Alastair on Themes of Household and Sexuality

Alastair on Themes of Household and Sexuality

These are the podcasts/videos that Alastair Roberts has done to date on the topic of the natural family, household, and sexuality. I figure having these collected in one place might be helpful to those seeking to restore the traditional household. Even though I’m highlighting these, his whole podcast is worth checking out.

I’m putting these in an order that, to my mind, ranks roughly from most important at the top to least at the bottom. The first four or five are well-worth your time; the rest fill out the themes.

The Church And The Natural Family
A Biblical Theology Of The Household
Paul Maxwell On Masculinity
Gender Segregation?
What Is Meant By Calling Marriage A Natural Institution?
Singles Adopting
What Is The Case Against Women’s Ordination?
Man, Woman, Deception, And Authority In 1 Timothy 2
Does New Creation Undermine Natural Law?
Why Is The Man Rather Than The Woman Who Leaves Father And Mother In Genesis 2:24?
1 Corinthians And Women’s Silence In Church
Was Jesus A Fruitful Eunuch?
Is Abortion To Be Solved By Controlling Male Sexual Behavior?


Whither Conservatives?

It’s worth noting that virtually anybody who could be called ‘conservative’ in the 19th and early 20th centuries was alarmed by the shift to an industrial society from an agrarian one. Our seers consulted the stars and were able to discern many of the deferred costs we’d have to pay for our newfound material comfort and ‘progress.’ They saw, with a clarity that amazes me, the social, political, religious, and economic goods that we’d eventually be forced to relinquish. Fatherlessness, wage slavery, loss of inherited liberty, sexual deviancy, breakdown of kinship relations, rootlessness, ennui, and more besides were all foretold. And while I don’t think industrialism is the sole cause of any of those, it is difficult to overstate the role it has had in producing them.

John Crowe Ransom states well the old conservative sentiment: “Industrialism is rightfully a menial, of almost mircaulous cunning but no intelligence; it needs to be strongly governed or it will destroy the economy of the household. Only a community of tough conservative habit can master it.” The fact that modern Americans, whether self-professed conservatives or no, will scratch their heads at talk of ‘the economy of the household’ is enough to show that we did not have a sufficiently conservative habit. Since Ransom’s day, we’ve more or less capitulated to the industrial mindset, left, right, and center.

And so modern political and social (even religious) discourse consists of talk among various wings of the industrial party. Ironically, our ‘conservatives’ are some of the most ardent defenders of the industrial gospel. (Which makes me wonder what exactly they mean to be conserving.) They have made an about-face. ‘Conservative’ is more or less synonymous with Republican, and everybody knows Republican politicians will back Big Business to the hilt, family, religion, and tradition be damned. The average conservative is somewhat better than the politicians, of course, but even there you won’t find a very robust esteem for the past. You can occasionally arouse a fighting spirit that will take on corporations, like what we’ve seen with the NFL and Nike. But that’s a fickle spirit and not to be relied upon.

So where does a young conservative go? What does he do with his energy? If he wants a settled household nestled within a community that is committed to a particular place, that is largely independent politically and economically, and a church that proclaims the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, to whom does he turn? Who are his brothers-in-arms? Neither major party represents him. Ostensible ‘lay’ conservatives often are committed to fortifying the very forces that are undermining that vision of the good life.

That’s basically me. And as angsty as that sounds, I’m more hopeful than anxious. But boy do we need good conservative voices to interpret the times AND provide practical advice for living, which we haven’t had in a long time. May the Lord raise them up for us.

Althusius on the Clan

It struck me as a I read Chapter Three in Althusius’ Politca that I’ve never seen an explicit teaching on the extended family. When a society is as mobile as ours is, you end up functionally without a family. The result of this is to replace the natural support system with a civil support system; I’m not convinced that has worked out well. An upshot of what Althusius is saying here is that we have a duty to stay close to our family geographically, unless extraordinary circumstances arise.

The kinship association is one in which relatives and in-laws are united for the purpose of communicating advantages and responsibilities.

This association arises from at least three persons, but it can be conserved by fewer. Frequently it consists of a much larger number.

He is called the leader (princeps) of the family or of any clan of people, who is placed over such a family or clan, and who has the right to coerce (jus coercendi) the persons of his family individually and collectively.

The rights communicated among the persons who are united in this natural association are called rights of blood (jura sanguinis). They consist partly in advantages, partly in responsibilities, and in the bringing together and sustaining these advantages mutually among the kinsmen.

Such advantages are, first, the affection, love, and goodwill of the blood relative and kinsman.

From this affection arises the solicitude by which the individual
is concerned for the welfare and advantages of his kinsman, and
labors for them no less than for his own.

Second among the advantages of the family and kinsmen I refer
to the communion in all the rights and privileges belonging to the
family and relationship. And to this point I refer the enjoyment of the clan or family
name, and of its insignia.

Third among the common rights of the family and relationship I refer to the provision for support in case of necessity or want.

Fourth, a privilege granted to one of the kinsmen is extended by right of relationship to his family, wife, children, and even brother.

The responsibilities of the family and relationship are services and works that the member owes to his kinsman, such as forethought, care, and defense of the family and of the members of the household.

The leadership in meeting these responsibilities rests upon the paterfamilias as master and head of his family.

Upon the older members of the family rests the duty of correcting and reprehending their younger kinsmen for mistakes of youthful indiscretion and hotheadedness.

