Integral families

What exactly is a family? The religious right have appropriated the concept of family and their politics is aimed at protecting ‘the family’. But we all know this is a very narrow understanding of what a family is, namely a nuclear, heterosexual family. Conservative Muslims are big on family as well, however their concept of family includes polygamy. According to the Koran a Muslim male is allowed four wives.

It’s odd that conservative Christians are so concerned about the family because Jesus was definitely anti-family. The gospels tell the story of Jesus demanding that his disciples to leave their families and take up a life of poverty following him as he wandered the Holy Land. In Matthew 8:21 and 22 Jesus tells the disciple who wants to first bury his father to ‘let the dead bury the dead’, in other words to not bury his father. In Matthew 22:22-33 the story is told of the custom that if a man dies without having children his brother should marry his widow and in this example a woman is passed down through seven brothers until her death. Jesus is asked if she will marry again at the resurrection and he says no one will marry in heaven. In Matthew 25 there is the odd parable of the ten virgins who await the bridegroom. Clearly it’s symbolic but the substance of the story is one man deflowering ten virgins (which in those times would have been around the age of 12). In both Matthew and Luke there is the story where Jesus is told his mother and brothers are waiting outside to see him. He ignores this and says his followers are his real mother and brothers. In other words he denies his family. In Luke 11:62 Jesus tells a follower he cannot go back and say goodbye to his family, ‘no-one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.’ In Luke 12:49 he tells his followers that he has come to bring fire and division to the earth, ‘They will be divided, father against son, son against father…’

What is clear from these examples is that Jesus taught to value the Kingdom of God above the family and to deny the family in preference to the spiritual journey. The Catholic church certianly understood this and the highest vocation was to become a celibate. Even St Paul preferred that men dedicate themselves to God, but allowed as a concession that if they could not be so disciplined they could marry.

So how is it that Christians now say the family is the centre of their faith when Jesus was quite clerly an ascetic and encouraged men to leave their families?

The answer comes in the 2nd and 3rd centuries after Jesus’s death when the early Church fathers understood that if they controlled sex and the family they controlled people. It’s about power.

An Integral approach to families must expose this brutal fact and the hypocricy that informs it. An Integral approach must also look at the facts. The concept of the family varies from culture to culture and from time to time. The concept of the nuclear, heterosexual family so beloved of modern conservative Christians is a rather narrow form of the possible variations.

The desire of the Judeo-Christians to control people by controlling the family is no more evident in the issue of gay marriage. Our own PM has consistently said that children are best raised by a mother AND father, but is this right?

Integral theory demands that the greatest number of people be able to develop to their full potential. This means that Integral theory must be concerned with how children are best raised to reach their highest potential in all lines of development. I would argue strongly that the Judeo-Christian family model is not the best structure to achieve this goal. In fact there is evidence to suggest that the Judeo-Christian family is really designed to do one thing, perpetuate the Judeo-Christian worldview.

As far as I’m aware there is no evidence to suggest that children are worse off in gay families. As I understand it what studies have been done suggest that there is no ill effect on children raised in gay families. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that children raised in non-conformative families are badly affected.

However, there is considerable evidence that divorce can cause problems, but this does not help the nuclear family model because these are the families most prone to break-up.

What do children need to develop to their highest potential? I’m not sure a definitive study across all family types has even been done, but I think the research suggests that children need emotional security, predictability, positive affirmation and importantly, stimulation. Divorce has negative effects because it attacks the need for emotional security and predictability. Now if we can isolate what children need I’m confident that we will find that non-conformative structures may do a better job than the heterosexual nuclear family. I’m an old hippy and I know of children raised in communal situations. I’m not going to say that all such communal experiments were successful, many failed, but this is no evidence that children raised in these situations were any worse off than children raised in nuclear families. In fact as far as I’m aware when the communal situation worked well the children were developmentally more advanced than their nuclear-raised peers. The main reason was the stimulation from many adult role models, provided of course, that the communal situation provided emotional security, predictability and positive reinforcement.

Another example is the kibbutz experiment in Israel. Here we do have some substantive studies and the evidence uggests that children raised in communal dorms were not necessarily negatively affected in any sense. In the most radical of the kibbutz children were raised in same sex dorms and showered and toileted together (some kibbutz schools had uni-sex toilets). The whole idea was to negate the Freudian Oedipus complex found in bourgeois family structures. Integral theory needs to remember the work done by Freud and Reich on families and sexual repression. The kibbutz experiment was a direct reaction to Freudian and even Reichian theories.

There have been many studies that show that nuclear, heterosexual families can fail abysmally. Integral theory needs to understand why they fail.

