Wednesday 1 November 2017

The Spiritual Risks of Feminism

Note: I’ve rewritten this post in the light of some of the comments below which made me think that I hadn’t expressed myself as well as I might have done. Possibly I still haven’t but the general point is that feminism, certainly in its more extreme forms, has spiritual risks which will affect women more than men.

It is evident that modern feminism is, at least in part, a rebellion against established order and power and an attempt to take a share of that power. But the established order was legitimate even if it was sometimes corrupt and so needed to be reformed rather than overturned.

The motive in this rebellion is often cited as a quest for equality but equality does not actually exist anywhere in nature. There is complementarity but in any complementary pair one tends to take precedence. In the male/female pair this is meant to be the male just as in the spirit/matter pair it is meant to be spirit. Let me emphasize this does not make man superior to woman. They are both human beings made in the image of God. Moreover in the case of any two individuals a woman can clearly be superior, in wisdom, intelligence or whatever it may be, even strength or leadership qualities, to a man. As a man may be to a woman even in such pre-eminently feminine qualities as beauty and compassion. But the general rule remains.

This precedence of the masculine does not mean that there are no areas in which the feminine has precedence. There very obviously are. That is the whole point of having two sexes and the meaning of complementarity. But overall leadership lies with the male as St Paul says when he makes the currently very unfashionable point that the man should be the head of the family. This is resented by some feminists but they are resenting truth. Their position is partially justified by the fact that men have undoubtedly abused their position of natural authority in the past but this does not alter its legitimacy. I have to repeat that reform is one thing but revolution quite another.

The upshot of all this is that now can be a spiritually perilous time to be a woman. For women see themselves as having the moral high ground with male evil widely recognised, and even exaggerated, while female evil is practically denied to exist. This can result in a dangerous sense of self-righteousness and pride with virtues magnified and vices ignored. The irony is that men are not so affected unless they abandon their masculine responsibility by adopting the feminist stance themselves but even then the actual spiritual risks are lower for them. They have at least, even if in a misconceived way, understood the need for justice and sacrifice.

An egalitarian feminist perspective often appears to be adopted by societies and civilizations that are in decline and have lost confidence and a sense of true mission (see Fate of Empires by Sir John Glubb, for example). It probably starts as a consequence of achievement with its accompanying wealth and security and then becomes a cause of decline as a safer mediocrity and average are promoted instead of the more threatening but more creative exceptional. We are plainly in that position now but I would like to think there are enough wise men and women to take a stand against it and work together for a true spiritual understanding that will benefit both the sexes. For if they don't the spiritual consequences could be serious. The danger of feminism is that what women gain, or think they do, in worldly terms will be more than counterbalanced by spiritual loss.


ajb said...

What do you mean by 'precedence'?

William Wildblood said...

Good question, it does sound rather ambiguous and open to misinterpretation. I mean a kind of first among equals for though the two are complementary they can't be completely equal since nothing ever is and the masculine is intended to be by God and Nature, as St Paul says, the head of the family, as it were. This is what was understood in most traditions and I think is the intuitive sense we all have unless corrupted by ideology. It's reflected in the fact that on average men are taller than women and a woman normally prefers her man to be slightly taller than she is. A silly thing perhaps but indicative of a reality.

I keep having to stress when I write on this subject that it does not imply superiority but it is a natural relationship between two complementary partners that one comes first. We even say man and woman not woman and man and that again reflects an instinctive understanding.It's not just an attempt to impose control as often depicted.

ajb said...

I view an organization like the family as full of leadership roles. The question is just which are the man to lead, which the woman? I suppose the issue of who is the head of the family has to do with who is primarily making the top-level decisions about the vision and direction of the family? Or who is the primary contact person?

I wonder to what extent this simply comes about naturally if men exercise their leadership potential within the family? I.e., 'feminism' as in usurpation of the natural leading roles of men within organizations like the family can only happen if men allow it to happen by not being leaders within those organizations?

Chris said...

