Some years ago we had gerbils. We had this idea that if the children showed commitment toward little things we could trust them with the greater thing of a dog. It's not a fair test. In fairness, gerbils are boring little creatures by and large. They don't interact, you can't teach them much and they're a little bit too similar to vermin to really win hearts. Our children hadn't really asked for them in the way they had begged and pleaded for a dog. I suppose you could say I imposed the 'wee beasties' on them hoping they wouldn't notice that they weren't dogs. Well they weren't so easily fooled and lost interest in them pretty fast.
That is to say all for one child, our youngest. A lion-hearted little creature, once she loves it is for always and she loved those little 'mice'. As a toddler she would let them out of their cage to play with her...have you ever tried catching two gerbils running in opposite directions while a toddler squeals with joy at the spectacle. I had to padlock them in. Then she would read them stories, push their cage to wherever she was playing so they could see her and as they got older and less active they were happy to sit and watch the cute YouTube videos she would put on my phone and hold to to their window for them to enjoy.
Gerbils don't have a long life span, a few years. Ours lived slightly over expectation as even though I had little interest, they were little creatures with just one life which we had freely taken upon ourselves. We looked after them well and they had a good life. Well finally one, then another 'went on holiday' never to return and we were left with one lone sleepy gerbil. One morning Little Girl was doing her usual check when her older sisters tried to explain to her that the little object of her childish affection was more than asleep.
'I'm afraid he's not asleep, he's dead'
'He IS asleep!!, I've seen him do this before, he'll wake UP!'
'He's not going to wake up, he's gone to heaven with all the other little pets'
'YOU might give up...I NEVER give up!!'
Even in the face of stark evidence this child believed that her will would prevail. She didn't like something therefore her will could make it otherwise. Her stout protestations reminded me of Sir Winston Churchill's 'We will NEVER surrender!'
Why do I tell this story? you may ask. I'll tell you why. I do a lot of driving these days and a lot of driving means a lot of thinking. I have been thinking about our post-Christian, post-truth culture and, in particular about the catastrophic blow it has wrought upon the relationship between men and women. The recent confusion about what it even means to be a man or a woman seems to have appeared overnight, a new fashionable ideology with shallow roots.
Unfortunately, the roots of the gender movement are far from shallow and have been incubating for many decades. An entire culture does not embrace an extraordinarily fantastical idea, such as that a man can be a woman, unless it has been slowly and imperceptibly prepped for such acceptance. The emperor's subjects did not suddenly become blind to his nakedness, they had been already prepared to be so foolishly duped by fear of the opinion of others, fear of standing out from the crowd, fear of this, fear of that...to the point that their fears overrode truth so they cheered and gushed and gasped at the non existent grandeur of the Emperor's 'gowns'.
Not one person looking at the emperor saw anything but his naked body and his bloated grotesque vanity, yet every single one was happy to proclaim otherwise. 'Beautiful clothes, gorgeous...'Fabulous even!' Yes, fabulous, oh so fabulous. That 'fabulous' movement where seedy men dress as hideous demonic perversions of women and young mothers are unbelievably tricked into thinking it's somehow a good idea to allow their children to be groomed by these men under the guise of 'story-time'. How can we not see the naked emperor in this? Our culture is cheering the phenomenon of child drag queens and the mutilation and sterilisation of ever younger children by the transgender craze. In fact our culture cheers everything which rebels against natural order. We have been so well marinaded we are overcooked.
Every story has a beginning. I suggest that the beginning of this goes right back to the actual beginning. To Genesis. God's design for mankind was the perfect fit. A mutual delight in the other without conflict, male and female he created them. . After the fall this was distorted...I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed' (Gen 3:15). Why did Adam and Eve don some sort of covering for their bodies? Before the fall each only willed the good of the other, the gaze of Adam held no danger to the naked Eve. The naked Adam had no shame because his body was for the good of his wife. His gaze held no self interest. Their differences were completely in harmony, no jealousy, no pride, no grasping of the other for self interest. Adam was what Eve was not and she was what Adam was not. And then things went awry. Adam's desires were no longer for his wife but for his own satiation. Eve no longer wanted to be helpmate. They covered their bodies because it was his body which manifested his maleness, what made him MAN. Eve's body was what manifested her femaleness...what made her WOMAN. Adam as man became inclined to dominate, Eve as woman became resentful...enmity between the two. Man and woman have been horn-locked in the battle to some extent ever since.
And here's where I get back to the little girl and her protestations that she will NEVER give in. She is a little girl, not an ounce of guile. Children under the age of reason are to some extent a mirror of our original state. Parents smile endearingly at the uninhibited nakedness of the toddler after a bath or on a beach. We smile and say 'The innocence of Adam...Oh for such innocence'. Even though innocent, as a child of such parents she has inherited the human tendency 'I will never give in'. Man and woman are deadlocked, each rebelling against the natural order, each inflicting unhappiness on themselves and on the other. Yet somewhere in us we long for the original harmony. As women, we long for release from the underlying resentment of being 'looked' at, we wish we didn't feel so resentful at the label 'helpmate'. As men, we long for a release from the suspicion with which the world views us. We long for a release from self-centred longings and from our wrongful concept of superiority. We know things aren't quite right.
