Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother

This is repeated commandment in Jewish and Christian scripture. The little I know of the relative merit of the many biblical injunctions puts this commandment near the top in repect and veneration by most sects. It seems reasonable at a glance: a child owes his very existance to and depends for material support and protection upon his parents. It seems reasonable in the psycho-spritual realm: ones relationship to a parent is typically held to be a close model of ones relationship to god.

But as a person who belives human roles and humanity's conditions in this world need improving and can be improved by my own efforts and as an observer who sees the need for some improvements arising from misapplication of our civilization's dominant model, i.e religion, I have to give even the best of commandments closer scrutiny.

Simple interpretations of "honor thy father" seem to me too much akin to a specification of dominance by the strong, curtailed freedom of the weak and a scheme for maintenance of status quo: the hand that rocked the childs cradle can harden into an iron fist in the grownups world. From a practical point of view, hard questions about this commandment pop up and want answers. How old can children be before this commandment is incumbent on them? A two year old, [I have raised three and managed not to kill them] does not read this commandment. Is my tempermental four year old going to hell for talking back to me?

Supposing you are stuck with the commandments, what can you do? What if we read it as instruction to the parents, instruction that could actually be understood? What if we have had it backwards and honoring of parents is not the means but rather the result of a proper way to live? We could read it this way:

Honor the children you raise so that they will honor you.

That would work for all of us.

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