Men, Make Like Father Abraham: Become a Benevolent Patriarch
An interview with Christopher Wiley, author of Man of the House
One of the most useful and hopeful Christian books I’ve seen in some time is the new Man of the House, by Christopher (C.R.) Wiley. After reading it, I decided to interview the author, so he could share his insights with Stream readers. His book makes the case for Christian men to model themselves on biblical patriarch Abraham.
Why Write this Book?
Q: Pastor Wiley, you’ve structured your new book as a kind of “prepper’s manual.” That’s the kind of book people buy when they’re preparing for “the end of the world as we know it.” Why’d you do that? What parts of our world are teetering on the verge, or have already collapsed?
In part that’s tongue-in-cheek, but it’s also dead-on serious. We usually associate “prepping” with bunkers in Montana. Disaster strikes and off you go to live underground and eat canned food.
But this misses something. At some point you’ve got to come out and rebuild. It also misses the fact that we’re already sheltered. We rightly complain about social justice snowflakes who are sheltered from the real world. These people are often remarkably incompetent and incapable of taking care of themselves. The reason: We’ve built very large and impressive social institutions to shelter them from reality. I’m thinking of welfare states and large corporations. And everything from little leagues where parents don’t let kids lose, to universities where kids don’t hear things that may upset them.
All of these things have grown strong at the expense of smaller institutions that require people to stay in touch with reality. I’m talking about local churches, old-fashioned neighborhoods, small businesses, and especially, functional households.
The primary difference between the big institutions and the small ones is the big ones reward childishness and dependency and small ones require people to grow up. The big institutions also need grown-ups to run them — they just don’t need very many of them. Eventually, these big institutions will fail because that’s the way things go. Every human institution fails sooner or later.
But when they do eventually fail, the people those institutions have sheltered from reality are going to be in deep trouble.
Smaller institutions require people to stay in touch with reality: Local churches, old-fashioned neighborhoods, small businesses, and especially, functional households.
Q: If I had to describe your book in one sentence, I’d call it a “manifesto for restoring benevolent patriarchy, based on the model of Abraham.” Is that accurate? If so, please explain why men should want to be patriarchs, and why women should want that too.
Yes, I think that’s right. But I would take it a step further. I believe that the entire Bible is a handbook for household economics.
A patriarch is a ruling father. If you don’t like fathers, or if you don’t like authority, you don’t like patriarchy. You also have no idea what a household is.
Today when people think of households they think of them as places to get away from the work-a-day world. They’re for sleeping and watching television. But historically they were much more like small businesses. They produced real things, both for themselves and for the market. People really needed them to succeed. Failure meant destitution and even death. In those households a good patriarch was often the difference between success and failure.
Today we have something I disparagingly call “the recreational household.” In this thing, a father really doesn’t have anything important to do. He’s more like the figureheads we see among the royalty of Europe. He has a colorful past, and we trot him out for special events like weddings. But he doesn’t really do anything important.
My book means to bring back the functional household as a going concern. And if you’re going to do that, the paterfamilias — the term I use in my book for a patriarch — will have to come roaring back. You can’t have a productive household without him. If you’re a woman who would like to live in a productive household, you’ll need this sort of man.
A household is a hard, objective structure that protects the tender emotions and relations that should exist in a family.
God Made the Sexes for a Reason
Q: In an age where many churches are abandoning God-given sex differences for “socially constructed gender,” what arguments should Christians use to bring people back to sanity?
A whole book can be written on that. By the way, is there anything more absurd than this preening self-regard we see among the advocates of egalitarianism? They pass themselves off as brave, but they actually serve the interests of the wealthy and powerful.
I think the arguments for a recovery of male and female complementarity should proceed along two lines.
We should recover a biblical understanding of creation.
First, we should recover a biblical understanding of creation. God established the first household in Eden, and He put it there to produce fruit. He meant it to be a productive enterprise.
