The Abolition of Fatherhood: The Final Folly of Secular Fundamentalism?
|James Bogle FAITH Magazine May-June 2008|
James Bogle looks at the historical roots of the current undermining of fatherhood and the family by means of experimental laws and jurisprudence, the latest manifestation of which is the government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which goes so far as to try and eliminate legal fatherhood for children in certain circumstances. Mr Bogle is a barrister of the Middle Temple and Chairman of the Catholic Union of Great Britain.
“The further consequences of widespread fatherlessness may well dwarf all current, and even imaginable, ills associated with family breakdown.”
Fatherhood, motherhood and the family, as used oft in better times to be recalled, stand at the centre of our much-heralded post-war international declarations on human rights and freedoms.
“Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family... The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”
So states Article 16 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms states similarly:
Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right.
For Christians, fatherhood is a reflection of the eternal fatherhood of God and a profound reality. For Catholics, in particular, it is so profound a reality that we see it incarnate in marriage, which is a sacrament re-presenting the union between Christ and the Church, and even in our clergy who are considered to be joined in a kind of spiritual matrimony to the Church, which, in turn, is considered to be our “Holy Mother” and the Bride of Christ. Hence the common usage of the expression “Father” for a cleric and “Holy Father” for the Supreme Pontiff. The title especially reflects the First Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Father Himself, as well as the nuptial and familial meaning of Christian love.
Modern Feminism, among other creeds, has demonstrated a rather different outlook. In so doing it often looks back to past ills and their supposed remedy.
“‘Educate women like men’ says Rousseau, ‘and the more they resemble our sex the less power they will have over us.’ This is the very point I aim at. I do not wish them to have power over men, but over themselves.’”
So wrote Mary Wollstonecraft in 1796, in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, when the revolution that Rousseau and his ilk had helped to create was in full flight, crushing not only the prospect of education for men and women alike but their very heads under the unforgiving blows of the revolutionary militia.
She later wrote:
“Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself
to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”
She seems to have missed her mark a little, since, today, many modern women, despite the widest possible encouragement to re-educate themselves, nevertheless still desire to “adorn the gilt cage” as much as ever. No amount of “re-education” can eradicate what is simply natural, it seems.
Despite envisaging marital contentment in the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft’s two novels criticised marriage as a patriarchal institution harmful to women. Nevertheless, in the twelfth chapter entitled “On National Education”, she argued that men and women, whose marriages are, she resolutely states, “the cement of society”, should be “educated after the same model”.
Although she later married her paramour, the radical republican anarchist and atheist, William Godwin, we know from his later indiscreet memoir of her, that she had had other amours including the painter Henry Fuseli and Gilbert Imlay, by whom she had a daughter, Fanny. She wrote to her sister Everina in 1787 that she was trying to become “the first of a new genus” of women – what some today might call “liberated”. Nevertheless, both she and her daughter, Fanny, later attempted suicide, sadly successful in Fanny’s case.
This is the woman whom Feminists of the 1960s and 70s rediscovered and extolled as a foundress of Feminism. She might perhaps equally be called a co-foundress of that Secular Fundamentalism and moral libertarianism that is fast becoming the new state religion in modern Britain. Godwin seemed a suitable companion for her. He had advocated the abolition of marriage in his philosophical treatise Political Justice. Nevertheless, they married on 29 March 1797, but moved into two adjacent properties, called jointly “The Polygon”, to preserve their independence.
Wollstonecraft was widely deprecated in the 19th and early 20th century but was resurrected in the 1960s and 70s. Today, Mary Wollstonecraft’s demand for recognition of the rights of women has been largely realised in the law of the land wherein she once lived and died. But has the egalitarian utopia that she envisaged been realised? Few would own it, I suggest.
The Contemporary Situation
What do we see in our society as regards these influences upon the institution of marriage and its incidence? We see a society in which something like 40\% of marriages end in divorce and no sign of a reduction therein. We see a far greater desire for co-habitation outside marriage so that it is now no longer considered fashionable to refer to “husbands” and “wives” but rather to “partners”.
Although the legal definition of a partnership is “a joint venture for profit”, I doubt that even the most detached of such domestic arrangements could be regarded as chiefly a profit-making venture. The fashionable commentators, usually morally libertarian in outlook and hostile to religion, and sometimes amusingly termed the “chattering classes” (or, even better, the “commentariat”), seem to refer now to any but the most fleeting of sexual encounters by the equally coy euphemism of “relationships”. One can no longer be said to have a “relationship” with one’s bank manager or solicitor or accountant without the prospective suggestion of sexual overtones.
