully) to approach these most foundational of human relationships.

Family, marriage, is a form. Form creates by limiting. We despise limits. Form is truth. Living in the form of the truth is virtue. Virtue is freedom.

We are no longer free to be married or to raise our children. Unless, of course, we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Then all is restored, no matter what is lost.

On Proving the Existence of God

The great argument of the “new atheism,” as of most atheisms of the old stripe, seems to be that “you can’t prove the existence of God.”

In other words, using the tools of science, you can’t prove the existence of something that transcends science.

To think more clearly on the matter, it might be helpful to look at the word religion. It comes from the Latin – legio: to tie, and re: a broad prepositional prefix with too many possible meanings to be able to properly translate.

The idea is generally taken to be that of tying together.

A religion is not a conclusion to an argument. It is a teaching that ties everything else together, that harmonizes everything.

The most powerful religions are those that are able to tie the most together.

I am a Christian because, while I have great respect for other religions, they all seem to leave us with one or two irresolvable dichotomies that are reconciled in Christ.

The mother of all dichotomies might be that between the material and the spiritual realms. Naturalism, the religion of today, resolves it by denying the spiritual or giving naturalistic explanations for all things spiritual.

Gnosticism, the perpetual enemy of Christianity and, according to Richard Weaver at least, the painfully ironic foundational dogma of progressive education (Dewey, James, etc.) treats the spiritual as legitimate and important and the material as valueless.

Christianity tells of one who is big enough to weave all things together into a harmony that damages nothing and blesses everything: Christ, the incarnate logos: Spirit made flesh, God made man, the weaving together in one of all things.

Now, if a religion is true, it cannot simply dismiss what it doesn’t like. That is a sign of theological weakness. A true religion ties everything together.

But when a philosophy is based on a necessarily inadequate premise, as is naturalism, then it is hard for this Christian to see why he ought to abandon his foundations because the other guys have developed a sophisticated argument.

A premise is necessarily inadequate when it excludes what it doesn’t like at the beginning of the discussion.

God is not the conclusion of an argument based on naturalistic premises. He is the beginning of thought and the harmony of all truth. He is necessary to every other premise, but I don’t see how that can “prove” his existence. He is simply Necessary: to thought, to ethics, to beauty, to society, to physics, to marriage, to education.

Conservatism, Ideology, and the Death of Seeds

Our country is being pulled further and further in two directions, one that can be safely described as progressive and the other as conservative, though not in a way intended by many who use that term now.

To see a nice summary of the progressive position, take a look at this article.

Progressives see the world in terms of ideologies in conflict, each trying to achieve what they consider a just representation. It is a politics rooted in relativism and one that, historically, tends toward centralized planning and thus to tyranny, though in varying degrees.

Conservatives, in the sense that I use the term (rooted in Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk’s writings, not the Weekly Standard or Rush Limbaugh), regard ideology itself as a poison. We don’t see the world as the battlefield of ideologies unless people are foolish enough to embrace an ideology.

Conservatism in this sense is opposition to all ideologies. Conservatism is not an ideology itself for one simple reason: it acknowledges a law of nature and of nature’s God to which everybody is bound.

Ideologies may begin within the constraints of natural law, but they possess an inner impulse to break down those constraints. They turn to the identity of the group instead of human nature.

In general, they join the money-lovers in their assault on nature itself, but they attack it from the other side. Thus, while the money-lover comes from a position of strength and thus strives to establish an oligarchy in which he uses his capital to build a fortune and then buys the state to secure it, the ideologue usually arises from or uses those in a position of weakness.

He organizes the oppressed into a force that rises up against the oppressor, whether that be the Roman Republic of the era of the Gracchi (2nd century BC), the English peasantry under Richard II (late 14th century) the French peasantry under Louis XIV (18th century), the unorganized forces of labor during the railroad years (late 19th century), or the descendants of the slaves in our own time.

The advantage of the ideologue is that he always has justice on his side. In other words, oppression is always wrong and people always absorb guilt into their souls and their communities when they practice it.

The other advantage of the ideologue is that the oppressed are excluded, by definition, from both the centers of influence and the means to those centers of influence of the wider culture. In every case I can think of, that means education. In other words, the oppressed tend to be illiterate.

