Articles From the June 1995 Unification News
The Fatherhood of God and the Fatherhood of Man
As one of the half-dozen people in America who have no time for movies, I satisfy my appetite for Hollywood's products by reading New York Times movie reviews. I gain similar satisfaction from book reviews, and Gilbert Meilaender wrote a lengthy one of an important new book out entitled Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, by David Blankenhorn.
According to Mr. Meilaender's summary, Mr. Blankenhorn states that there are problems with the traditional norm of fatherhood, what he calls the "Old Father", and contemporary society puts in place of the Old Father new models such as the New Father, the Unnecessary Father, the Deadbeat Dad, Visiting Father, Sperm Father, Stepfather and Nearby Guy. Blankenhorn debunks all of these prototypes, and proposes an alternative, the "Good Family Man". The Good Family Man has four roles: to provide, to protect, to nurture, and to sponsor.
Gilbert Meilaender's comment is that it is not clear that this "Good Family Man" is different from the traditional ideal of the Old Father, and that just as most men is such societies fell short of the ideal, so too will most men who attempt it fall short of the "Good Family Man" model.
"Most readers," Meilaender suspects, "will be just a little disappointed by the policy proposals of the final chapter. Perhaps that is inevitable, given the scope of the book's critique." The scope of the book's critique, of course, is the object of lavish praise, so why excuse ourselves for failure to find solutions worthy of the critique? Are we no greater than the revolutionaries of the past two centuries, who can point out with devastating effect what is wrong with society, but come up with no viable alternatives?
Blankenhorn, in providing a minimal alternative vision, is just being honest. He recognizes that no imperfect man is going to become a perfect father. Nonetheless, he argues, it is far better to have the presence of a bad father than the absence of a good one. "While it is true that having a father sometimes fosters anger, having no father at all fosters much greater anger. It leads to 'mistrust, violence, nihilism.' A violent society results not from the bad example of fathers who abuse their power; it results from fatherlessness."
In other words, like everything else in this fallen world, fathers fall short of our expectations, but the institution of fatherhood itself, traditionally conceived, is a part of the order of nature. With this, I totally agree, and while I may be reading into Blankenhorn here, but I believe it to be an obvious deduction from his position.
Given this, I am intrigued by Blankenhorn's statement that there is a "combustible contradiction inherent within fatherhood-closeness partly through distance, affection partly through coercion [which] helps explain why fatherhood constitutes such a problematic contrivance in human societies." Fatherhood by definition contains internal contradictions: closeness and distance; affection and coercion. Meilaender summarizes the horns of this dilemma: "how can we establish practices that are compassionate but do not undercut the norms we seek to uphold" the old struggle between law and spirit. Compassion and - affection require closeness; upholding norms seems to require distance and coercion.
Meilaender makes an interesting proposal in the way of resolving this, however, "Even fatherhood itself, as a necessary cultural ideal, may need to be grounded in something that transcends the biological and anthropological 'givens' of human development and the social necessities of healthy societies. As a normative role that both attracts and compels us, fatherhood may need to mirror something that transcends such givens a Father whose glory is to serve the child, - even if the child slay him." This Meilaender calls "a transcendent Father . . . shaped by an unconditional love that goes beyond what is - given in the natural paternal impulse."
When Meilaender refers to "a transcendent Father," most religious people will understand that he is referring to God, our Heavenly Father, and not simply to a Jungian archetype. Jews, Christians and Muslims alike recognize God as a real, personal Father, the fount and source of the universe and humankind, who created us, male and female, in His image (Gen. 1:27). And here I point out that the problems Blankenhorn identifies with fatherhood are exactly the problems the western traditions have with God: spirit versus law; compassion versus coercion; closeness versus distance. The challenge, then, to proceed past the collapse of fatherhood, has two prongs. One, how can we graduate to a more mature, harmonious understanding of our Father God (while paying due respect to both horns of the dilemma). And, two, how we can inherit the Fatherhood of God; how the transcendent Father can become an incarnate father.