Some related thoughts........

All of the great world civilizations were, to a lesser or greater extent, spiritual societies - there was no separation between religion and “regular” life. All of these cultures were fundamentally inegalitarian for the reasons that you excellently explained. Throne, altar, and caste is the natural social arrangement for societies that recognize the great chain of being.

How can we moderns of a reactionary sensibility ,who do not accept the collapse of the great chain of being , also reject the re-establishment of throne, altar, and caste - without experiencing some cognitive dissonance?

William Wildblood said...

ajb, yes I think you're right. Men have abnegated leadership responsibility though I think to be fair there has been a lot of cultural pressure on them to do this.

Chris, in answer to your question I don't know but somehow we have to go forward. We can't go back. Maybe the rejection of secular materialism would be a start.

I'd like to add that I actually think the attitude described in this post respects womanhood in the abstract and women in general much more than feminism does, particularly from the spiritual perspective. But I also agree with Bruce Charlton that the future must be different to the past even if it will have more in common with the past than the present which is an aberration. So we go from natural to unnatural to spiritual and the first and last are similar with the difference that the last is fully conscious while the first is more instinctive.

At the moment we are stuck in a phase which should have been temporary. Men and women have to grow together but they have to grow with a proper awareness of what they are not with understanding distorted by ideology and egotism, and a fake notion of what they (as they are now in their egotistic, materialistic selves) would like to be.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I think we differ on our reasoning with this issue, probably rooted in different metaphysical assumptions.

But to focus on a specific thing - my understanding is that complementarity means that the one cannot do without the other - both are necessary. We agree on this I think.

I would disagree that one must have *overall* precedence over the other - indeed, I think complementarity means that in different situations, different ones take precedence.

Because modern mainstream society is materialist - the public realm (politics, institutions, jobs etc ) is assumed to be the only one of *real* importance; and in this real the male does indeed have precedence (and when this does not happen, there is inevitably loss of leadership, loss of functionality, and decline in autonomy); but if we were a spiritually-orientated society we would recognise other equally important kinds of human activity within-which the female has precedence.

I am thinking, for example, of the many ways in which a women takes precedence in aspects of child-bearing and child-rearing - the key aspects of creation in our mortal lives.

As so often, I think the Mormon Church (ie CJCLDS) has shown some of the possibilities. The priesthood is restricted to men, and (since the time of Joseph Smith) there is an autonomous, large active women's organisation (the Relief Society) and girls and women have their own age-stratified groups all the way from the top down. This organisation has been sustained for more than 150 years, and so seems long-term viable and broadly satisfying.

Mormonism has 'God' as ultimately both Father and Mother in Heaven, our Heavenly parents - it is the Father who is regarded as the creator, and who is prayed to (up to the present) - and Heavenly Mother is seldom spoken of very much; nonetheless the presumption is that she was responsible for our spiritual childhood, and presumably has other primary roles which will be revealed in the fullness of time.

Thus Mormonism is patriarchal - and sustainable; yet also rooted in genuine complementarity without overall precedence; and this aspect may well continue to evolve in religious practice.

William Wildblood said...

But that’s pretty much what I mean Bruce. I may not have expressed myself very well but I didn’t mean that the man is always in charge. I do say that there are areas in which women have precedence but I also think that the male responsibility is to be the head. If, as you say, Mormonism is patriarchal but complementary that’s surely saying more or less the same thing. You wouldn’t call it matriarchal but complementary, would you?

I must admit I find it hard to put my feelings about this subject into words that are not open to misunderstanding. These feelings come from my strong conviction that feminism is an attack on the spiritual integrity of the human race and an attempt to distort reality and unmake man (as in man and woman).

If God the Father is the Creator that does imply overall precedence, doesn’t it? I do agree that there is something corresponding to the Mother in heaven but I would incline more to the Catholic idea of Mary as Queen as heaven.

William Wildblood said...

Since I've grasped the nettle of man and woman and the relationship between them I may as well share some more thoughts on the subject which I believe indicate what that relationship should ideally be.