The ground they were given to tend, first of all, was their bodies. Adam relates to the word for soil in Hebrew. (He was a real earth-man.) Through procreation they reproduced the image of God in the world.
But we also need to recover the continuity between creation and the new creation — the kingdom to come. The go-to verse for gender-egalitarians in the New Testament is Galatians 3:28. Ironically, in light of what we know about traditional household economics and laws of inheritance, it is difficult to imagine anything more patriarchal in character than this verse. To be in Christ is to belong to his household, in other words, to be subject to his rule. He is the head and the church is his bride. Furthermore, Christ is the only begotten Son of God, which means he gets the whole estate. If we’re going to have anything at all, it will have to be through him. The traditional household, then, is a sign pointing to the economy of the world to come.
The Robertsons of Duck Dynasty think in terms of family, and the glory of God.
The second thing to do is simply build a productive household. If we simply work to make our households productive again, everything else falls into place.
Q: So practically, what might a functional, productive, Biblically-based household look like today? Can you give me either a real-world example or something from popular culture that would make it recognizable? What would the man do differently from most men today? The woman? The kids?
Building a productive household can be done, and it is being done. Readers probably have men they know who are doing it, but they’ve never truly noticed how atypical these men are. I know several men personally who embody the life I describe in Man of the House. And I’ve been trying to practice what I preach.
I’ve actually seen some examples on television. Regardless of what you think about Duck Dynasty, the Robertsons are truly exemplary when it comes to productive households. The paterfamilias of the clan, Phil, has founded the family business, and now his sons are in training to take it over some day. (If they haven’t already.) Clearly this is a family concern, but you can see the household that shelters the extended family if you have eyes to see it.
The beards aren’t necessary, neither is the southern flavor, or the goofiness. If you can look past those things, you can see something to imitate. They own productive property and they work together to make it profitable. You see a healthy interdependency between the men and the women of the household. They are raising the grandchildren with an eye toward extending the household’s interests. Those folks don’t think in terms of careers. They think in terms of family, and the glory of God. They expect each member to do his or her part, but they also enjoy themselves along the way.
Q: A key term in your book is “household,” which you distinguish from “home” or “house” or even “family.” Please explain what that means for you, and why it’s important to you as a Christian.
A household is a social institution. And like any institution it must be ordered if it is going to last. And for that you need someone with some authority.
Family is a word we use to describe familial relationships, and more often today, a feeling of belonging. You know, “love makes a family” and all that. Rather than attempt to take the word back from the people who have used it in these ways I decided to leave it alone.
Obviously, I’m all for traditional families. But I think the best way to think about households and families is like this: A household is a hard, objective structure that protects the tender emotions and relations that should exist in a family. I’m all for tenderness, but tenderness is like a flower. It is beautiful and fragile. A household is like a greenhouse. When a household is working properly, it lets in the sun, but it keeps the cold out.
Traditionally it was the job of the paterfamilias to establish a household to shelter his family. He didn’t do it alone; he needed plenty of help. That’s where the rest of the household comes in. People have roles to play. A household is only a going concern when every member does his part.
As for the words “home” and “house” we usually use those words for the physical structures we shelter in. They’re fine words, but they’re metaphors for the thing I’m describing.
Big Government and Big Business Win When the Family Loses
Q: What have we lost by ceasing to see the household as having an economic and political function? Who benefits from that? Who loses?
When we turned households into recreational centers, that trivialized family life. If you’re into traditional sex roles, or you want to have kids, good for you. Just don’t push your lifestyle preferences on anybody.
But in a productive household there is an intuition that sex roles and children are not a matter of taste. They’re absolutely essential for success. Recreational households have precisely the opposite take on those things. Traditional values can actually hinder your career, or keep you from personal gratification.
The institutions that win in the short-run by these developments are the big ones: big government and big business. (Those two are in cahoots — don’t be fooled by people who say otherwise.) They like it when people don’t have old-fashioned commitments that tie them down. So you see, as traditional households weaken, the big institutions get stronger.
