"Creation of Adam" (detail) by Michelangelo

“Creation of Adam” (detail) by Michelangelo

We are raising activists, not saints!

I don’t remember exactly what it was that made me scribble down that observation because I was cooking lunch for my children and was half listening to the news on the television, but that observation was later reinforced when I came across an article on the internet written by a feminist professor and mother. I share part of it with you because it expresses perfectly a fundamental problem we’re having in Western civilization and the link I wish to make between metaphysics and our humanity.

Professor Natalie Wilson wrote in Ms. Magazine:

“…imagine my shock when my son was born and what my mother had so long insisted proved to be true – he actually seemed to be “boy-like”, by nature! … My personal feminist theoretical crisis concerning gender essentialism versus social constructionism was not resolved by the birth of my daughter … for just as my son seemed to be a “natural boy” so did my daughter exude femininity from birth onwards. These children were ruining my long-held feminist beliefs! They were proving my mother right.” [i] 

Most of us can relate to this sentiment and if her musings had stopped here we would congratulate her on “seeing the light” and wishing her well in the raising of her son and daughter. However, Professor Wilson doesn’t stop here, ending the first part of her article with the observation that her son had revealed “an aptitude for tap dancing and a very strong nurturing personality” while her daughter also showed a love for “math, wrestling and skateboards.” Again, nothing untoward about this but Professor Wilson says, “I think I can take at least some credit (along with my partner) for our children’s gender-bending personalities.”

Gender-bending???? I have a brother-in-law and a friend who are both stay-at-home-dads. They’re not the social norm in terms of domestic roles but I don’t think they could be classified as “gender-bending”!

In the second part of her article [ii] we see the root of the problem prevalent in our society. The professor doesn’t take what “is” at face value but imposes her ideology upon her children.

“I have also learned that there is no need to give up my feminist activist hat. If anything, being a mother has made me more of an activist. I now feel obligated to raise my children to be activists in their own right and to be, as the well-known Ghandi quote prescribes, the change they want to see in the world. Thus, on the drive to school, at the dinner table, while grocery shopping or at the park, we discuss politics. We analyze sexism in television and movies, homophobia on the playground and racism in music lyrics. Not a day goes by that politics is not part of my mothering. … my politics has affected the way I parent since the day my children were born. …” 

I feel sorry for her children. Her entire approach is adversarial, based on the exercise of will and power instead of love and virtue. Indeed, the shallowness of this approach is shown when Professor Wilson proudly praises her son’s feminist sensitivity. “And my son is no stranger to feminist analysis. After seeing Shrek 3 he mused, ‘Know what I really liked about that movie, mom? I liked that they made the females strong. Fiona and all the others, they kicked butt. Why don’t they make all movies like that? It’s dumb they always make the boys the strong ones.’ ” How sad that the standard of strength for a feminist is equated with male violence. I am fairly certain that any American or Canadian soldier serving in Afghanistan or Iraq, who is both a husband and a father, will insist that the one who is REALLY strong is their wife who has remained behind with the children, keeping the family home intact, all the while trying to control the fear that she might lose her husband and the children their father. Strength is more than being able to “kick butt!”

This professor is a classic example of allowing one’s ideology to override common sense!

Cause of the confusion

Unfortunately the road that has led to the attitudes of people like Professor Wilson has been a long and steady one. Our modern dilemma has been almost five hundred years in the making. With the small change in philosophy that resulted from the abandonment of universals the proverbial philosophical snowball has been rolling downhill faster and larger than ever. [iii] It would be too much of an undertaking to provide a list of all the ideas or historical events that contributed to our current situation.[iv] The simplest way of putting the situation into context is that human beings went from an attitude of humility before reality to one of pride over reality.

Prior to the Renaissance there was a saying that went like this: God measures both Man and Nature. Nature is measured by God and measures Man. Man is measured by God and Nature.

The word “measured” here denotes the setting of limits: the setting of purpose, ends and proper means. God designed both Man and Nature, giving them their essence and purpose. This approach shows us that Man (humanity) actualizes itself more perfectly when it humbly accepts its place before God and within Nature; working and making choices accordingly.

Starting in the Renaissance this attitude changed to: Man measures all things.

It is this attitude that has led to the commonly held position that everything about humanity is a result of social construction, that all truth is relative. There is no intrinsic meaning, for example, to marriage: it is what it is because society has constructed it that way and it can be changed if society so wishes. Even gender is no longer something that has a normative heterosexual, pro-creative nature but is merely an expression of particular orientations: homosexual, transsexual, bisexual, etc. [v] Even pedophilia is being described not as a deviation but as an orientation. [vi]

With the attitude of “man measures all” even our understanding of God is subject to our ideas and criteria. No longer do we take the Bible as the definitive self-revelation of God to His people but rather read into it our particular ideological presuppositions. Hence the very description of God as Father, Abba, is called into question for being patriarchal and deliberately used by male authors to subject women to the power of men. Miracles are reinterpreted as myths in the light of science and Jesus’ act of liberating the possessed of demons is recast in psychological terms.

The desire to “measure all things” is a direct appeal to the vice of pride that human beings are prone to. This measuring of all things gives us the illusion of being “like God;” that very promise made to our First Parents by Satan.