The illiteracy that the oppressor imposes on the oppressed is the very weakness that leads to the overthrow of the oppressor. It’s simple. Illiterate and oppressed people (they need not be the same) feel vulnerable and weak. They are looking for someone to protect and strengthen them. They become, in varying degrees, gullible.

The ideologue thus becomes the demagogue. He promises peace and prosperity and delivers violence and suffering.

But in so doing he adds a meaning and a hope to the lives of the oppressed that fuels the revolution the seed of which was planted by the oppressor himself.

Then sets in the law of the catastrophic continuum. Once the ideologue is able to gather power to himself, he is attractive to anybody who wants a share of his power. More and more people find themselves oppressed. They establish an identity for themselves. They form a group and feed off the ideology.

And who is not oppressed?

But here is the fatal problem with both money-loving and ideology. Both of them, having built their kingdoms on greed and envy, are idolaters. Both of them are trying to overthrow nature. Both of them, to do so, need ever-expanding power.

The money-lover buys out the established government. The oppressed threatens it.

Both expand it and then find themselves unable to control it.

This is why amoral capitalism leads to socialism and why democracy always leads to demagoguery. The forces of greed and envy unleashed are demons of violence and suffering. Both are impatient. Both deny limits. Both centralize power.

This is where we sit as a nation today, on the knife’s edge between the money-lover driven by greed and the ideologue driven by envy.

Conservatism has been taken over and redefined by the money-lover. Liberalism has been taken over and redefined by the ideologue.

Conservatism has become a sounding brass and liberalism a tinkling cymbal.

The one sure thing is that we will continue to watch our government expand and intrude relentlessly until either we repent and assume responsibility for our lives, our families, and our communities, or we will find ourselves under a “benign” tyranny that stultifies every genuinely human ambition or impulse that does not meet the narrow goals of the ideologue.

What solution, then? Practically, I don’t know. But certainly if we don’t acknowledge truth and a law of nature that governs all of us, including the ruler, the merchant, and the revolutionary, then there is no solution.

The always insightful CS Lewis put it this way in his most important book:

Only the tao* provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.

The Abolition of Man

* by “tao” Lewis means what the west has commonly referred to as the natural law.

Because our people have formally rejected this natural law for over a century (as seen, for example, in the maxims and decisions of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.), the oppressed have nowhere to turn but to the direct quest for power themselves.

When the powers that be determine that they are the ones who determine what is right and wrong (the practical definition or at least effect of moral relativism), even their best intentions leave no genuine hope for the oppressed.

This happened to slaves in the pre-civil-war era and it has happened to workers and to descendants of slaves since then.

But if the oppressor does not acknowledge a higher law, then how can the oppressed be expected to?

We are driven by ideologies in conflict, each seeking enough power to protect themselves and to overthrow the oppressed.

But, says St. Paul, if you bite and devour one another, take heed lest you be consumed by one another.

Let us learn not to trust in the deceitfulness of riches, nor to allow envy to drive us into ever new forms of slavery. Perhaps we can model again what Gandhi and King imitated:

Unless a seed falls in the ground and dies, it abides alone.

Contrasts

To the Christian mind, the cosmos is a symphony. To the post-human, it is an unending meaningless experiment.

Darwinian Parenting

My desires define me, and my group, and my people.

From Dr. Tingley’s lecture on Postmodernism

I flew from San Francisco to Orange County airport, seated in 6B. Across the aisle in 6C was a mother, and beside her, in 6D, was her child, a four or five year old boy with big brown eyes, a friendly face, and a pleasant personality.

Nothing unusual there. Moms often fly with their children on airplanes and children at that age are generally cute. What was unusual was this: in 7C was another mother and beside her, in 7D, was her child, a four or five year old boy with big blue eyes, a friendly face, and a pleasant personality.

Have you ever flown with two little kids that close to you? I was mildly worried about how it would go, but much more interested than worried. I had, I felt, a self-created laboratory. So I listened.

To understand the point of this post, you must know that the mothers were basically the same in their approach to their children. My wife has a little plaque she keeps in the kitchen that I always felt a little uneasy about. It says,

Raising children is like being pecked to death by chickens

Both of these mothers had mastered the survival technique that all mothers master to endure the pecking.

