Having covered the severe lack of definitions in the first chapter of So Much More, let’s move on to examining recurring themes from the Vision Forum lectures I’ve been critiquing for the past year and a half. First up is Doug Phillips’ real “holy trinity” – principles, patterns and precepts – which I discussed in my very first Big Box post, How to Think Like a Christian:
God has given us everything we need in the Scripture by way of precept (direct command) or pattern (normative examples) or principle (broad conclusions drawn from patterns or precepts)…such that we can wisely live and choose our life…
I’ve already demonstrated how Phillips’ hazy definition of “principles” allows him to reframe just about any issue as a violation of God’s eternal commands, so I won’t go over that again today. What I will go over is how the idea of “principle” wasted no time and reared its ugly head yet again, in the very first paragraph – no, very first sentence! – of So Much More:
God has given principles for all people to live by. Christians are supposed to know exactly what these principles are and live by them, setting the example and upholding the standard. Yet Christians can be some of the most careless and ungrateful and forgetful people. We Christians can be responsible for leading the culture either away from God’s design or toward it. Our father has taught us to confess our errors and admit our mistakes. Christians truly have been a part of the problem, because we have been careless with the standard.
Now that sounds good, doesn’t it? Aren’t Christians supposed to set an example for the rest of the world? Sure, but look more closely. Returning to our theme of definitions for a moment, what exactly are those “principles” that God has given us? We’re supposed to know exactly what they are, after all, so it should be pretty clear, right?
Umm…no, actually. Not at all. At least not here (though like I said last time, I’m sure the Botkins will explain in later chapters). So for the moment, we have, yet again, “principle” being used as a nebulous catch-all term.
More to the point, in many ways I do agree with A&E that Christians have been “careless with the standard.” I suspect, however, that we would point to radically different activities as examples of standard violations. For example, A&E think feminism is a terrible and ungodly idea that destroys the divine design for gender relations. I, on the other hand, think feminism has brought many benefits to both genders, and contains much that is perfectly in line with the Bible. So in light of this disagreement, how are we supposed to realize the call for unity and agreement in the above quote? How do we decide who is really recognizing the (allegedly obvious) “principles” in the Bible? I hope A&E’s answer will be a great deal more mature than “agree with me or be wrong.”
As expected, So Much More featured many repeated ideas from previous SAHD material I’ve critiqued. Most notable are statements like the following, which reinforce hierarchical relations between fathers and daughters, and by extension, men and women:
…this is not a book for fathers. Even though there are many things we might like to say to fathers, it is simply not a part of God’s design that we do the saying. In Appendix A, we have asked our own father if he would volunteer some advice to men, which he agreed to do.
As I hinted at above, there are two layers to this statement. First is that daughters should not teach fathers, which isn’t surprising given what we learned here, when A&E claimed that fathers are God’s representatives on earth and daughters can essentially blaspheme them. Second, of course, is that women should not teach men, which is just basic patriocentricity and doesn’t really need an explanation. What may turn out to be even more interesting, however, is a tiny, easy to miss pronominal change that was given no explanation in the text:
Don’t read this book at all (I would rephrase: “You won’t like this book…”) if you have a bad attitude toward your father and if you are trying to keep your distance from him.
Catch that? No? Maybe you will after reading A&E’s explanation of why they chose to write in the first person plural:
Our use of the first person plural is an important component of this book. “We” are writing about shared experiences and shared conclusions. We have challenged one another and examined one another as we collected our observations, our research, and our theological convictions. This collaboration has helped us dig more deeply into each controversy.
We learn from this that A&E’s choice of perspective was meaningful and deliberate. Everything in this chapter is phrased using “we,” “us” or “our”…except that one little “I” in the parentheses above. Which begs the question, who exactly is that “I” referring to? Anna? Elizabeth? Or possibly – Geoff? Is this a case of the sisters disagreeing on what to write, and including both their opinions? Or is it a sign that So Much More’s production was overseen by their father?
Since I don’t have a crystal ball, and thus can’t look back in time to see the making of So Much More, I can’t tell you the answer. But I will say that whatever it means, that little “I” is there for a reason, given that A&E went to great lengths to explain their use of “we.”
Giving the fox the keys to the henhouse
Third and finally, no exploration of SAHD would be complete without a reminder of how pitifully easy it would be for an abusive father to use the philosophy as a weapon. Unfortunately, since we still have [insert number] pages to go until the end of So Much More, I suspect this reminder will be only the first of many, since both A&E and their father seem to have an especially bad habit of leaving tools lying around for abusers. Here’s a prime example, in which Anna not-so-subtly replaces Jesus with human fathers:
Now Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” If we don’t love our father’s commands and instructions and reproofs enough to heed them, then maybe we don’t really love our fathers at all.
And another, also from Anna, in which she reminds girls (using an old and venerable definition of blasphemy) not to speak badly about their fathers (who are the earthly representatives of God) lest they “take their names in vain.” One wonders how a girl in a home practicing SAHD is supposed to seek help if she is being abused.
