Sunday, November 16, 2008

Family Diarchy

Diarchy and the Three Bonds of Family

2008 Nov 16, 13 Qudrat 165 BE

Let us continue our trip through the lost 16th Century manuscript of Jan Amos Comenius, the Panorthosia or Universal Reform, his Magnum Opus, the first and surely the greatest how-to manual for a utopia of our own making. The attention he gives to the institution of the family -- inspired by the Bible -- distinguishes Comenius from other reformers and utopian thinkers, who have wholly secular outlooks. I therefore began this study not at the beginning of the Panorthosia but with its 21st chapter, "The Particular Reform of Family."

We are at the 12th paragraph, which discusses the religious function of a household. Although the content of the activities here differs, the form is identical to Baha'i homes. In fact, any healthy family would need to perform an almost identical daily schedule of devotions in order to live up to the ideals of faith and the habits of religion.

"The whole household will have its church if the members gather together every day to worship God in praise and prayer and to be confirmed in their earnest pursuit of piety. This is easy to arrange if they sing a psalm or a hymn every morning and evening before and after work, and also during their work (when they meet together at mealtimes), and attend to a portion of God's Word (like heavenly fire for the altar of their hearts), and presently lift up their hearts, hands, and eyes, and call for God's mercy, and are inspired to piety, that is, to love God and fear Him and honour Him with their obedience. The same purpose is served by combining the ten commandments (Exodus 20:3-17) with morning prayers like a bridle to restrain the flesh that day from evil and vanity, and the Apostles' Creed with evening prayers as a trophy for daily victory in Christ and a guarantee of sounder sleep through the strengthening of their trust in God."

Comenius describes how active control of information by family leaders can be used for both inspiration and edification. Songs, devotions and readings read or sung by themselves encourage each and all to dedicate themselves to selfless religious purposes. At the same time, as Comenius points out, this schedule would also promote better sleep, and healthy habits in general.

The advantage of his "family church" over what we have is that it establishes dialectic with God first. Each member begins alone, with silence, reflection, and prayer, followed by reading Holy Writ. This recapitulates en famille. Thus the family as an institution connects with the individual directly, without distraction or corruption from outside images and values. The plant's roots extend directly into the soil, and its leaves are directly exposed to sunlight.

This plan for a family's daily religious routine, based on his experience with a 16th century household, is just how a successful extended household might arrange its daily devotions today. It is in stark contrast with what we allow today, with our constant feed of electronic multimedia pumped into the living room, blocking rather than encouraging direct connection between individuals and the family. Sophisticated as our technology is, there is far less participation or control over either form or content than what Comenius proposes using only printed books.

As we have seen, Comenius holds that there are three main roles of family, that of a school, a church and a state. The thirteenth paragraph proceeds to the third of these three roles, the political or consultative one.

"The whole family group will resemble a state if every effort is made to see that the mutual duties allocated to all members are correctly performed, and if inspectors like prefects are appointed on the basis of seniority one over another up to the father of the family who is supreme, like a king or a prince or the consul of a city, and vested with authority over all the lesser members. Tests and trials should also be held at certain times (either on fixed dates or as circumstances arise) to enable them to practice the parts of accuser, witness for the defendant, and judge."

Comenius is describing an extended, patriarchal family with the father as sole head. This was always a clumsy arrangement, and has been decisively altered by Baha'u'llah. Now the headship is something like a diarchy, with wife and husband taking on headship together, equally. I am planning soon to write more at length about patriarchy soon.

Anyway, setting this difference between Christian and Baha'i families aside, Comenius describes a sort of constitutional meritocracy where roles, duties and privileges of each family member are arrived at consultatively, then clearly promulgated and dynamically renegotiated. Justice and advancement in the family enterprise come about by means of active "trials" or examinations using role playing techniques. Role playing games -- with no serious purpose -- have become very popular over the past three decades, thus proving how effective Comenius's educational technique might be for involving a family in the application of divine law.

The three specific means of enforcing family authority is made clearer in the 14th paragraph,

"So much for the order and training of the well-reformed family, past, present, or future. The bonds which will keep them in order are 1. written rules, 2. safeguards for the observance of the rules, 3. rewards for observing the rules and punishments for failing to observe them."

Lack of attention to these three bonds, I believe, is what has kept the present-day nuclear family back. Applying them would allow it to extended families and possibly regain their former influence that, until about a century ago, dominated the world's economy, especially in agriculture.

Ignoring bond one, written rules, is a constant source of conflict in our home, which has my father living here as well. We all forget what is not written down, and children and elders especially are prone to forget. In my experience it is easy to remind the kids repeatedly of ground rules. However when my eighty nine-year-old father forgets agreements he inevitably denies they ever existed. Conflict and injustice is the constant result. Peace under this roof has a half life of about one month, based on the time it takes for a carefully negotiated treaty to pass out of recall. Based on this, written rules and contracts would make the family a more child and elder-friendly place.

Bond two, safeguards for enforcement, is another weak area. Comenius suggests a prefectorial system based on seniority (he has already established exams establishing merit). This sounds like it would work, especially connected with the outside world through open standards. If families were connected by the Internet, experience could be pooled and exchanged with social networking to ensure that improvements would be rapidly spread among households.

I just read a book about the history of the company that describes how in the early 20th Century the largely family-owned concerns in England were beaten out even on their own turf by more efficient American corporations. The authors attribute this to family businesses failing to pass the torch between generations of managers. They did not select and train family members for upper management as well as their American corporate competitors did. Comenius thus is describing a structured family system for organizing and educating each successive generation for leadership. Done right, this might help family-based enterprises surpass their main competitor, the company. Since the latter is largely responsible for the extreme, unbounded growth that is causing global warming and economic collapse, the reform of family is in the interest of all.

Bond three, rewards and punishments, merits longer discussion; at least one further essay is upcoming on that. Suffice to say for now, the tyranny inherent in the patriarchal family has created in us all a visceral aversion to reward and punishment in general, and to the family in particular. The patriarchal family is either disfunctional, negligent, or, when active, tends to be corrupt, unjust and capricious in doling out rewards and punishments. This familial failure is largely responsible for the materialism and individualism pervading Western culture.

But that does not mean that the Baha'i family diarchy would need to avoid reward and punishment completely, in the vain hope of anarchists and libertarians that people will somehow float up to heaven under their own power, like helium balloons without need of external guidance. In Paris Abdu'l-Baha stated that it would be impossible to exaggerate the importance of rewards and punishments. The business of devising condign rewards and punishments should the all-engaging preoccupation of leaders on every level.

"In the conduct of life, man is actuated by two main motives: 'The Hope for Reward' and 'The Fear of Punishment'. This hope and this fear must consequently be greatly taken into account by those in authority who have important posts under Government. Their business in life is to consult together for the framing of laws, and to provide for their just administration. ... There is no greater prevention of oppression than these two sentiments, hope and fear. They have both political and spiritual consequences." (Paris Talks, p. 157)

As the diarchic family replaces the patriarchal one, the great improvement will surely be better application of what Baha'u'llah called the twin "pillars of existence," reward and punishment. This new institution will redifine the limits of what is possible in social progress by applying divine law consultatively, contractually, and in subtler, more effective and less obnoxious ways.

John Taylor



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