But that’s only in the short run, as I’ve noted. The problem for those big institutions is they depend on households to provide them with both productive workers and able consumers. So, sooner or later, they’ll suffer the consequences of their shortsighted disregard for traditional households.
Let me be even more controversial. Another part of the problem: Megachurches that abandon biblical patterns of ministry which reinforce functional households. Instead they use a corporate model of “ministry” that focuses on self-esteem and personal happiness.
Q: Can Anglo-American democracies survive without households of the kind you talk about? What happens when all it has are atomized individuals whirring around the gravitational force of the State?
No, I don’t think they can. Instead of a free and virtuous citizenry deliberating about the common good, you get a bunch of isolated and dependent consumers all clamoring for special treatment.
Without the sense of duty that is nurtured in productive households you end up with incompetent whiners who justify a meaningless existence through inventing grievances and occasions for outrage. For those bureaucrats who believe there is no such thing as an unneeded government program, this is a growth opportunity.
Masculinity is seen as more as a problem than a blessing. Our public institutions — especially the schools — work to either emasculate young men or mentally handicap them.
How to Become a Patriarch, or to Marry One
Q: What practical tips can you offer a Christian husband, or a young man who aspires to that vocation, on how to turn his household into a more self-sufficient, cohesive unit?
I didn’t put it quite this way in the book, but I have come to believe that young men need to change the way they think about households and success. They should stop thinking of a household as a place to get away from the business world and they should start thinking of it as a business. And when it comes to skills to master, this outlook will help guide them. If young men can manage to do this, the world will change.
But because the whole modern world is working against this, this is one of the most heroic and counter-cultural things a man can do. My handbook can help get him started. It doesn’t address everything he will need to do. It is more of a push to get him pedaling on his own.
Q: How does feminized Christianity hurt men? Women? Children? What could a revitalized sense of fatherly “headship” for Christian households do to restore the culture? The Church?
Because of the zeitgeist, masculinity is believed to be more of a problem than a blessing. Our public institutions — especially the schools — work to either emasculate young men or mentally handicap them. Unfortunately many churches have joined in. Without saying so, they treat boys as a problem, and even a threat to girls. The schools and the churches create highly structured environments that reward neatness, promptness, and compliance and discourage initiative, boldness, and physical courage. It is any wonder the more masculine the boy, the less he seems to enjoy attending school or church?
There are many reasons for this. But I think the stress we place on autonomy, and the overemphasis we put on equality, are a large part of the mix.
Traditional cultures raise boys and girls in ways designed to make each rely on the other. We tend to do just the opposite. We raise kids so as to make boys and girls as interchangeable as possible. It is aptly summarized in that charming little saying popularized by feminists in the 60s: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
But what actually happens is what I noted earlier. Women, and to a lesser degree men, end up depending more on the state and other large institutions, precisely because they no longer depend upon the opposite sex. It is all an exercise in willful self-deception.
But men as men bring something to our households and our culture as a whole. It is taboo to say this because our culture has completely given itself over to “self-creation.” But frankly, this is inhuman.
Aristotle told us that we are “social animals.” What he meant by that is: By nature we need other people. Cultures that recognize this also tend to see the goodness of other things that comes naturally, the sex differences for instance. Household headship, fatherhood, and masculinity generally speaking are all natural and good. When these things are strong, along with their womanly counterparts, our social institutions flourish.
C. R. Wiley is the Senior Pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Manchester in Manchester, Connecticut. He has written for Touchstone, Modern Reformation, Sacred Architecture, The Imaginative Conservative, and Front Porch Republic. He blogs for Patheos on the Evangelical Channel. His short fiction has appeared in The Mythic Circle (published by the Mythopoeic Society) and he has published young adult fiction. He has been a commercial real estate investor and a building contractor. And he has even taught philosophy to undergraduates.