I'm currently reading the 'bible' with my 9 year old. It's an excellent graphic-novel style presentation which is perfect for that age. (The Action Bible. God's Redemptive Story. Ill by Sergio Cariello) I'll admit I'd never actually tackled the Old Testament chronologically before, what an exciting tale!! My little daughter and I are currently wandering in the desert with the Hebrew people, Moses has just broken the tablets bearing the Ten Commandments. Who would blame him? What a rum lot the Hebrews were. Complain, complain, complain. Unfaithful, ungrateful, self-interested...remind you of anything? It reminds ME of every single generation since time began. Literally Moses had barely turned his back and the Hebrews were adoring the golden calf. Oh my goodness! What a bunch!
Every generation has had it's Golden Calf. I think it's fair to say that our current era's Golden Calf is our EGO. Like the child who thought she could will the impossible and make it possible, we think we have domination over the impossible. In our inflated sense of entitlement and self interest we see even our bodies and our nature to be impediments over which we can impose our will. Nowhere more is this war waged than between the sexes. No, I tell a lie. Our war is no longer simply between the sexes, but precisely with sex itself. What is the greatest pariah in the Western world today than a woman who is happy to be a woman, who is happy to embrace her fertility, to care for her children and to love, care for and support her husband? What is considered more demeaning than for a woman to 'identify' as wife? Not much, except a wife who is financially dependent on a man and is happy to make him dinner.
Women as a whole reject their own bodies and their life-nurturing capabilities. We no longer see anything special in the feminine. Not alone that, we no longer see anything special in the masculine either. The market-leader of razor blades were only reflecting current thought when they made their patronising anti-man advert. The ensuing boycott to the sum of eight billion dollars was at least an encouraging indication of the remnant of some sort of common sense.
Our Ego-God has one commandment: Non Serviam. I will not serve. I will not submit to nature, to my body, to God and, by Jinny, I'll not serve any man!
A few years ago I was at Sunday mass when the reader announced from the lectern 'There will be no second reading today', closed the book and walked away. Three guesses which reading was too choking for him that he felt need to censor the word of God? Actually one guess. Got it in one. St Paul. Oh St. Paul, how you set the cat amongst the pigeons when you wrote those words. The most misinterpreted, the most misquoted, the most reviled passage from the entire bible...Ephesians 5. A whole passage reduced to a one line monstrosity.
Wives...submit to your husbands.
Such a problematic one liner. Remember we live in an age where to use the maximum 280 characters on Twitter means your tweet will be scrolled on by because it is just too long. St Paul did indeed write those words. The thing is, he wrote a lot of other words both before and after them. As women, our rebellious selves recoil from such subservience. As men, our fallen nature grasps at those words as licence to rule and dominate, even to cruelty. For generation after generation the misinterpretation of the role of husband as head and the role of wife in submission has caused untold damage to families. The idea that a husband should dominate his wife is unbecoming to any Christian. The idea that a wife submits to her husband to the point that simple household decisions must be approved by him is equally unbecoming for any Christian.
Neither of these extremes is correct. Even a simple reading of Eph 5: 21-32 rubbishes these theories. Pope St John Paul has unpacked this passage in such a beautiful and freeing way. For the sake of this piece not becoming unwieldy, the reference is Theology of The Body Number 89, General audience of August 11 1982.
In brief, the Pope explains the original nature of marriage 'In the beginning, it was not so'.
Husband and wife are equally called to submission, a mutual full gift of themselves to the other. There is no humiliation in submission in this context. God created man and woman as equal. Equal and different. Catholicism recognises marriage as a reflection of the Holy Trinity, a prefiguring of our ultimate union with God. Within The Blessed Trinity we know that God The Father, God The Son and God The Holy Spirit are equal. All God, none less or more God than the other two persons. And yet, within that equal trinity God the Son is subject to the Father, God the Ho;y Spirit is sent by Jesus and thereby clearly subject to him. God the Father is Father, the head. In creating woman subject to her husband and him as the head God is not reducing one and elevating the other. If that was true, it would mean an inequality within God himself and we know this cannot be.
Our culture is ailing. False ideologies always bring sickness and unhappiness to the world. Marriage is ailing. Young people do not want to marry for many of the reasons above, even older couples are divorcing at an unprecedented rate. This is a tragedy not just for families but for the world. Pope John Paul famously said 'As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live'. The restoration of the whole world depends on the family. It depends on men becoming men of character. It depends on women reclaiming womanhood. It depends on husband and wife, family by family, husband and wife both 'subject to one another out of reverence to Christ'.
Well I think that's lovely. There's nothing to resent. G.K. Chesterton nailed it when he wrote 'The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children'. The ordinariness of families based on the mutual submission of husband to wife and wife to husband is precisely the instrument God can use to re-tune the entire orchestra of mankind. That means you, that means me. Ordinary and equal and loved by God. How do we know this? Because we are here.
In case you're wondering. Although they failed the gerbil test, our children are passing the little schnauzer test with flying colours, and so am I.