Concurrently, we have seen a huge increase in illegitimate births, single-motherhood, sexually-transmitted disease, crime, serious misconduct in schools and rapidly decreasing educational standards. Some will say this is mere coincidence. Well, perhaps, but it is a rather exact coincidence, is it not? Then, with that eternally self-deluding wishful-thinking that so characterises them, the moral libertarian, the Secular Fundamentalist and the utopian will tell us that all we need is more of the same.
One might fairly ask at what point our Secular Fundamentalists and moral libertarians might feel disposed to concede that their prescriptions for society have not achieved their aims and have, instead, failed – and failed dismally with the most damaging consequences for the stability of society and the happiness of the generality of its members. Perhaps they will only aver that their ideas did not fail but were never properly implemented, as utopians so often do.
In our divorce courts, all now conducted in secrecy so that neither the media nor the general public are aware of what goes on, the Feminist bias is virtually complete. Husbands and fathers are assumed to be dishonest and struggle to prove the contrary; less than honest affidavits and statements are regularly sworn by vengeful parties; and wives and mothers are encouraged to demand to the full the use of the very liberal and ample powers that the courts now have to oust fathers from their own homes and deprive them of any but the most minimal contact with their children.
What began as a reasonable enough reaction against the Victorian tendency to disbelieve the wife and deprive her of her children upon divorce, has transmogrified itself into the very reverse, where husbands and fathers, even those of otherwise good reputation and position, are assumed to be the villains of the piece.
All too often, upon a falsely presented allegation of harm designed to cloak a wife’s desire to start a fresh “relationship” with another man, a father who has provided everything for his family can find himself ousted from the property he brought to the marriage, alienated and separated from his children with very limited rights of fortnightly contact, and can then see his hearth and home occupied by another man to whom, at the front door of his own former home, he must now apply to see his own children on his infrequent contact days. Often enough, the new boyfriend simply tells the father that he is no longer wanted and to leave – and that from the front door of the home that the father himself struggled hard to acquire.
Such a huge disincentive to marriage is little known and understood by the general public who have no access to the Family courts and are unaware of what happens within them unless and until they experience its tender mercies for themselves.
In the case of Whiston v Whiston (1995), Robert Whiston was divorced from his Filipino wife who, secretly, had a previous husband living, sought and became Whiston’s inheritor and then made several attempts upon his life so as to inherit his whole estate. They divorced before she succeeded in her plan but she nevertheless sought a substantial share of his property in the divorce proceedings. She was granted it. Whiston appealed all the way to the Court of Appeal which, at last, overturned the decision and greatly reduced the sum to be paid to her but the costs were as heavy as the original sum and so outweighed any benefit to Mr. Whiston. His former “wife” had, by then, turned her attentions to another whom she married and so stood to inherit his estate upon his death.
She succeeded in doing so by again by becoming his inheritor and then killing him. She was discovered by her own indiscretion and is now serving a life sentence for murder.
In the case of Kyte v Kyte (1988), another husband, of frail health, was persistently goaded into attempting suicide by his wife so that she could marry another man. She provided him with the means to kill himself and, in a state of severe depression, he even attempted it. Upon divorce, the wife, despite her shocking misconduct, sought a substantial portion of his property and, moreover, was granted it by the courts, albeit somewhat reduced upon appeal.
A scan of the so-called “Rich List”, published intermittently by some tabloid papers, readily shows a regular increase in the number of ex-wives who have become rich purely through divorce. Few will need to be reminded of the very large sums of money that the wife of ex-Beatle, Paul McCartney, recently sought and obtained from him in her divorce settlement, even though they were not married for very long.
Few fathers, though, have McCartney’s wealth. Many are unable to house themselves after divorce and so end up with even less opportunity to see their children. Small wonder, then, that 55\% of men lose all contact with their children within five years of divorce.
The Effect upon Children
However much Feminists may consider that such is no more than the ex-husband’s due, what, one must ask, is the effect upon the children who are so deprived of their fathers?
A consequence of Feminism may be, in the end, that “liberating” women from the supposedly patriarchal institution of marriage leads to an increasingly fatherless society. We are already well on the way to such a supposed ultra-Feminist nirvana. Many will deny this because their reductive understanding of fatherhood sees it as virtually a purely biological phenomenon. Such a perversely impoverished understanding of the meaning of fatherhood is barbaric, not least for children.
