Wednesday, August 9

The Princess

In dicussions of women's place within the Patriarchal order of the Church experiences where women have suffered abuse of some sort, or where men have exceeded their bounds are often offered as evidence that the organization of power as it stands is faulty. The most common response to such accounts is that such things are not intended. For example: "That is not what presiding really means," "If you think that having the Priesthood is about having power then you don't understand what it's really about." And, my personal favorite, "If he acted like that, then he didn't really have the Priesthood anyways."

I had these thoughts in the back of my mind as I came across this quote from Machiavelli's The Prince:
"Many men have imagined republics and principalities that never really extisted at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is for what should be pursues his downfall rather than his preservation."

Let us consider, for a moment, the raising of a child. My child, to be specific. Someday I would like for him to speak english, dress himself, use the bathroom by himself. It is widely accepted that the best way to teach my child to talk is to speak to him as though he already can. I should carry on conversations with him, and ask him questions as though I really expect a response. Granted, I should, perhaps, speak slowly and repeat myself often just so that meanings and pronunciations are more clear. However, it is obvious that I should not start him out with the "My name is..." and verb congugations that are used in language classes.
As for dressing, bathing, and using the bathroom, it is the height of folly to think that the best way to teach him to do these things could be to simply act as though he already can. Were I to treat my one year old child as though he could use the toilet by himself it would be most unpleasant for both of us.

I can imagine the Church power structure as it should be. It wouldn't matter that women wouldn't have official authority to change things because they wouldn't want anything changed, and even if they did they would only need to mention it to their husband, home teachers or bishop, and the problem would be understood, taken seriously, and addressed properly. I can see how this could be a very pleasant and clearly organized way of running things, and perhaps if God were to say so, the ideal way of running things. The problem I see with it is that people just aren't that good natured right now. As nice as it would be if things were like this, they aren't.

If you assume that bad behavior leads to unhappiness (wicked never was happiness), and also assume that the ultimate goal of existence is to be happy (men are that they might have joy) then the questions to consider are:
1. Is it more important to maximize people's happiness, or to most speedily make people good?
I suspect, given the conditions of mortality, that it is more important to make people good as quickly as possible.

2. Do people become good people faster when we act like they already are good people (and thereby allow them opportunities to be bad) or do they become good faster when we assume they will be bad and create safeguards preventing bad behavior?
I don't know the answer to this question, and I suspect that it varies widely between individuals and behaviors. All I know for certain is that creating safeguards to prevent bad behavior help to maximize the current happiness of individuals.

I personally feel that the best way to help us be good and treat each other better as men and women is to create safeguards that prevent bad behavior. I feel that an excellent safeguard would be to put women into positions of authority and status within the church. Because as it stands holding the priesthood is about having power, presiding is about 'being the boss' and men who don't really hold the Priesthood perform priesthood duties all the time. The Priesthood structure also gives a rather striking impression that men are more important, more worthwhile, and just plain better than women, even if it shouldn't.

The message we should be getting isn't the message we are getting. I'm sure it's because we aren't understanding it properly, but the fact of the matter is we aren't hearing what we're supposed to. I think the fastest way to fix this (and thereby increase happiness) is to alter how things are taught so that when we hear it, though we may be imperfect, we understand what we're supposed to.


AmyB said...

If you listen really hard, maybe you will be able to hear the sounds of my hoorahs and applause. I really like your thoughts on this.

I wanted to add more of my own thoughts, but everything I tried typing just seemed too inflammatory. Sigh. Thanks again, Starfoxy.

Johnny said...

Because as it stands holding the priesthood is about having power, presiding is about 'being the boss' and men who don't really hold the Priesthood perform priesthood duties all the time. The Priesthood structure also gives a rather striking impression that men are more important, more worthwhile, and just plain better than women, even if it shouldn't.

Very, very, very well said. I enjoyed the post very much

Eve said...

Starfoxy, fabulous post. Thank you, thank you for articulating the problems with explanations of abuse and unrighteous dominion as isolated incidents, somehow completely unrelated to the power structure in which they occur.

As you note, far too often we appeal to justifications of patriarchy in terms of the ideal of Christian behavior--perfect Christian behavior will eradicate the problems of patriarchy. True enough, but we'd never tolerate such starry-eyed idealism in the realm of government, for example--so why do we tolerate it in the church and in the family? Perfect Christian behavior would make any form of government work--a monarchy, an oligarchy, etc.--but there are very good reasons we don't entrust ourselves to such forms (as Alma urges his people not to trust anyone to be their king).