They tune out.

This is one of the great mysteries of motherhood to the young father (next to our wonderment at our wives lack of fervently expressed gratitude when we clean up after their morning sickness). We come home from a long day of brutal, back-breaking work (do you know how uncomfortable an office chair is?) to our wives and children, expecting large smiles and fervent 50’s-TV doses of affection.

Instead we see mommy half-seated, half-lying on the couch, legs extended, the free arm hanging limply off the couch, a vacant gaze filling the inch or two in front of her eyes – not unlike the look of St. Theresa in Ecstacy. Next to her is little Johnny (or David or Matthew or Katie) saying, over and over, “mom, mom, mom.” Just like that. Staccato.

Mom.

Mom.

Mom.

And here’s dad, exhausted from a day’s labor, incomprehensibly looking at mommy, thinking, and sometimes foolishly saying, “Why don’t you answer the child!?”

Karen has described this condition to me. She tells me that she’ll sit for a while not hearing anything, then after a few moments a distant sound will rise in the deep cavities of her mind, a sound that gradually works its way toward consciousness, staccato, not quite an echo, not even insistent, though certainly persistant, until finally it touches on the conscious mind and just a little light enters mommy’s eyes.

Calmly, as though David had only said “Mom” once, she looks at him for a moment and says, “Yes.”

“Katie cut off her foot at the neck.”

“OK, tell her to go back to bed.”

This is a womanly gift we men don’t have and thus fail to appreciate.

Part of the gift is the female capacity to contextualize the unconscious. The children in this my account, remember, were on an airplane. The mothers knew this.

Another trait of parenting, and this one is shared by fathers, though from what I can tell, not generally as fully developed, is the feeling of deep shame over every public manifestation of childishness by a child. Everybody else on the plane thinks the kids are adorable, but the parent usually seems ashamed, so they shush their child and get angry at them for not acting like adults, which is peculiar since it means that we parents are acting like children by being angry at our children for not acting like adults.

The combination of these two paternal gifts led these mothers to an interesting challenge with a simple solution. They didn’t want to their children to embarrass them, but they didn’t want to be pecked to death by the chickens. What to do?

Solution: bring the pecking to consciousness a little more quickly.

It was fun to watch.

Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.

Yes?

And this is where the paths diverge. These pleasant little, good-natured children were clearly brought up on different assumptions about what a human, and therefore a child, is. I could tell because of what followed when mom was brought back to herself and to her child.

From 6D: I want some water. I want to play so and so. I want to… I want…

Don’t get me wrong. This child was not particularly demanding or at all bratty, though he did let out three loud, manipulative wails. He was just a normal kid who had been brought up on the assumption that the appetites merit an awful lot of attention.

From 7D: I spy with my little eye… Look mom, the airplanes are playing follow the leader… We’re following the leader, the leader, the leader. We’re following the leader wherever he may go.

I’ve stood by while my wife raised five children (gave her advice on those rare occasions when I had something to contribute and she was willing to pay for it) and I have to tell you one thing I learned a long, long time ago. Most of what you do consciously and purposely as a parent has very little affect on your children.

What affects them is the things you aren’t aware of, the kind of person you really are (regardless of what you want to be, which they don’t take the trouble to figure out), the beliefs you hold in your subconscious and that express themselves in attitudes and tones and environment and games and pastimes and commitments.

But most parents are looking for clear parenting methodology, so they read books with the latest techniques for potty-training and watch videos explaining how to prepare your little girl for kindergarten or listen to lectures that show you how to make your child love reading or sports or cooking or single-sex parents or whatever.

There is no parenting methodology. There’s just struggling parents, hearts yearning toward their children, lacking in confidence to act on their principles and concentrate on character.

What matters most in a parent is who you are. And what matters second to who you are is what you believe your child is. I mean believe in your soul, not your conscious mind, believe in your heart of hearts, not by logical or empirical persuasion.

You might have worked out that he is the image of God, fallen and depraved. Or you might have resolved intellectually that she is as innocent as the spring flowers.

But what do you believe in your soul of souls? What do you think in your heart?

Do you raise them with fear and trembling. Probably not. The meaning of parenting doesn’t really sink in until it’s too late, because if it sank in while you were doing it you’d be so overwhelmed you’d be unable to parent.