Such is the consequence of supposedly “enlightened” “rationalism” and, perhaps, reflects, in its own self-deluding and self-destroying manner, those same paradoxes that lay at the heart of the life of Mary Wollstonecraft.
It can only cause harm to children to belittle or undermine the importance of fatherhood. The deep influence of Feminism upon the family courts has, however, tended to have this effect. Yet our family court system claims to put children first.
Now we see a further, and even more self-contradictory development in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (2007) currently making its way through our Parliament. This Bill takes the matter to the ultimate extremity and even proposes to exclude the biological father from the definition of fatherhood under certain conditions1. Fatherhood is then abolished and obliterated altogether.
Even some Feminists, like Baroness Deech, former head of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, think this is going too far.
The further consequences of such widespread fatherlessness may well dwarf all current, and even imaginable, ills associated with family breakdown.
In ancient times, the Church and its monastic institutions had protected and nurtured the poor, had protected women and children and endorsed a creed of chivalry that enjoined the same as a supreme obligation for all Christians whether of high or low degree.
Women were to be educated as much as possible and according to their state in life. Queens and princesses, abbesses and prioresses held positions of wealth, power and influence in Church and State which they were solemnly adjured to use for the benefit of the common good. This was reflected all the way down the various grades of society in a series of relationships binding each to his neighbour in duty and charity.
The aim was a society that, despite its disparities and differences of state and wealth, nevertheless was co-mutual in obligation, founded upon a supernaturally inspired solidarity. It sought, at its best, to be a civilisation predicated upon love and not self-interest and greed. That, at least, was the aim.
Above all, such a vision recognised that society is founded first and foremost not upon a Socialist collective, nor indeed upon a collection of atomised selfish individuals, but upon that small collectivity, the family, wherein the individuality of each is neither to be swallowed up nor obliterated.
The Church itself was organised like a family and those who suppose that the monastic system of welfare provided a kind of state or Socialist welfare are sorely mistaken. The monasteries were all private institutions, independent of the state, until Henry VIII expropriated and “nationalised” them all.
Not surprisingly the church he founded became the servant of the rich and powerful and abandoned the poor. Equally unsurprising is the objection that many had to such an abandonment. Indeed, it was an objection that both Wollstonecraft and Godwin shared. In that, at least, they were right. But they fell into even greater toils and began to reject marriage and the family altogether, preparing the way for yet greater evils.
This little society called the Family is much more than a mere social organism. It flows from the Divine Life. It imitates the love of God, the Holy Trinity, as He, the source of all Fatherhood, gives His Son as Bridegroom to the Church, His Bride, in the love of the Holy Spirit, to bring forth life. The Family is uniquely designed to foster the best welfare of each of its members, when rightly ordered and appointed. There can be no substitutes for it. Everyone has a mother and a father or, if they do not, feels that lack of them keenly.
It is a simple fact that those who seek to foist upon society and upon children alternative forms of social organisation rarely, if ever, were deprived of a father and mother themselves. Still less do they foresee any ill consequences in deliberately depriving children of a mother and a father.
This institution -the family - is, as even Mary Wollstonecraft in her better moments recognised, the “cement of society” and without it no society can long survive.
Pope Leo XIII wrote in 1888, in his encyclical letter Rerum Novarum, on the condition of the working class, these prophetic words:
“A family, no less than a State, is, as We have said, a true society, governed by an authority peculiar to itself... provided, therefore, the limits which are prescribed by the very purposes for which it exists be not transgressed, the family has at least equal rights with the State in the choice and pursuit of the things needful to its preservation and its just liberty. We say, ‘at least equal rights’, for, inasmuch as the domestic household is antecedent, as well in idea as in fact, to the gathering of men into a community, the family must necessarily have rights and duties which are prior to those of the community, and founded more immediately in nature. If the citizens, if the families on entering into association and fellowship, wereto experience hindrance in a commonwealth instead of help, and were to find their rights attacked instead of being upheld, society would rightly be an object of detestation rather than of desire. The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error.”
Shall we, as a nation, recognise these truths now, or shall we wait to learn the hard way by continuing to attack and destroy the “cement of society” that holds it together?
Will militant atheism and Secular Fundamentalism, in its obscene rush to abolish God the Father, seek also to try and abolish fatherhood itself?
Time, I suppose, will tell but with the government’s present plans for fathers, the omens are not good.