Correction: it’s hats for women that Christianity and Islam share in common.

Correction: it’s hats for women that Christianity and Islam share in common. December 18, 2015
The hijab. I think it’s lovely.

A Christian woman, teaching at an evangelical college, has unintentionally stirred controversy by donning the Hijab.

But if controversy was what she had really been after, all she needed to do is wear a hat to church because the Apostle Paul told her to.

I didn’t want to talk about the hijab thing, it seems like ambulance chasing for bloggers; but I can’t help myself. It’s a teachable moment as they say. How many times does head coverings for women dominate your “trending” box on Facebook?

Back when I was in a denomination that ordains women I noticed that some Bible passages were never read from the pulpit. (I suspect the list has only grown.) 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 was one of them.

(The others were the qualifications for elders and deacons and the household codes in Paul’s epistles. Not that Paul was all bad in their view–he had given them Gal. 3:28–the go to verse for all things egalitarian. But what Paul says there is based on primogeniture. It is hard to imagine anything more patriarchal than that, but it is lost on them.)

Back to hats. I’m not going to deal with Christianity’s Trinitarianism verses Islam’s Unitarianism, nor will I get into those sloughs of despond, academic freedom and religious bigotry. I’m going to stick to hats for women. That’s controversy enough for me.

Traditionally women in both religions wore hats for religious reasons.

Now, practices like ritually covering your head only make sense in larger contexts of meaning, just like a Bible verse only makes sense in a larger literary context. In our day of lifestyle Bible reading (e.g. The Soccer Mom Bible!) the reader’s life appears to be the only context for meaning people can recognize when it comes to Bible verses or clothing.

But that’s not the way it was for time out of mind.

There’s been a war on intrinsic meaning for hundreds of years in the West, (You can’t have a bigger context of meaning than creation itself and the front-loaded meanings that come with it. That’s what I mean by intrinsic meaning.) But you don’t even need to go that big. You can step down a bit and see that once upon a time both Christians and Muslims lived in cultures that were based on household economics.

Salvadoran women with beautiful head-coverings.
Presumably Catholic Salvadoran women with beautiful head-coverings.

Back in the “bad old days” a household wasn’t just a place to relax at the end of the day. It was a going concern, a productive economy. Back then everyone worked from home. Fathers went out to the field to plow, or out to the smithy to pound metal. And mothers didn’t sit around eating bon bons watching television, they worked from home too. Obviously there were children to raise and elderly relatives to tend to. But there were also sick people to care for and widows that needed looking in on. And when those chores were done, wives made meals for men in the fields and drew water. And when those things were all done, there were clothes to make and after all that, maybe she had to make the rounds collecting rent from tenants or payments from customers.

At the center of the household was productive property–not the consumer goods we waste our substance on today. This was property that gave you a living.

Now, in a household economy what do you suppose is the biggest threat to prosperity and good order over the generations?

Yep, it’s sex.

Illicit sex threatened the bonds of affection in a household as well as the line of inheritance.

Head gear for women did two things to discourage illicit sex. First, it promoted modesty. And second it said, “This woman belongs to a household.” Let me unpack for you the message implicit in that: “Mess with this woman and there will be hell to pay. That hell will come when the men of her household discover that her honor has been violated. You better be running, boy, because your life may be required of you this day!”

That sounds dangerously retrograde, I know. After all, where’s the freedom of choice? We have contraception and abortion these days, what about them?

Yeah, what about them? They’re working so well for us. The thing I’ve noticed is the more sexually free people are, the more damaged they are. I for one am not impressed.
Amish women, the minimalist school of head-covering for women.

But this is getting the order of things reversed. It’s our fixation on freedom that distracts us from the main thing. The household in the West has lost its functions. It has been replaced by the hive economy.

That economy is centered on enormous economic concerns that peel away the traditions of the household economy. Corporations want people to be as interchangeable as possible, and unattached to local communities, or religious traditions. It reduces meaning laden clothing, like a hijab, to an objectively meaningless life-style choice. The great sin of Wheaton College in the eyes of secularists is it takes the hijab seriously.

But the days of the hive economy may be numbered. Sex is the problem again, but for a very different reason. When you live in the hive, kids are nothing more than a life-style choice.

The most advanced economies have seen fertility sink below replacement level. The problem for the hive, naturally, is it needs drones. But when the state, or any other large institution, undertakes childrearing, the children don’t turn out as well as they do in the old household centered economy.

What to do? How will we keep Social Security funded?

The Germans tried economic incentives–have a kid for cash! Didn’t work. So they’ve resorted to immigration. (Just kicks the problem forward, in my opinion. Do you really suppose secular Turks will be more fertile that secular Germans?). The Japanese can’t accept immigration, so they’re looking into robots. (I’m not joking.) Of course, there’s always euthanasia.

But we could bring back head-coverings. Maybe the meanings that were once attached to them will return with them.

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