But just a little fear and trembling is a good thing.

The child in 6D was brought up by a parent whose soul-belief was that her child was a cute animal, driven by appetites. The child in 7D was brought up by a parent whose soul-belief was that her child was something more, something with rational faculties worth cultivating, something that gained happiness from careful observation, intellectual activity, and gameful expression of his awareness to those around.

The first mother was a type for the practicing naturalistic materialist, internalizing the doctrines of Darwin. Most mothers today are – even, frankly, most Christian mothers.      

The second mother was a type for the practicing Christian classical supernaturalist. Her child did not begin intellectualizing the world that day. His rational faculties (the quest for pattern, for harmony, the delight taken in unity and surprise) had been cultivated, clearly, since he was very young.

One might well argue that he was not morally better. Just more human.

He might have been the best answer to post-modernism. He was not defined by his desires, or those of his people, but by his uniquely delightful and human faculty to reason. If you want to overcome the deadening impact of our culture on your children, if you want to push back all the arguments for the post-human world, remember what your child is: the image of God, a reasoning person with a will to cultivate.

Play follow-the-leader.

Authority and the Voice of God

The book of Genesis is filled with stories of the first order of importance. Every one of them is meant to be contemplated for at least a full lifetime. Everything in existence is expressed if not explained in these 50 chapters – and not in easily understandable ways.

Two stories have dominated my attention for some time now: the story of the temptation of Eve and the story of Abraham offering up his son Isaac.

In the Abraham story, the father of many peoples is instructed by God as follows:

Take now your son, your only Isaac, whom you love,
And go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering
Upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.

If anybody wants to reject the God of the Old Covenant, this is the story to gloam on to. Here it is. Take it. Throw away this God and never have to deal with Him again. He gives you that option right here. You can even claim the ethical high ground.

All my life I have wondered about this story, though I am sure there are commentaries that explain away all the difficulties it contains.

I don’t read that sort of commentary any more.

How did Abraham know it was the voice of God? He couldn’t draw on ethics. This command is contrary to everything Abraham had learned about good and evil up to this point.

He couldn’t draw on experience – not even the mystical sort. God had promised Abraham that this child Isaac would be the seed through whom Abraham would realize the fulness of the covenant.

He couldn’t draw on any sort of Cartesian rationalism. I’m not sure it would have had anything at all to say about the matter, unless it would be to draw back to ethics and say, “This is wrong.”

He certainly couldn’t draw on the advice of others. Are we to believe that Sarah would have been confident that Abraham was sound of mind? What would Hagar and Ishmael have said? Who could have advised him?

Nor were the pop philosophers any use to him, those who insist that all you need is love. He was about to do something that could not be done, to sing something that could not be sung, to do something without learning how to play the game.

Abraham was alone before God and he possessed no faculty by which he could understand or justify what God required of him.

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.

And then there’s Eve.

Here’s another easy out from believing in the God of the Bible. She who was called Woman, not yet Eve, because she was taken out of man, was naked and unashamed. How utterly unlike us.

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.

Then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;

How very like us.

What, I wonder, did Satan have to say to Abraham as he was travailing to the region of Moriah?

“Did God say…?”

“He wouldn’t say something like that…”

What attracts my attention as I read is the rather simplistic thought that God and Satan communicate differently. Even when He asks questions, as in the words of our Lord to the Pharisees or the dialogues with the prophet Elijah, God always speaks with Authority.

It is natural and fitting that He would do so, for all Authority is His and nobody else has Authority that is not delegated from Him.

On the other hand, Satan has no Authority at all, for God has given him none. He cannot, therefore, speak with Authority. So far as I can tell, that leaves him with two options: he can seduce or he can threaten. On the one hand, he can draw on intimidation and tyranny. On the other, he can draw on seduction and sympathy.

For this reason, he labors continually to form minds that are either sentimental or cynical.

The sentimental mind is easily seduced and is therefore a play-thing for a demon.

The cynical mind trusts nobody and is willing to acknowledge no authority as legitimate. It is a great Satanic achievement.

When people stop believing that Authority comes from God, they go through a period of liberation because they are freed from those who, like them, are cynics – who use the doctrine of Divine Authority for their own power-plays.

