By John Taylor; 2008 Oct 26, 10 'Ilm 165 BE
The Particular Reform of Families.
By John Taylor; 2008 Oct 26, 10 'Ilm 165 BE
Jan Amos Comenius launches this chapter on the family in the Panorthosia (Universal Reform) by quoting the entire 101st Psalm, known as the householder's prayer. Unlike the passive, corrupted remnant of an institution that the family is today, this psalm places a heavy burden of responsibility on family members. They are charged with an active role in controlling and filtering the flow of information both into the home and within it. They are to censor data flow coming in by following the example of a God Who sets "no wicked thing before mine eyes." They control communication among themselves by avoiding lies and "working deceit," "slandering his neighbour" and having a "proud heart." As he does for every level of society, Comenius suggests a motto or declaration of success in reforming the family.
"THIS IS THE DWELLING PLACE OF VIRTUE, ORDER, AGREEMENT, AND GOD AMONGST MEN! Therefore let nothing that is evil ever enter it!"
This declaration of domestic interdependence, this epitome of which Comenius suggests be placed above the entrance door of the house, is directly inspired by the householder's psalm. It suggests first a nurturing function, a positive duty to foster virtue, order, harmony and godliness, followed by a protective duty, sternly keeping evil out. Perhaps most important, it sets up service as the ideal of a perfect family member, since God says in the Psalm,
"He that shall walk in a perfect way shall serve me."
I cannot emphasize enough that this ideal of service is not the same as happiness or fulfilment. Indeed, service can be seen as -- at least in the short term -- mutually exclusive of happiness and fulfilment. This is because of the law of the universe that philosophers call the "hedonic paradox": it is impossible to gain pleasure by "pleasuring." Only doing other things calculated to lead to pleasure do we get a chance to experience pleasure later on. In the same way, as the Psalm says, the perfect way in a household is to serve God. That means trusting that by selflessly serving, "he that shall save his life shall lose it, and he that gives it away shall gain it." Service requires faith that in the long run we do what God created us for, and for that reason a measure of pleasure, fulfilment and happiness must be added unto us later, if not in this world then in the next.
Consider, then, what the Wikipedia article on the family has to say about its traditional role. In a section entitled "Contemporary Views of the Family," it does not mention service at all, but rather states,
"Contemporary society generally views family as a haven from the world, supplying absolute fulfillment. The family is considered to encourage `intimacy, love and trust where individuals may escape the competition of dehumanizing forces in modern society from the rough and tumble industrialized world, and as a place where warmth, tenderness and understanding can be expected from a loving mother, and protection from the world can be expected from the father. However, the idea of protection is declining as civil society faces less internal conflict combined with increased civil rights and protection from the state. To many, the ideal of personal or family fulfillment has replaced protection as the major role of the family. The family now supplies what is vitally needed but missing from other social arrangements.'"
So, not only has the family taken a viper to its bosom -- the sham fallacy of "absolute fulfilment" in place of service -- not only does family no longer have an economic role (most parents work for joint stock companies rather than family businesses) but it also suffers a permanent imbalance toward nurturing and away from protection, towards "expectations" and away from duty and service. If the traditional "male" protective function (symbolized by God as father figure) is taken over by the state, if men do not play a distinctive role of paterfamilias protecting the family name, if society continues to misapprehend sex roles and the nature of service, the family will remain sunk in an impotent backwater.
Comenius here offers a particular methodology for regaining the destined health of family affairs, but he admits straight off that it will demand a great amount of "zeal" to implement, "But what method should we adopt? Let us learn from the example of David [in the householder's psalm] how much zeal is required if we are to rid our household of corruption and corruptors." This process does not stop at the household but proceeds upwards. He points out that higher levels of governance derive any effectiveness they have from lessons learned at the family hearth,
"Let all kings and princes bear these words, all counts, barons, nobles, and ordinary citizens who have to rule over houses large or small, so that they compose themselves according to this idea of holy zeal and begin their reforms by removing every offence from their own household."
Moral illness, then, should be prevented with the same desperate energy that we reserve for epidemics of life threatening disease. He suggests that the measures prescribed in the Law of Moses for purifying and expunging all traces of the "plague of leprosy" from a home are not intended for that problem alone, but should be taken as a metaphor for all ethical dangers. "One has only to apply this method and the mystic meaning will be obvious." Ten steps were required, as Comenius sums up the long Biblical prescription beginning at Leviticus 14:34,
1. It was the duty of the owner to attend to his household, and
2. if he saw the plague, not to stand idly looking on, but to ask the priests for their advice.
3. It was the priest's duty to come, look, and examine, and
4. to take away the infected stones,
5. to scrape the remainder of the house to prevent further infection
6. to put other stones in place of those that were removed,
7. to pronounce the whole house unclean if he saw that the lep rosy came again and spread,
8. to cause the whole house to be destroyed,
9. but if he saw that the plague was not spreading, to pronounce the house clean,
10. and finally to see that thanks were given unto God.
As with many other former functions of the family, the job of protecting health is now in the hands of professionals, in this case epidemiologists hired by the state. However, in my opinion Comenius is right in his scripturally inspired belief that the buck for protection starts with individuals serving in family groups.
For one thing, while the state is good at dealing with old threats like that of plague, it has badly fumbled new dangers that fall outside jurisdictional lines. The most famous example is the need to act to prevent climate change. While the evidence is hardening that we are already too late to reverse it now, it was not always so. On the Badi' Blog I have collected two copies of a film made back in the 1950's by Fritz Capra,
This clearly shows that if we had been as alert and vigilant, especially on the family level, as the Law of Moses demanded, vigorous action could have been taken on the local and higher levels to reverse climate degradation. It would not take much to rewrite the above set of precautions against leprosy in order to counteract all sorts of dangers we are facing today.
The newspapers are full of protection measures that, now we realize, should be done by all, such as buying local, buying organic, purchasing economical transport, and so forth. With all the warnings in the world, few are actually doing any of it, largely because of the emasculation of protective functions that should be hardwired into the family, but which are not.