Be careful how you speak of your father to others. Some girls speak of their fathers as they would of a little brother. They tell funny stories about funny things that Daddy did or said. Most of the time they’re just trying to be affectionate, but this is disrespectful. Some girls speak lightly of their father’s policies. ‘Oh, Dad would never let me do that, he’s so overprotective. Mom might think it’s okay, but you know my dad.’ Sometimes the very way they say the word ‘dad’ makes it sound like a pejorative. I think we can make a Biblical case that this is a sin. …
Have you ever considered that the third commandment might be able to apply to God’s earthly representatives as well as to Him? Did it ever occur to you that there might be a way that a daughter can take her father’s name dishonorably? We can do this by attributing things to our father that are not strictly true. ‘Oh, my dad would never understand.’ Never. ‘Oh, my dad always does this.’ Or by failing to talk of his true wonderful qualities.
We also can’t forget Elizabeth’s words about daughters finding their identity in their family instead of as individuals (esp. when coupled with Doug Phillips’ extensive blurring of healthy boundaries in father-daughter relationships):
I had to learn to love being in my family, instead of waiting for the day I could leave and start my own family. I had to overcome my independence, and start finding my identity as part of the Botkin family unit. I had to learn to consider family projects my priority and my own little agenda as secondary. … To be able to serve her father properly, a girl must learn to serve alongside her family as they support his vision all together. And before she can do that, she must learn to love being in her father’s family.
Related to this is Geoff Botkin’s quasi-comparison of human beings to inanimate objects being moved around a stage by a set director. Whether the director was intended to represent God, the patriarch, or someone else entirely, was left unclear, but the entire analogy was disturbing, at least to this reader.
Suffice it to say, then, that the Botkins don’t have the greatest track record of recognizing the potential for abuse in their audience members’ home lives. Unfortunately things only get worse in So Much More, beginning with this:
Maybe a warning is needed. Don’t read this book at all (I would rephrase: “You won’t like this book…”) if you have a bad attitude toward your father and if you are trying to keep your distance from him. Many girls enjoy having “space” away from their fathers. That space is dangerous.
Here, we see A&E claiming that a girl trying to keep her distance from her father and wanting space away from him is, without exception, bad and dangerous. The “without exception” part is the problem. What if the girl’s father is a sexual abuser and if she doesn’t get “space away” from him, she will be regularly raped? Even worse, what if this girl picked up A&E’s book in desperation, hoping to find something to help her sort out her situation, and all she got was “don’t read this book if you have a bad attitude about your dad”? This is an awfully cold dismissal, given that A&E spent time earlier in the chapter bemoaning the lot of the confused, hurting college girls who spent time with their family. Do they want to help these young women or not?
Many of these ideas will be very uncomfortable to readers, at first. Those readers who finish the whole book will begin to see more comfort in the ideas than threat. In the course of our research, we discovered that a lot of our “radical” and “new” ideas used to be held by practically all Americans. The lifestyle and worldview we present is not merely theoretical. It was lived before, when women were much happier. It is being lived again today by brave young women who are determined to follow the wise course for womanhood, lovingly designed by God Himself, whatever the cost.
Aside from the sweeping historical claims that are in serious need of footnotes (women were happier before feminism and A&E’s view of father-daughter relationships was the historical norm in America), there’s yet more abuser fodder here; the girls should find his controlling “protective” actions to be a “comfort” rather than a “threat.” There are also echoes of one of Part 1’s themes, in that A&E assume that their readers will come to the same conclusion they did.
This book is about protection. We know a number of girls whose fathers are so passive they don’t provide their daughters with any kind of guidance, direction, discipline, or correction. We know girls who like it this way. One of these girls said, “I sure hope my dad never picks up any of these ideas about interfering with my life and what I want!”
That girl is afraid to lose a measure of childish independence. She is afraid of fatherly input and protection. If you don’t want this from your father, then you don’t have the heart for this book. If you are not willing to give your heart to your father, this book will put you at odds with the scriptural mandate you will find here. Besides, if you leave the book lying around, your father might find it and get fatherly ideas. However, this is not a book for fathers.
Once again, attitude problems on the (reading) daughter’s part are made an insuperable obstacle to her getting any kind of benefit from the book. In fact, I’m beginning to question A&E’s premise that “this is not a book for fathers,” as the target audience they’re describing, sounds like daughters who already want what A&E are selling, but whose fathers are clueless. In other words, if So Much More is a book to teach daughters how to relate to their fathers, but any faults in the daughter’s side of the father-daughter relationship are portrayed as reasons to skip the book – what are these (already convinced) daughters supposed to learn from So Much More? At that point, the only problems left to be addressed are on the father’s side of the relationship – and yet, “this is not a book for fathers.”
Back to the topic at hand, however, it’s pretty easy to see how an abusive father could use the above quote to his advantage. If his daughter wants to make a decision by herself, because she already knows he will not consider her welfare but only his own, she is clinging to her “childish independence” and not desiring “fatherly input and protection.” Furthermore, she doesn’t want to “give her heart to her father” and is thus on the wrong side of a “Scriptural mandate”! In other words, there is a difference between “input and protection,” and domination and control. Do A&E understand this, and if they do, will they explain it to their readers?
Incidentally, though, I do kind of agree with A&E on one point. If your father is abusive, then no, you absolutely do not want to leave So Much More lying around the house, and for the exact reason A&E stated – he might read it and get dangerous ideas!