These advantages and responsibilities are intensified as the degree of relationship among the kinsmen increases. Therefore they are greater between parents and children. For parents should educate their children, instruct them in the true knowledge of God, govern and defend them, even lay up treasures for them, make them participants in everything they themselves have, including their family and station in life, provide suitable marriages for them at the right time, and upon departing born life make them their heirs and provide optimally for them.


Since I’ve already departed from my original plan by not posting in a while, I’m going to postpone the completion of my series on Desiring the Kingdom and write a tangentially related ramble of a piece.

For Christmas I received a few nice additions to my library, among them an anthology of essays entitled Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America.  (A review of this is at Fare Forward.) The goal of this collection is to give an apologia for “place” (i.e. a particular location with a particular culture) and rootedness. Unfortunately, modern America’s obsession with mobility and autonomy means having a strong sense of place and rootedness is seen as an oppressive burden, rather than a pillar of human flourishing. Though I have not finished reading the volume, I believe it will be a help to those of us who understand the danger of that sentiment and see the necessity of reestablishing our roots and revitalizing our places.

Indeed, it has already been a help to me. After reading a few of the first essays last night, I woke up this morning and read the first three chapters of Ecclesiastes. Verse 11 of the first chapter says, “There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.” Given that I had just been reading an essay on how we’ve largely lost our places and that I’ve been thinking about Evangelicals’ lack of respect for church tradition, this verse leapt at me from the page. (The aforementioned circumstances, and the fact that it is an overcast, rainy day, also put me in a melancholy mood.)

My thoughts centered around questions like: “What is the relationship between our rootlessness and our forgetfulness? Will a rootless people be able to stand for goodness or truth, or will they be tossed about by every cultural wave that breaks against them?”

I’ll put my cards on the table: I think losing our roots in a place will mean losing our cultural memory, and a rootless people will not have the strength of character to stand up to evil and falsehood. In this post I’ll mainly be addressing the latter concern, and in order to begin making the case that love for a particular place is a necessary trait for a person who would stand for the good, the true, and the beautiful,  I turn to The Lord of the Rings.

In this grand epic, Tolkien addresses the importance of place and rootedness with his characteristic depth of insight. The story is, hopefully, familiar. Bilbo Baggins finds a magic ring that turns out to be the One Ring, the Dark Lord Sauron’s terrible weapon. Bilbo’s nephew, Frodo, inherits the Ring and must set out for Mount Doom on a quest to destroy it. He is joined by a menagerie of companions: three hobbits, two men, an elf, a dwarf, and a wizard. At a point on the journey, this Fellowship is split, and each smaller company must continue to do its part to defeat Sauron and save what they love.

Those things that they love are what keep the members of the Fellowship resolved to fight in the face of certain death. What is that they love so much that death is not too high a price to pay for its preservation? Well:

Though this exact scene is not in the book, it is certainly in the spirit of Tolkien’s thought. I imagine the following excerpt from The Return of the King served to inspire the cinematic adaptation:

‘So that was the job I felt I had to do when I started,’ thought Sam: ‘to help Mr. Frodo to the last step and then die with him? Well, if that is the job then I must do it. But I would dearly like to see Bywater again, and Rosie Cotton and her brothers, and the Gaffer and Marigold and all. I can’t think somehow that Gandalf would have sent Mr. Frodo on this errand, if there hadn’t a’ been any hope of his ever coming back at all. Things went all wrong when he went down in Moria. I wish he hadn’t. He would have done something.’

But even as hope died in Sam, or seemed to die, it was turned to a new strength. Sam’s plain hobbit-face grew stern, almost grim, as the will hardened in him, and he felt through all his limbs a thrill, as if he was turning into some creature of stone and steel that neither despair nor weariness nor endless barren miles could subdue.

At one of the most difficult parts of the journey, when Frodo is weakened by the trials through which he has gone to the point where he can’t even walk, Sam finds the strength to continue, both for himself and for Frodo. Sam’s manner of doing so may seem strange to modern ears, but it springs from an ancient well of wisdom. He doesn’t turn to abstract principles of Right, or Good, or Liberty, as important as those are. Rather, he relies on his memories of particular places and humble happenings which embody those grand ideas.

For Sam and Frodo (and Merry and Pippin), those places are the lands of the Shire. It is their love of the Shire, with its quaint, little people and quaint, quiet ways, that leads them to dare great deeds. Blossoming orchards, Rosie Cotton, fields of summer barley, Bywater, and strawberries and cream are the memories to which Sam turns to stave off fear and weariness. Nearer the beginning of their journey, Frodo relied on similar recollections to get him through tough times. It’s notable that, as Frodo’s memory of his home is clouded by visions of the Eye, he becomes unable to complete his task alone. He must be carried by one who remains spiritually connected to the Shire.

To briefly address the other members of the Fellowship, though the scope may differ, they are driven by comparable affections: Legolas for woodland realms, Gimli for stone halls, Boromir for shining towers. Aragorn and, even more so, Gandalf certainly have a greater number of particular places in mind, but they are still particular places. Attachment to a particular place is what Saruman is mocking when he tells Gandalf that “love of the Halfling’s leaf” has clouded his judgment. More could be about these characters on this subject, but I’ll leave it there for now.

To reiterate and conclude: rootedness in a place, while perhaps not essential in an absolute sense, is yet an important trait for one who would be good, true, and beautiful. This theme runs throughout J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, coming through especially strong in the person of Samwise Gamgee.  In subsequent posts I’ll attempt to explain more fully why I think that in order to be as true a friend as Sam we must give up our attachment to mobility and settle down in our places.