One of the perils of NeoTraditional Christianity is that in its understandable backlash against modernity and its wretched spawn, post-modernism, it tends to elevate “traditions” to the level of Ultimate Truth. By that, I mean to say that NeoTraditional Christianity starts by prescribing a standard of living which intuitively sates our appetite for anything other than the cultural garbage most of us have been fed since birth. Once the prescription has been devised, then there are post hoc rationalizations added to explain why this way is God’s way for anyone who dares say they seek Him to live their lives.
Additionally, a lot of what is offered as the “traditional” right and true way to be a good Christian… whatever, is not only untraditional when viewed through a lens of history which looks back farther than 1950, it also exacerbates some of the worst problems of post-modern life, driving wedges between believers based on issues which are not indicators of Ultimate Truth.
I had occasion to consider this today as I met with two lovely Christian women who founded a Classical education program in which we are considering enrolling our children this fall. It is something that we feel is an imperative next step on our children’s homeschooling journey.
This necessarily means that the system I have in place to make sure that certain things get done in a certain way and time schedule will be upended. It means that the already daunting task of being the perfect homemaker while trying to home educate two kids (go ahead, chuckle) is going to be even more daunting. However, it’s only a problem if I subscribe to the notion that God intended for “keepers at home” to literally stay in place and keep the home neat and tidy to the exclusion of almost everything else.
When our older children were younger, I bought into this myself. Of course, they were in school all day which made it easy to fall into the superwife delusion. It was easier to do “it all” when someone else was doing the heavy lifting for 6 hours a day. There is still a bit of occasional anxiety on my part about my inability to do it “right” and perfectly. That’s not my husband’s top priority, and he’s made that clear.
The NeoTraditionalism of today heavily promotes this model, and ironically, it is promoted by people who mostly themselves live cushy, prosperous lives, and did almost none of what they prescribe to others as the way to live a good Christian life. The larger problem, however, is that the writers of these prescriptions tie heavy, hard to bear loads onto men’s and women’s shoulders when they won’t lift a finger to help make them lighter.
Real tradition, in almost every era and for what it’s worth, has usually been identified by a family model where everyone contributed to the family’s bottom line in a tangible way. The post-modern way of life certainly leaves most families with a conundrum on how to make that happen while keeping the home and family at the center of things. As a homemaker, one who has experience as a producer of supplemental income (albeit minimal), and a strict steward of income (the majority of my time as a homemaker), I know that our current social and economic model make both options more of a challenge than they were even 20+ years ago, when I married.
Real tradition, again for what it’s worth, was never built on the idea of the nuclear family as the be all, end all of a person’s social, religious, and educational life. As much as I adore my Benevolent Dictator and as much as he seems to adore me, there are things about manhood which I will never be able to grasp any more than he would be able to understand what it means to be a woman. Separate sex spheres was a normal way of living.
NeoTradition of the Christian variety, however, prescribes a way of living which allows little opportunity for a life that involves meaningful connections with other people. The spheres I mentioned have been discarded in favor of the soul mate myth which forces both husband and wife to try and provide all their spouses emotional and social support. Additionally, it demands that we set ourselves up as judges of others based on arbitrary metrics not found anywhere in the Bible, and isolate ourselves accordingly. This, even though the New Testament clearly lays out a way of living for believers which presumed deep connections between fellow believers and prioritized unity over uniformity. The kinds of connections which cannot be cultivated within the context of 90 minutes on Sundays.
Tradition, for what it’s worth, promoted the idea that young women were expected to situate themselves in the best position they could to be considered a suitable wife. This, of course, was always done in ways which helped preserve the woman’s virtue and her family’s reputation, but depending on the time and place, you can find a wide swath of things that traditional-minded Christians did to help their daughters (and sons) not only prepare for family life but to garner the attention of a worthy mate in the first place. This included, for certain sectors of society, knowledge other than just the domestic arts.
NeoTradition of the Christian variety, rather than offer ways to achieve the good end of marriage and family in ways which preserve a young woman’s virtue and her family’s reputation, declare any such preparation that includes venturing outside of the domestic arts “worldly”, “feminist” and even sinful. This, while implying that the primary purpose of the young woman, rather than to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, is specifically to be a wife. There seems to be a disconnect between the woman’s declared purpose and how she is supposed to get there without putting herself in a position to be chosen. And again, as is so often the case with traditionalists who have been so for all of five minutes, there is no evidence to indicate that they themselves took the medicine which they declare will heal the crisis of family formation so prevalent in the Western church.
After flirting with the notion that I might be a traditionalist, I finally understood the importance of following the lead of my not particularly traditional head. By that, I mean not only following in action (which was never at issue) but really embracing and taking to heart his vision of the best way to steer the family and prepare our children for life. As I have done so, it is becoming glaringly obvious that this path, despite the promise of success offered by the systems of the NeoTradionalists, is actually the most traditional route of all. Oh, and that his walk is probably more traditional than the most strident NeoTraditionalist’s talk.