Disorder and dread

A post by Letha Dawson Scanzoni on Christian Feminism today discusses the religious right’s love of hierarchy.
The author’s examples include an old British hymn that talks about how poor and rich are all set in place by God, and similar sentiments about segregation in the South. Plus a lot on Christians who argue this applies especially to the importance of women submitting to men. I can think of others, such as right-winger Ralph Reed saying Biblical injunctions on slavery apply to the conduct of employees (” Christians have a responsibility to submit to the authority of their employers, since they are designated as part of God’s plan for the exercise of authority on the earth by man.”).
Scanzoni says many Christians embrace this hierarchical view because they believe it’s God’s will (she disagrees), and that some Christians are terrified that without a clear set of Godly rules, they won’t know what to do. I agree, but I think for some people, the fear is much wider in scope.
In The Authoritarians Robert Altemeyer says “authoritarian followers”—people who want strong, powerful leaders—see society as a house of cards in a strong breeze. Remove one card and everything topples. Black is black, white is white and if people cross into black,suggest there’s also grey or question where the line is drawn, the leaders must smack them down. They don’t just fear their actions, they fear everyone’s: if marriage (for example) isn’t one man/one woman, then some people really can’t see any way to ban pedophilia or man-on-dog.
Mary Douglas, in Purity and Danger, makes the same point more generally: societies, particularly religious-dominated ones, want nice sharp boundaries between clean and unclean. Fish that don’t have fins or scales, for example? In the Old Testament they’re unclean because, Douglas argues, they breach the boundaries, both fish and not-fish. As I noted last year, past eras have shown the same fixation on class. Under sumptuary laws, the poor can’t dress like the rich and the nouveau rich can’t dress like aristocrats, so that you can tell at a glance who’s who and aristocrats have visual proof of their own superiority.
Another factor, I suspect, is that for many people change to the hierarchy means losing status. The book Hellfire Nation quotes slavery advocates in the 19th century saying slavery stabilizes society: even the poorest white guy can look at a rich white guy and think of them as brothers in non-blackness. Likewise, in the 20th century, being a white Christian male didn’t guarantee you’d be at the front of the line, but you’d never be at the back of it. Slacktivist quotes several writers arguing this was a big factor in the shutdown. Conservative WASP Republican voters who know they’re transitioning from majority status to one of many minorities see their status (and possibly their actual power) disappearing and they’re terrified.
It’s particularly acute with gender issues because those affect individual men so personally. If a man defines himself by patriarchal authority over his family, a world where women are free not to submit to him takes away his power. That stretches way beyond Christianity (though having religious approval for the view doesn’t hurt). One of the reasons a Forbes columnist once warned against marrying professional women, for instance, was that if she’s unhappy with the marriage, she can afford to walk out. The same applies, in different ways, to men who define themselves as guys because they’re doing Stuff Women Don’t Do.
As the blogger Jeanne d’Arc once said, the belief “that certain groups of people have a ‘place’ in society that exists outside of the context of what they are best at and how much potential they have to contribute to society – and regardless of how awkwardly they fit into that ‘place'” is never anything a destructive one.

4 Comments

Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

4 responses to “Disorder and dread

  1. Pingback: Less Bleah | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Because I could not stop for dinner– | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: The year in undead sexist cliches | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  4. Pingback: Secularism will destroy us all (and other political links) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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