Ideas have consequences

The return to metaphysical principles therefore is a return to a humble attitude toward reality. As we have seen throughout the course of this series there is an intrinsic LOGOS to reality, a designed and created order, and conformity to that order (‘the good’) will bring about its proper end. It is for this reason that Pope Benedict wrote, “A metaphysical understanding of the relations between persons is therefore of great benefit for their development.” [vii] In other words, a proper understanding of the LOGOS of reality will help us configure our interpersonal and political relationships. Here is how I explain it to my Philosophy students. (I’m paraphrasing for brevity as these discussions can become quite animated and lengthy!)

Teacher: Ladies, when is the ideal time for a woman to have children?

Female Students: In her thirties.

Teacher: Why?

Female Students: Because they have finished their education, are established in their careers, and have financial stability.

Teacher: Ladies, when is the ideal time for a woman to have children, biologically?

Female Students: In her twenties.

Teacher: Why?

Female Students: Because that is when the fertility of women is at it’s best. After thirty the eggs start to deteriorate causing birth defects and the rate of infertility also increases. Also, young parents have more stamina and energy than older ones as well as being more adaptable to change.

Teacher: Ladies, when do you plan on having children?

Female Students: In our thirties.

Teacher: Let me get this straight. You are going to do something that you know is detrimental to yourselves and your children. Why?

Female Students: But Sir, what other option do we have? That’s the way our society works, that’s what our parents keep telling us to do! Get settled in your career then worry about a family!

Teacher (with questioning look): And you ALWAYS listen to your parents????

The girls have a point, of course. We’ve arranged our society so that we are doing what is seemingly contrary to what our nature is designed to do. Since we’ve set up these ideologically driven expectations there are logical consequences down the line. For example:

  • Since men aren’t expected to think about marriage and family until they’re in their 30’s they don’t have the motivation (or need) to mature faster. [They would grow up fast if the good girls started getting married off to their peers—fact of life: guys tend to play to the level of their competition!]
  • Since marriage is being postponed until their late twenties, sex before marriage and cohabitation is accepted and encouraged because we would be asking men who are at their sexual peak to practice abstinence for a decade longer than normal.
  • Since financial stability is encouraged then artificial contraception and abortion are promoted because these individuals are “not ready” to have children.
  • Since University tuition is so expensive graduates have the burden of a student loan and they need to pay that off before they can have children. …. and so on.

Now what would happen if we ordered our social and political structures to conform to metaphysical principles and our intrinsic human nature? Since one of the natural ends of human beings is the pro-creation and the education of children could we not:

  • Promote, encourage and prepare for marriage at an earlier age, say early twenties, since it’s scientifically proven that after age thirty fertility drops for both men and women. [viii]
  • Provide legislation that allows for family wages or, if that is not possible, generous tax relief or income splitting for single income families.
  • Provide mothers with a free University education after their children are in school, much like the G.I. Bill in the United States. After all, do not mothers provide an indispensable service to our country?
  • Provide protection in law making divorce more difficult to obtain so that women do not have to fear financial destitution and poverty as a result of divorce.

And the list goes on, but you can see how this one simple reality, understood metaphysically, can have profound consequences on how we order our society. Instead of spending so much time, energy and money trying to fight reality should we not work to conform ourselves to it, and in doing so, find so much more peace and stability?

Therefore, the more we understand about our universal human essence or nature the more we understand how the basic metaphysical principles ought to be applied in our lives (ethics) and in our society (politics). With this in mind we will briefly examine a few of the basic elements of what it means to be human in the next section of this series.


Oh, by the way, remember the above dialogue between my female students and me? Some of my more intuitive male students clue in to what I’m saying and complain:

Sir! That would mean more responsibility and work for us!!!

To which I merely smile and say: ABSOLUTELY!!!!


[i] Natalie Wilson; “Motherhood and Feminism, Part 1”; http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/05/07/motherhood-and-feminism-part-1/; May 7, 2011

[ii] Natalie Wilson; “Motherhood and Feminism, Part 2”; http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2011/05/08/motherhood-and-feminism-part-2/; May 8, 2011

[iii] See the article in this series entitled: “The Need for Universals”; http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2015/06/dennis-buonafede-the-need-for-universals/

[iv] If you have the time and stamina I suggest Professor Charles Taylor’s “A Secular Age”. At 700+ pages it is a thorough examination of the developments of the last 500 years in Western Civilization. After more than a year I’m still only half way through it.

[v] Babette Francis; “Gender bending: let me count the ways”; http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/gender_bending_let_me_count_the_ways/;  22 March 2011.

[vi] Rebecca Millette; “Pedophilia a ‘sexual orientation’ experts tell Parliament”; Feb 28, 2011

[vii] Pope Benedict XVI; “Caritas in Veritate”; Section 58

[viii] Mark Regnerus; “Say Yes. What Are You Waiting For?”; Washington Post, April 26, 2009; http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/24/AR2009042402122.html

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh article in an ongoing series, Ideas Have Consequences by Dennis Buonafede. Check back next Wednesday for another article.

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