The Idolatry of Family in Eastern Europe

I have spoken elsewhere on The New Personalist about Eastern Europe and its attitudes towards personality. But the more time I spend in this region of Europe the more I am convinced that the root problem confounding the advance of feminism and gay rights is an idolatry of the family. Except that Eastern Europeans have probably never thought of their esteem for ‘family values’ and blood as being idolatrous. After all, as in America, the family and the Church and by extension, the Nation, are deeply intertwined and coterminous. In other words, what’s best for the family is what’s best the for nation, and vice versa, and ‘what’s best’ is determined by the Church, which is subordinated to both family and nation.

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Especially in rural areas, gender roles are fixed and in part determined by economic necessity. Men need to work with their hands and therefore women need to rear children and attend to housework. Of course, just because men have to work with their hands doesn’t automatically mean that women’s place is in the home. However, this is a convenient circumstance for men who are insecure about their inability to increase their prosperity and station in life. If this is my life — mending cars or working in the fields — so the reasoning goes, then my wife better serve me in the home and give me the respect I cannot get through my work.

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Moreover, the presence of the Church (and I distinguish between the Church and Christianity) in Eastern Europe acts as a facilitator for conservative and socially regressive attitudes. Forsaking real Christianity, the Church finds it easier to lick the boots of the State in order for it to survive. Caeser, not Christ, is Lord of the Church in Eastern Europe. The Church is therefore willing to mould its social vision and create its values to mirror the pagan doctrine of the Nation state.

What this means is that ordinary folk in Eastern Europe follow the same pattern for generations because they are spiritually bankrupt, choosing to submit to an idolatrous Church which serves the needs of the State rather than the Gospel of Christ. And the need of the State is to control its people, to organise society in such a way that power is maintained and nobody asks too many questions.

It’s therefore convenient for men to take pride in their masculinity by working with their hands and relegating women to the home and the nursery. Men build up their sense of identity in this way because they have no other option open to them. To question this is to question both Church and State — to risk the loss of identity as Orthodox and as Romanian, Russian, Serbian etc.

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Macho men: muscles, height, demeanour — the marks of virility (and national health)

Ironically the family becomes a retreat from the banality of life at the same time as it serves as the idol preventing people from entering into true Christianity. Tired of work and lack of opportunity, men and women retreat inwards to the earthy reality of sex and childbearing. Family reunions and special occasions take on dramatic importance. Yet at the same time, retreating into this pagan cradle further distances such people from entering into real life, which is precisely what the Church and the State want, because Christianity is so dangerous.

Christianity is dangerous because it breaks the existing mould and turns almost everything on its head. Values have to be re-created and identities re-formed. The person takes on paramount importance in the Gospel. Becoming a Christian means severing allegiance to idols — to the family, the nation, the State. This doesn’t mean abandoning such social aspects, but it does mean putting them into perspective and transfiguring them.

Christianity opens rather than closes down possibilities for human flourishing. It releases people from slavery to any particular pattern of life laid down by other people. And this is what’s so dangerous to institutions.

The only way out of the current impasse in Eastern Europe seems to be to rediscover the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, and its cardinal value of the freedom of the human person. We need to let go of our hold on family, work, nationality and so on for our comfort and security, because we will only become enslaved to them. By *dying* to these in the symbolism of baptism, the human person rises to new life and to new possibility for making the most of their lives according to their personality. Christianity personalises reality, so that strictures and patterns lose their hold over others.

Instead, people seek to realise their personhood to the full by entering into the life of the divine Trinity, and by relating to other people in love rather than in fear and control.

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Andrey Rublev, ‘Holy Trinity’

Politics alone won’t solve the problems in Eastern Europe; a new spirituality will.

 

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