In the old days when a man offered his seat to a woman on a train or wherever he was doing two things. He was paying her due respect as a woman and assuming his right so to do as a man. He was effectively the giver and she was the taker which implies a relationship, in the field of everyday life at least, of precedence. Which is why feminists indignantly refuse such an offer now. But think how natural that seems and how ridiculous it would seem if it were the other way round. It's not just a cultural thing though. It is a manifestation of something a lot deeper than that.

You can say all this comes from the male need to protect a child bearing woman but I would say that that in itself comes from a greater spiritual reality and truth. In other words this impulse does not arise from a biological necessity but that is a reflection on the biological level of a universal spiritual truth. As above so below is the formula.

There is the further point that in all civilisations that have actually accomplished anything or driven evolution forward men have led. Matriarchal societies, the few that there ever have been, carry on in the same way and eventually stagnate. And in practical terms you have to have one or the other. One must be on top, so to speak. Can anyone deny that currently in a period of enormous decline we are becoming a feminised society?

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - As I see it, precedence in any specific situation is not plain-precedence - so I tend to think that term is misleading wrt men and women. (Probably) Primarily the Father created the material earth and its contents; the Mother created - in some sense and mode, she bore and nurtured - the spiritual sons and daughters of God. Therefore, both creators but different domains of creation.

(Of course this depends on the Mormon view of our pre-mortal existence as spirit, but literal - not symbolic, children of God.)

The consensus about simple hunter gatherer societies - when I read into that subject - was that they had no overall 'chief' in the way that agricultural societies did. Instead the leader was different depending on the task and context - there could be a chief for politics, but a different one for hunting, gathering, fighting, singing, law, crafts, medicine etc. Being the political chief did not necessarily mean being the overall chief - it depended on the situation and priority.

Whether or not this was always or usually historically true, I'm not sure - but that is the kind of thing I am trying to get across. My feeling is that we tend to regard the relatively fixed and hereditary situation of agriculural societies as being 'natural' when they are sometimes actually cultural - we tend to regard 'politics' as the real thing and everything else as secondary.

Men and women need each other in an ultimate sense (the only full person is a man-woman dyad - each is individually partial, incomplete). Men and women are different from the other (there is no equality).

My feeling is that all forms of traditional Christianity struggle to make simple, common sense of this. What goes for Men ought surely (?) to go for God and Jesus Christ as well.

If God the Father and Jesus Christ really are male (as I believe they are), then they (like mortal men) are spiritually incomplete as solo males - hence they too 'must' have 'wives' to become complete Men. As I believe they do.

(I am using upper-case 'Men' to mean 'human beings', lower case 'men' to mean male humans.)

William Wildblood said...

I think we agree more than we disagree. Perhaps by precedence I just mean that men should be men and women should be women rather than, as now, feminism forcing women to ape men and try to play the male role. It is undoubtedly true that man/woman is a complementary pair and each needs the other to be complete though in spiritual terms that may not be so. I think I'm right in saying that you see reality as ultimately dualistic whereas I see it as ultimately issuing forth from a single ground unity (God) with the dualistic element both the necessary cause and the result of God's creation. So from 1 comes 2 and then from them, the alpha and omega as it were, everything else.

So our spiritual life and being comes from the Father while the Mother's work lies in producing our material forms.

So I incline more to the traditional Christian view with a few modifications.

Anyway we shall see! One thing I'm sure we do agree on is that the present day approach is mistaken.

Faculty X said...

Why not just go with the traditional Christian view? Why modify at all?

William Wildblood said...

Another good question, Faculty X! I think the modifications would just entail a greater recognition of the receptive pole of existence as being a positive thing in itself and not purely passive and subordinate in all things as tended to be the understanding at one time. Though if you look at the early Church that did seem to be believed then too.

After all, and ironically given the all out attempts of the Left to undermine Christianity, in many respects nothing has dome more for women than Christianity.