The temptation to do so is irresistable, so history is the story of cynics rising and falling to replace each other.

But the man who believes that Authority is a Divine Property delegated to man is properly bound to submit to the Divine Authority. Such a person serves as the only foundation for a just and free society and such a society can endure only so long as the wisdom of such a person nourishes it.

When God spoke to Abraham, He spoke with Authority – an Authority inherent in the Person speaking. When Abraham heard his voice, He did not need to speculate about it. He knew. 

When God spoke the sermon on the mount, we read that

When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had Authority.

This isn’t as hard to understand as it might seem. A father who speaks to his child has Authority delegated directly from the God of heaven, an Authority that carries a natural honor and dignity that every child in the history of the human race has sensed.

Lose sight of this as a father and you become disoriented and uncertain in your duties to and relationship with your children.

When a father compromises Authority by sloth or aggression, he breaks the very hierarchy of reality and brings disorder into his soul, through his soul into his home, and through his home into the soul of his child.

The well-being of the soul of the child and the order of civilized society is rooted in the relationship of honor between father and son, which in turn is manifested in the relationship of Father and Son.

Our souls know Authority when they encounter it and they rejoice in it.

But when the father or the mother or teacher or pastor or ruler either shirks the delegated Authority or seeks more than is fitting, our souls fall into anxiety.

We fail in our Authority when we use threats and seductions instead of simply speaking with authority.

We also fail in our Authority when we assume an authority that is not legitimate.

In our godless age, we are convinced behaviorists. We don’t believe in the great mystery of the will, only in appetites. So we stimulate behavior in our students through rewards and punishments and figure that’s all we have to offer.

This is, of all psychological doctrines, perhaps the most Satanic, for it forces us to imitate the Great Manipulator in the way we govern the souls of our children.

If you are a father, simply act on your Authority. Speak from within your Authority.

If your child rebels, then of course you should punish your child. If he obeys, then perhaps you should reward him.

But the great reward that every child seeks is a well ordered world that orders his soul to match it.

In other words, what your child wants of you is that you be a Father.

Then you can be like the God who spoke to Adam and Eve and Abraham with Authority and His voice was known, and not like the serpent who seduces through flattery and anxiety.

If you are a mother, beware of sentimentalism. Your duty is to raise a man or a lady with a soul of steel and a heart of flesh.

If you are a teacher, do not fear your students. They are created to honor you. They want to. Speak with Authority and they will hear your voice as deep calls to deep. If they do not, and some won’t and many will close their ears when they do, then enforce your delegated Authority. But do not reduce your students to mere appetites and fears.

They have a will, though it is underfed and neglected. It cannot be controlled, for it is free. But it can be awakened and beckoned.

Will you beckon with the Authority of God or the vanity of the Enemy?

Let me try to simplify:

  • Humans have appetites and wills.
  • The appetites respond to stimuli.
  • The will responds to Authority.
  • Our age believes in neither the Will nor Authority.
  • Christians believe in the Will and Authority.
  • Teachers and parents and others who have delegated Authority tend to distrust Authority and to fall back on management of the appetites through stimuli, such as threats and seductions.
  • When we do so, we are abandoning our faith in that act.
  • We don’t have the right to so treat children, for it is manipulative and driven by personal convenience and the lust for power (be it never so petty).
  • If Authority is not delegated to us, we must not atempt to enforce it.
  • If it is delegated to us, then our fundamental duty is to act on and fulfill it.
  • When we act on delegated Authority, we must trust it and the God who gave it.
  • The first clue that we do not trust it and Him is when we fall into behavioral manipulation of our children, charges, or students.

The irony of new atheism

Christopher Hitchens is  persuaded that Christianity and religion generally have done no good for the world and he has been campaigning, along with Richard Dawkins and other “new atheists” to make his case.

It makes for entertaining reading, though, of course, religious people cannot help but be concerned about the effect they might be having on those they persuade.

One thing I find ironic about their approach is that they are using “evangelistic” techniques that seem to be borrowed directly from the Christians. So at least that one good thing has been added to the world by religious people.

I find it doubly ironic that the techniques they are using are precisely those Christians should never have dabbled with.

So I end up being on Hitchens side against Hitchens in this matter.