While this seems a simple enough conclusion, it actually flies in the face of the Christian conception of the cosmos, summarized by the liberal Protestant theologian and church historian Adolf Von Harnack in the late nineteenth century: "the essence of Christianity is the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man". God is a father and we are brothers. While many Christians reject much else Harnack represents, no one much questions this neat slogan, the Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man. Why? because it is a correct statement regarding the Christian truth, which, in the end, views mankind not as parents and children but as brothers and sisters. Thus, after 2,000 years, the fruit of Christianity is the leveling of society, the end of hierarchy.
In the non-hierarchical universe, we all are brothers and sisters. There are no parents, no kings, no teachers, no priests, at least none who wield real authority. Locke, a representative democratic thinker, understood parenthood as nothing more than a legal status, binding certain individuals ("parents") to look after others ("children") until the latter could emerge as citizens. The emotive bonds between these individuals were incidental.
All of the problems of contemporary fatherhood stem from fact that we have all adopted the model that we are nothing but brothers and sisters, ontologically. There is no ontological difference between the members of a family; differences are only de juris. This is why Mr. Blankenhorn cannot come up with any convincing solutions. He is unwilling to question our fundamental cultural presuppositions. This is why Mr. Meilaender shrinks from the enforcement of norms, for what gives one brother the right to coerce another? When ontological hierarchy is removed, so too is rightful authority.
What of that one venerable bastion of hierarchy in the West, the Roman Catholic church? Yes it is venerable and it is powerful and it is based upon the truth of God. But it is only spiritual; it exists on the basis of persuasion and consent. By God's grace, the persuasion and consent girding the Catholic hierarchical society of the church have penetrated the deep psyche of the West, trading on our status as fallen and on its possession of the veritable keys to the kingdom, which resolve, to a degree at least, the problem of sin. Liberation from sin is a powerful energy, which unleashes creativity and civilization. But no one disputes that this resolution is partial. From the get-go, St. Paul instructed us that we see through a glass darkly, that we know, and are known, only in part; that the perfect has not yet come.
By God's grace, out of the ruins of Rome arose a Christian civilization. It was hierarchical; new civilizations are not created by brothers and sisters; they are created by warriors who muster armies, kings (and bishops) who rule territories, and fathers who beget lineages. The uniqueness of the Christian civilization which arose out of Rome was that a spiritual hierarchy intermingled with the secular hierarchies. But once this Christian civilization triumphed, the Christian hierarchy, slowly but surely, went the way of all flesh. Eventually, this hierarchy beget those who claimed sibling status and became another sect, the elder brother in a warring family of religions.
My argument is that there was a spiritual support, nay, a providential support, for a hierarchy built upon religious relations as a universal society. But eventually that providence passed, and hierarchical power collapsed, and the universal society became fragmented within with the various parts claiming the same starting points. This is the import of the Protestant Reformation.
Catholicism cannot succeed as the basis for a universal society. I fear that faithful Catholics believe that the church yet holds the keys to the kingdom, and that if all people become practicing Catholics the world will be saved. But this would be the world of medieval Europe. We cannot claim superior merit, from the human standpoint, to the people of the thirteenth century. And otherwise, we are left with the argument that the medieval Catholic church with modern technology and enlightened values concerning race and gender will equal the kingdom of God. Thus, the determining factor is technology and social ethics.
Well, Catholics might argue, at all times we have proclaimed that the kingdom will not come until the second advent of Jesus Christ. But is this argument one which its proponents take seriously, or is it just lip-service? To combine expectation of an inbreaking of God into history with a confidence in the institutions of the Catholic church as the best solution draws a fine line, the down side of which will lead such people to demanding that the second advent of Christ adhere to the conventions of the Catholic church.