Starfoxy said...

Thanks for the comments (and praise, I like praise :)) everyone. Who would have ever guessed that Machiavelli could be used to counter Patriarchy?

Anyhow, I should add that while pondering those two questions that I outlined the answer to the second one is really where the rubber hits the road. It is possible that the current power structure is the speediest way to make us into good people, and if that is true then it would be best to maintain the status quo (because happiness is secondary to increased goodness). I think, though, that whether or not this is true is up for debate.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that curent happiness would be increased by providing safeguards against abuse.

Seraphine said...

Thanks for this post, Starfoxy. I don't really have anything to add beyond what you and the other commenters have already said, but I wanted to say I liked the post.

Seraphine (formerly "s")

Tigersue said...

I now find your blog, go figure. :)

I have added it to the calling all LDS women Blog roll.

Rich said...

I'm intrigued where you're going with this thought SF, but you didn't take it far enough. Just when you were getting up a head of steam, you quit. The last paragraph makes my head hurt. Please elaborate further!

Starfoxy said...

It's like the Bohr model of the atom. We teach 7th graders that there are rigidly defined electron orbits even though it isn't really true. They gain better understanding of what an atom is by thinking of it as a miniature solar system. If we were to teach 7th graders about the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and matter waves, and how electrons are really orbiting at a frequency rather than a distance maybe one or two would get it, but most would be left with an vague incorrect idea of what an atom is. By teaching them something that is technically false, but within their range of understanding, they get closer to the truth than they would had we actually told them the truth.

So it is with some of the things I mentioned, like the preside language. The way the General Authorities cling to the term leads me to believe that, perhaps on some higher plane of spiritual understanding, preside really is the best word to describe a father's duty to his family. The trouble is, we're 7th graders who are left with a vague incorrect understanding (that preside is about power and dominion). I'm mostly saying that I think it would be better to teach us something that may not technicially be true (or not completely true) so that we can get a more concrete idea that is closer to what the truth actually is. I think that most members would better understand what a father's duty is to his family by abandoning terms that make us think "better than" or "in charge."

Deborah said...

In 8th grade, I asked my scientist father for some help is studying for a science test. He looked over the textbook -- with its explanation of electrons -- and pronounced it false. We got in a huge fight. I just wanted him to explain it to me in the way it had been taught -- I wanted an A, I wanted easy answers. His explanation was making my head spin. He wanted his daughter to have the unadulterated truth. In the end, this is the only bit of 8th grade science I really remember. Your metaphor may not be so far off . . .

rich said...

(sound of Mr. Dense finally getting your point... "a-ha!").

Yeah, I like to teach outside of cliched context whenever I can get away with it. It's an interesting mix, me with 8 or 9 priests, the Bish and YM president all in the same room (Bish's office). I can't get away with too much unorthodoxy. So far so good however...

You would like this book SF. Very cool perspective on the whole Adam/Eve story; the best out there anywhere (in or out of the Church) IMO. Eve is definitely the protagonist/heroine of the story.

Dora said...

I'm so glad to have found your blog through Deborah's link.

In a live and let live sense, it's fine to live by incorrect principles ... as long as one doesn't inflict them on other people. However, the priesthood by its very nature is to be used in interpersonal interactions. There is no using it in a box. Therefore, I agree that a system of checks and balances is needed. As we see clearly in politics (another power arena), one cannot rely on the judicious use of power, since it inevitably leads to desires for unrighteous dominion.

As for what motivates people to be good, I agree that it is an extremely personal matter. For some, appearing to be good motiviates one to BE good, for others, it allows them to be lazy. OTOH, the knowledge of one's sinfulness can be a powerful motivator to strive for righteousness, while others may not be able to escape such a sandpit. Sometimes I ruminate that it would be so nice to have one easy answer, then I remember that none of us chose the easy answer.

As for complacency, I think that surrendering responsibility can be a sin of omission. If those who abuse their power and authority are not stopped, it is not enough to say that it will all work out in the end, or other such nonsense. I believe that those who had the power and authority to right a wrong and do not, will ultimately be held accountable for the wrong things that stem from their refusal to act. From small environmental concerns like recycling, to large concerns like abuse in the Catholic church, the effects of inaction are unavoidable.

Exp II Dora

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