Damned be the Ties that Bind

The majority of Americans remains Christians, even at this late hour. It is depressing and demoralizing to realize that a state once founded on the “Natural right, to worship Almighty God” according to conscience now weaponizes the law against those who would raise children in the fear and admonition of that same God.

William Blackstone called the relationship between parent and child the “most universal relation in nature.” It encompasses everyone and occurs everywhere. It is the natural end of marriage. Like any relation, rights and duties are present. Children must obey and honor their parents; parents are obliged to provide for and protect. In turn, children are dutybound to care for their elderly parents. But the mutual duties and bonds of this universal relation extend beyond mere maintenance. Education is usually recognized as well. Indeed, under our current law educational neglect is actionable. We can go further still, however. Proverbs 22:6, Deuteronomy 6:7, and Ephesians 6:4 all situate religion, knowledge of God, true doctrine, even redemptive history, as the pedagogical duty of fathers. The general principle and supposition in play here is not unique to Biblical revelation. It has been ingrained in western culture since its inception.

As Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges describes in his study of the pre-Caesarian classical world, The Ancient City, the family was not only the most basic, primordial social unit, but also the force that conditioned all subsequent organization.

More essentially, it was almost synonymous with the perpetuation of religion. The ancient family was defined by its shared worship and shared (ancestral) gods more than it was by blood. For induction to the family via either adoption or clientship was possible through sacramental initiation to the sacred fire of the familial hearth. Familial longevity was dependent on the priestly line of the father—religion established his authority for religion. So long as worship continued, the family continued. Marriage marked the conversion of the wife to the husband’s hearth family-cult.

Indeed, religion created marriage, says Fustel, just as it established property and inheritance (“I am the Lord, that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land, to inherit it; and to Moses”). That is a way of saying that in the ancient world, domestic religion was the basis of law which, in turn, was the basis of municipal law, and so on.

“Private law existed before the city. When the city began to write its laws, it found this law already established, living, rooted in the customs, strong by universal observance, The city accepted it because it could not do otherwise, and dared not modify it expect by degrees. Ancient law was not the work of a legislator; it was, on the contrary, imposed upon the legislator. It had its birth in the family.”

Extended families, clans (gens), were united by shared gods, and the mixing of tribal gods for the sake of political convenience was inconceivable. Not even natural affection (or generation) was permitted to trump religious ties. Blood did not suffice, albeit blood was expected to correlate. For the family literally died if its religion lapsed. Plato defined family as a community of shared gods.

Of course, the first thing the reader realizes when entering the world Fustel reconstructs is how utterly foreign it is. It was an isolated, parochial existence of preeminent familial allegiance and secret ancestor worship (the eternal flame), however romantic, that cannot be reproduced with any exactitude absent cataclysmic intervention. There is likely no return to that bronze age… and those that claim the bronze age ethos today usually neglect its constituting, unifying, indispensable socio-political element—even the basic, innate desire for hearth and home in Odysseus.

The point, for us, is that even in early Greece and Rome, religion and family were intertwined, and pedagogy was a parental prerogative. No, a necessity. It has always been thus in western civilization, even in its embryonic state.

The right to instruct children in rites and more besides, is not an aberration concocted of twentieth century culture warring, the advent of the “nuclear family,” nor by post-war liberalism.

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