Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Man of the House: Why the Husband Rules the Roost in Christian Marriages

I was re-reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity the other day, and was once again struck by the clarity with which he articulated controversial topics in ways that illustrated obvious points we all intuitively know to be true. One of the most interesting Chapters dealt with the man’s role in marriage. First, Lewis defines his terms, starting with marriage:
The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ's words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism-for that is what the words "one flesh" would be in modern English. And the Christians believe that when He said this He was not expressing a sentiment but stating a fact-just as one is stating a fact when one says that a lock and its key are one mechanism, or that a violin and a bow are one musical instrument. The inventor of the human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, were made to be combined together in pairs, not simply on the sexual level, but totally combined. The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union. The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again.

Next, he asks this central question:
In Christian marriage the man is said to be the "head." Two questions obviously arise here, (1) Why should there be a head at all -why not equality? (2) Why should it be the man?

His answer, reproduced in full, is below. As you read it, ask yourself truthfully: does this not ring absolutely true? In my own marriage, for example, my wife has de facto charge over things internal to the family (sort of a Minister of the Interior), while everything to do with External Relations is my charge. For example, my wife may very well go out and choose, say, a new table for the living room but it is I who will then haggle the price. If there’s a return to be made, it’s me again. But which table, and where it will go, and what can be placed upon it is her purview. Likewise, if our family ever finds itself in conflict with others (a speeding ticket and trip to court, or a fender-bender in which my wife was involved), the entire mess falls to me. Another woman hit my wife in the parking lot – how do you suppose the whole thing was resolved? The two women exchanged phone numbers, and I dealt with the other husband on the phone to sort it all out. No doubt his wife was crabbing about the high cost of the repairs, while mine did the same about how we really should have used the dealer for a better (and pricier) fix. Can anyone really imagine the wives sorting this out? They call it a catfight for a reason.

Anyway, here’s Lewis in his own words. You won’t be disappointed:

(1) The need for some head follows from the idea that marriage is permanent. Of course, as long as the husband and wife are agreed, no question of a head need arise; and we may hope that this will be the normal state of affairs in a Christian marriage. But when there is a real disagreement, what is to happen? Talk it over, of course; but I am assuming they have done that and still failed to reach agreement What do they do next? They cannot decide by a majority vote, for in a council of two there can be no majority. Surely, only one or other of two things can happen: either they must separate and go their own ways or else one or other of them must have a casting vote. If marriage is permanent, one or other party must, in the last resort, have the power of deciding the family policy. You cannot have a permanent association without a constitution.

(2) If there must be a head, why the man? Well, firstly, is there any very serious wish that it should be the woman? As I have said, I am not married myself, but as far as 1 can see, even a woman who wants to be the head of her own house does not usually admire the same state of things when she finds it going on next door. She is much more likely to say "Poor Mr. X! Why he allows that appalling woman to boss him about the way she does is more than I can imagine." I do not think she is even very flattered if anyone mentions the fact of her own "headship." There must be something unnatural about the rule of wives over husbands, because the wives themselves are half ashamed of it and despise the husbands whom they rule. But there is also another reason; and here I speak quite frankly as a bachelor, because it is a reason you can see from outside even better than from inside. The relations of the family to the outer world-what might be called its foreign policy-must depend, in the last resort, upon the man, because he always ought to be, and usually is, much more just to the outsiders. A woman is primarily fighting for her own children and husband against the rest of the world. Naturally, almost, in a sense, rightly, their claims override, for her, all other claims. She is the special trustee of their interests. The function of the husband is to see that this natural preference of hers is not given its head. He has the last word in order to protect other people from the intense family patriotism of the wife. If anyone doubts this, let me ask a simple question. If your dog has bitten the child next door, or if your child has hurt the dog next door, which would you sooner have to deal with, the master of that house or the mistress? Or, if you are a married woman, let me ask you this question. Much as you admire your husband, would you not say that his chief failing is his tendency not to stick up for his rights and yours against the neighbours as vigorously as you would like? A bit of an Appeaser?

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