The up side of the eschatological expectation is that Catholics, along with everyone else, must cry to heaven beyond the church walls for the way of true life, for the way of salvation in this age. And why are they not? Is not the Catholic church rent with strife? Who were the engineers of Marxist revolution in Latin America? How much longer will the vow of celibacy be respected or required? How much more erosion can the authority of the priest endure, or the claim of papal infallibility? Who among Catholics today would defend the Syllabus of Errors? When I assert that hierarchy is dead, I hope that Catholics do not exclude themselves by a quick unconscious identification with the theological structures of Augustine or Thomas and the social worlds built upon those structures which have long since disappeared.
Now we return to Mr. Meilaender's hesitant call for "a transcendent father" as a norm. He is hesitant because within the Christian worldview there is no foundation for such a call and no basis to believe that it will result in anything but a brief attempt to reinstate the model of the Old Father. The Old Father, New Father and other types exhaust the repertoire of the Christian providence. Why? Because the incarnation of Christ has the ontological status of a son. Jesus never became a physical father; he never stood as a husband. As Athenasius stated for the ages, "That which is not assumed is not saved". Jesus assumed sonship; and we can assume the same through faith in him. Jesus did not assume fatherhood; thus we cannot assume it in front of God. After all is said and done, it is that simple. A child can understand it.
Thus, the problem of fatherhood cannot be solved within the Christian providence, including its various degenerate forms. If we remain "good Christians," we will not solve the problem of the eclipse of fatherhood. At best we will recognize it, as Mr. Blankenhorn has done. Good Christians must take the next step and recognize that the tools at hand are not enough to solve the problem. In other words, we need help from above. If you say "We have help from above," then I say: "What you have is not enough; we've had that help for 2,000 years; we need more help from above" indeed, deep help from the one God. That is the toughest admission for convinced Christians to make; but make it they must, because it is Jesus himself who is bringing this help.
We have to move from the Fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man, to the Fatherhood of God and the fatherhood of man. How does one make that move? We have the forerunner in Jesus Christ. Jesus came as a son, liberating those who believe to become sons, even by adoption.
The next step is simple enough. In order to save, to liberate, to sanctify, the position of fathers and mothers of parents there must be perfected, sinless individuals (one man, one woman) who incarnate the true love of God as husband and wife, as parents. Then all must achieve this same standing through them. Is this against Jesus? No; it is the will of Jesus.
We need Jesus Christ to return as a husband and father. Marriage and family life are original categories of God's creation. To believe otherwise is to lapse into Gnosticism. Adam and Eve did not fall by virtue of having sex per se; they fell because their act of procreative love took place on the basis of selfish motives, under the influence of the archangel Lucifer-that ancient serpent, the devil or Satan (Rev. 12:9). Hence it could not be blessed by God. If reference to an archangel confuses you, I can use more conventional terms: Adam and Eve were children having children. They never became true adults, because once children have children, they have violated the principles which make for proper psychological growth.
It is not a sin for Jesus to return as a husband and father. It is not sinful to make love within the blessing of God. In fact, God wants us to do so; God created us to do so. The sexual organs are the most wonderful parts of the human body. When in the proper relationship with the mind and heart, they are the vehicle created by God to establish the primary unification between man and woman and with God Himself.
God is love, after all. God loves love affairs; it's just that God wants them to be eternal, and He wants them to be universal and totally selfless. He wants them to be perfect. The entire creation loves love, which reaches its culmination in the true marriage of man and woman.
What else can we do with the biblical sayings about the bride of Christ? Does Jesus want to kiss a church? Is the prophecy of the marriage supper of the Lamb just symbolic? According to this marriage hermeneutic, it is not ultimately symbolic (although it has symbolic meaning as well); it is to be fulfilled literally by the inbreaking of God.
What it comes down to, after all is said and done, is that the "transcendent father" will be realized in history. This is the help from above; this is the more help from above. And just as it always has, God's "help from above" sneaks up behind us and taps us on our shoulders, asking, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand staring up into the heavens?"
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