One of the most ill-starred love stories of the last century was that of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and Tsarina Alexandra. Neither was equipped by temperament or upbringing to lead an absolute monarchy into World War I. Nicholas was a weak-willed heir thrust into his role prematurely and unwillingly by the death of his father. Alexandra was caught up by her son’s haemophilia and the apparent ability of the “monk” Gregory Rasputin–one of the most infamous religious charlatans of all time–to relieve its symptoms.
With the onset of war, their weaknesses–especially his–became apparent to friend and foe alike. Alexandra, influenced by Rasputin, played favourites with ministers and generals, making an already dicey leadership situation impossible. She was suspicious of any move towards democratisation or and devolution of power from the throne. As 1916 came to an end, she exhorted her weak-willed husband to follow the advice of our “Friend” (Rasputin) and the following:
Russia loves to feel the whip…Crush them all under you. (R. Bruce Lincoln, Passage Through Armageddon, p. 282)
“Loves” is probably too strong; let’s just say that, from Ivan the Terrible onward, Russia was good at feeling the whip. Submission to absolute authority was the rule there. In this instance, after two and a half years of war, Russia tired of the whip and the deprivations that came with it: Nicholas was forced to abdicate. Unfortunately years of autocracy rendered Russia unable to make that magical transformation to full democracy our elites think is normal. After a summer of Alexander Kerensky and an experiment with representative government of sorts, Russia ended up with Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who swapped the whip for the firing squad. Some of their first victims were Nicholas, Alexandra and their children, gunned down at Yekterinburg.
Evidently the love to feel the whip didn’t die with the Russian monarchy, as has been demonstrated in the overwhelming success of Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s overwhelmed just about everyone: the author, the publisher, amazon.com…and Evangelical Christianity, which was suitably blind-sided by its success. Having spent years battling pornographic addiction with men, everyone woke up and groaned at the proposition that we now had to deal with it with women, too.
The response has been interesting, to say the least. The responsible, if somewhat academic, comeback comes from Dale Coulter. Not so responsible is that of Jared Wilson, who in quoting Douglas Wilson has started a fire-storm amongst Christian feminists.
Although readers of this blog will take any claim of mine to “cut to the chase” on a issue with a grain of salt, I will try to set out simply what I think are the core problems with this situation.
The changes in the roles of men and women have probably been the largest social change of the last half century, the LGBT community’s attempt to co-opt that notwithstanding. In Main Line Christianity the rationale behind the whole move towards “equality” of roles (including ministerial ones) was imported from secular feminism, a trend we also see these days in Evangelical Christianity.
The complicating factor in all of this is the place of sexual freedom. Early feminists, seeing the most straightforward way of eliminating patriarchy is to get the patriarchs out of their lives, demanded a separation. The main legacy of that these days is the whole corpus of sexual harassment legislation which has become part of the legal landscape/maze that employers deal with on a daily basis.
This separation has proven unsustainable in practice. Our society is good at marginalising “politically incorrect” views, but sometimes it’s hard to keep them from bubbling to the surface. The first major sign of trouble was the Monica Lewinsky mess. Bill Clinton should have been in the feminists’ cross-hairs over that, but they chose political expediency over principle. The Republicans should have found it easy to impeach him over this and matters related to Clinton’s serial womanising, but his personal popularity and general attitudes blunted that.
Now we have a situation where a woman who loves to feel the whip (or at least finds it expedient to do so) is the heroine of millions of women. The surprise isn’t that stuff like this is going on; the surprise is the extent to which it has enthralled our society in general and women in particular. Is this what we’d like to show during “Take Your Daughter to Work” day? Is this the kind of message that women really want to collectively send to men? I suspect that the last question is less important to younger people than it is to Boomers and their seniors.
Maybe it should be. Today’s roles, and the way men and women interact, are largely buttressed by an elaborate system of “rights” which protect women from much of what they had to go through in the past. As long as the powers that be stuck with principle, these were reliable. But our whole judicial system and the executive power to back it up is shifting towards a more “outcome-based” system, where the system’s desired results drive the system rather than individual protection. As wealth and power in our system concomitantly centralise, such “rights” become more problematic. Without these we, like the Russians of old, will feel the whip whether we love it or not.
And, as we know all too well, yesterday’s fantasy can become today’s reality pretty quickly…
As for Christianity, we simply need to make up our minds that we will do things for Biblical reasons rather than to mould ourselves to a societal ideal construct, whether that construct be past, present, or future. The alternative is to become pointless.