~ Thursday, February 05, 2009 ~
So I recently learned about a lifestyle called Christian Domestic Discipline. The basic idea is that a married couple agrees to live according to a system in which the husband makes and enforces the household rules, and if the wife disobeys, the husband beats the wife. This is intended to mirror the leadership/submission relationship between deity and church, a mirroring that Paul suggests in the NT, and so it is thought to be pleasing to God. It's also said to generate closeness between wife and husband, to emphasize their gender roles (her submissiveness and his assertiveness), to give the husband confidence and the wife security, and to strengthen the marriage. Regardless of all that, I think I should apologize to the Christians reading this for using the name of your religion in association with the practice. I don't think it's got the mark of divine approval on it, and I don't imagine anyone else reading this thinks so either.
I'm writing about it because, honestly, it scares me and I'm trying to overcome that fear by taking it apart, by working through it. Why does it scare me? First of all, it rocks my worldview. I would have thought that no one would choose such a life--that every human would prefer to answer to his or her own chosen system of rules rather than to someone else's, especially if enforced via beatings--but apparently there are women out there who encourage their husbands to adopt the lifestyle, not for the desire for pain, but rather, they say, for the results. Secondly, and more significantly, it scares me because I think I can understand the attraction. I know there are times when I've wanted to let go of the responsibility of steering my own life and instead allow myself to be carried. I can imagine the sense of being loved that would come from knowing my spouse pays attention to and cares about everything I do, even if only because he's policing me. Most compellingly for me, it might be nice to know that the world is a predictable machine and I'm entirely in charge of whether or not a bad thing happens to me--all I need do is follow a set of clearly defined rules, and if I follow them, all will go well for me (about which more later). I would gain clear direction, attention, and a sense that the world is just. I might even feel really good about myself if I think God is pleased by my lifestyle.
On the other hand, I'd be giving up some freedoms that are, I believe, dead wrong to give up. First of all I'd be failing to chart my own course in life and take responsibility for my decisions. I'm letting someone else--a human, not God--make the rules about what's right and wrong for me to do, and how I ought to be punished for disobedience. On a certain level, I'm agreeing not to challenge his leadership before having even heard what his rules are. Secondly, I'm trading in my right to be treated as an equal and in exchange receiving attention which I am probably confusing for love. Thirdly, rather than facing the injustice that exists in the world and trying to do something to remedy it, I am asking someone else to create for me the illusion of justice by setting him up as my master and having him diligently punish me whenever I disobey. It seems equivalent to choosing to remain a permanent child, and under the circumstances, I find this choice as morally problematic as the choice to remain a slave. Most adult humans have the capacity to improve the world by pursuing justice in whatever sphere they inhabit; if I never use my own capacity to right wrongs (agreeing instead to be led by my husband in all things), then I'm not contributing to the work of improving the world.
Now back to the thing about the world as a predictable machine. This is a common theme for me, so my apologies if you've heard this one already. I remember believing, when I was quite young, that my parents knew about everything bad that I did. If I lied to them or if I read a book while I was supposed to be going to sleep or if I ate in the living room instead of in the kitchen, or if I jumped up and down on their bed, I believed, they would know. This belief was partly because they *were* extremely watchful and usually did find out, and partly because for a long time, I overestimated my sneakiness. I was a kid. What did I know? But eventually I found that I *could* get away with things. This was disturbing, not because I didn't want to, e.g., jump on the bed (I most certainly did), but rather because my understanding of the world changed. If my parents weren't going to stop me, the borders of the world expanded beyond the horizon, frighteningly far. If they didn't always know to chastise me when I wasn't behaving well, who would? How far would I be allowed to drift before someone would save me from own childish lack of self-control? And if no one was going to stop *me* from behaving badly, who would stop everyone else from behaving badly? Was the world full of people who were out of control, running around like crazy, and eating in the living room? What would keep the universe from falling apart?
At some point I decided that it was ok that my parents couldn't see what I did, because God could, and did, and indeed was watching me at every moment, and would punish me for my misdeeds. I don't think this anymore (I tried, but God wasn't very consistent in punishing me either), but I still think that everything I do is recorded on the scroll of reality--that is, my deeds don't cease to have existed just because they aren't in the present anymore--and that it matters, somehow, in the grand scheme of things, what choices I make. Whether or not it's true, it seems self-evident to me, which is enough, at least for now.
Anyway, the point of all that backstory is to connect my disappointment (in discovering that I could get away with stuff) with the married lifestyle that establishes consistent, direct, and painful consequences for rule-breaking. I understand the sense of security it would offer, but I don't think it's a good thing to seek. Far better, I would say, is to participate in the work of buildling a world in which justice is fair, consistent, and ever-present. This is divine work, the role of a mature adult, a challenge to develop one's moral sense to the highest degree possible, which is, I believe, the sort of work we all ought to be doing. It's also the role given to the husband in the CDD system. It's as if the wife gives into the temptation to never have to face the ugly injustice of the world, while assigning her husband the job of maintaining the illusion for her, in exchange for which, she gives him power over her. It's not a temptation to which I am immune, but I consider the results to be morally problematic, and I think that's why it disturbs me so deeply.
~ prattled by Miriam at 8:58 p.m. [+]
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