Despite all its rhetoric about the family the Judeo-Christians have a poor record with child rearing. They are not concerned with raising highly competent children, they are mainly concerned with replicating the ideology. I would suggest that a comparative study will show that children raised in conservative Judeo-Christian families will not perform as well as children raised in more non-conventional, progressive families. I’d like to see a definitive study done (and then I’d like to shove it in their faces – see, you only raise brainwashed robots trapped in mythic thinking). I’m aware also that in some fundamentalist religious groups there is systematic abuse. In Mormon circles young adolescent girls are married off to older men, amongst the Amish there have been cases of incest, with the girls blamed for the incident and then pressured to stay silent, and many Catholic families turned a blind eye to the abuses of the clergy. Christopher Hitchens makes the extraordinary claim that in Ireland over half of all children were abused by priests. You can’t tell me that the parents didn’t suspect anything.

I’ll repeat this point – the conservative Judeo-Christians want to control the family because they want to control the minds of children. At its worst it is a totally sinister ambition.

I think Integral theory will eventually prove that provided certain key conditions are met children wil thrive in a range of family types, gay marriages, single-parent and multiple parent. Rather than legislate to privilege the Judeo-Christian mythic model governments should legislate to encourage the key conditions. I personally think that one of the greatest tragedies to affect children is the absentee parent, usually the father. I understand this is a significant problem in some minority communities in the US. Rather than marriage being legally binding I believe parenting should be legally binding. Once you have created a child as either mother or father an Integral society will insist you honour the obligations that it entails. I have no problems in punishing parents who neglect their responsibility. So rather than get a marriage certificate perhaps parents and families (however constituted) should get a parenting certificate. This certificate would give them access to all family benefits but also obligate them to certain conditions, perhaps including a vow of fidelity to the child (I promise to love and treasure you, to do my best to ensure you reach your highest potential, etc – now that would be a good, blue tradition. It could replace christening and could involve grandparents and god-parents, etc).

So why have the Judeo-Christians dominated the family debate? I would suggest because many progressives are at the orange level of individualism and they’ve vacated the debate and left a vacuum. I think the evidence supports progressive families over conservative families, but progressives have been too busy chasing individualism to pay enough attention to raising children. Integral theory needs to address the imbalance.

Here I would also add that I think one of the great destructive effects on the family is orange exploitation for individualistic reasons. Green is communal and is concerned with children. It’s the orange careerist who wants to build wealth and delay having children – and many companies have anti-family cultures. It is Green that demands that capitalism create family friendly work places by including maternity and paternity leave, flexible working hours, child care, etc, etc. Oddly enough conservative Judeo-Christians seem not to make too many demands on capitalism in this regard, their solution is stay at home mothers and remote, workaholic, disciplinarian fathers.

Anyway, this has gone on long enough and is just an introduction to ‘some’ of the issues. In any case, I think it’s time we rescued ‘the family’ from the sinister clutches of the Judeo-Christians.


About theurj

Also known as theurj. I've contributed some essays to Integral World and co-founded Open Integral blog, now defunct. I continue to participate in Integral Postmetaphysical Spirituality forum.
This entry was posted in Ethics & Morality, Politics, Ray's Integral Blog, Values. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Integral families

  1. ray harris says:

    The one area we can say with certainty that the Judeo-Christian family is bad for children is in the area of sexuality. I regard sexuality as an important line of development that has a direct bearing on the psycho-social devlopment and well-being of the child. Sexual repression causes bad effects in the other lines of development, including moral reasoning, affection, and even cognition and even health. I think Reich was largely right about the links between sexual repression and totalitarianism and I would go as far as to say that sexual repression is a form of child abuse.

    I cannot begin to describe how bad the very religious are on this. I was not aware until recently that some orthodox Jews have sex through a hole in a sheet to prevent the sin of fleshly contact. Orthodox Muslims are so concerned about modesty they cover every single piece of flesh so that women look like bizarre black ghosts in their burkas. And many a Catholic has been tormented by guilt and shame over even the mildest sexual thought. What impact does all this have on the mind of a child? I’d say it twists it out of all proportion.

    On a tragic note – I saw a piece on the first professional sexologist in Islam, a Turkish woman who has become quite popular. You’d think this was good news and it sort of is, except that she is prohibited from giving un-Islamic advice, which makes her advice mostly useless and incorrect. I watched a segment where a caller asked if masturbation affected sexual intercourse. She said yes, it did. This was incorrect and she would know it. The tragic note is that the interviewer asked her what percentage of ignorance of sex there was in Islamic societies. Her answer was 95%. I suppose we should be grateful that some knowledge is getting out there, but not much. She can only give advice to married couples.

    What kind of stunted people is Islam producing if 95% are sexually ignorant? The Abrahamic tradition is profoundly incompetent in this area and it has tragic consequences.

  2. ray harris says:

    I forgot to add an example of a non-conventional, extended family that was profiled on TV. It concerned three women who had all received sperm from the same man. They were all friends and even though the women maintained separate households as single mothers and lesbians, they wanted the man to have contact with his children. The three women also kept in contact so their children could know their half-siblings and some formed friendships. Every now and then the whole extended family would get together. The children seemed to thrive in this environment.

    In contrast many conservative families squash their children with dullness and mediocrity.

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