So what in the world is this thing? Let’s begin with what it isn’t.
It is not a synonym for the family.
It is a shelter
It shelters families. It is bound up with them; but households can shelter non-family members, and family members can actually leave a household and still be members of the family.
The key thing though is shelter. Houses shelter their occupants. I’m not talking about the buildings we sleep in and share with others. Those are just analogs for the things that really shelter us. And those things are political economies.
In a household political economy people can live in different buildings–extended families for instance spread throughout a community–but these people still work together, sheltering each other in practical ways. Eldercare for instance: in my case, my wife and our grown sons look in on my mother-in-law every day. (She’s just 5 miles away.) And they get help from my brother-in-law and his family. (Again, just about 5 miles away.)
It is an economy
From the afore mentioned example, I hope you can see that a household is a place to work and exchange goods. Today, when we think of households, we tend to think of them as places to escape the work-a-day world. We’ve turned them into recreational-centers, and we feel put upon when our relations call upon us for help.
Internally the economy works by means of gift exchange. The members care for each other and look out for each other’s interests. It is a commonwealth, reconciling men and women, and the generations, by a common life.
And this is why, at the core of a household, there is a union of a man and a woman. Through the union of their flesh they create a common life, and a commonwealth. (And there is even more going on here that what may immediately come to mind.) And from that union, if it is fruitful, their household grows.
These developments serve the interests of States (by turning every exchange into a taxable event–and that’s just for starters) and corporations by siphoning off the productive energies of people and turning them into wage-slaves.
Stewardship of Productive Property
The gift-giving economy of a household is only half the economy–its internal half. The other half looks out to the world as it works with productive property.
Productive property is not personal property–such as a boat used for strictly pleasurable purposes. Now if that boat were turned into a fishing boat, or for whale-watching for paying customers, it would be productive property. Because productive property gives you a living.
Today the vast majority of productive property is held by mega-corporations. This must change if we’re going to return to a household-centered culture that promotes a common life for men and women across the generations.
For the last 200 years it has been a rout. The corporations have grown and households have not only been sidelined, they’ve been slandered and pilloried. But the good news is this is beginning to change. For the first time in a long time we may have the a chance to recenter the economy in households–or at least gain some leverage. (That’s what this blog is about, at least in part.)
Productive property can take many forms–a business, income producing real estate (my favorite), intellectual property–those sorts of things. The main thing to remember, apart from the income productive property generates, is the property is held by the household. There may be a name on a deed for legal purposes, but that person knows that he or she holds it in trust for the whole household and for the next generation.
It is a polity
What we have in the New Testament household codes is the polity that serves the interests of a household economy. And the reason why hardly anyone can see the sense in them is most households today are not working economies–they are recreation centers.
People have no trouble submitting to authority in the corporate economy. Women are even willing to wear hats there when they’re told to–at least most of them. (Little joke there son. 1 Corinthians 11 starts to look a wee bit different now, I hope.)
What’s a polity to do in a household? What polities always do in an economy–order the work in the most beneficial way, secure the interests of the members from those who threaten those interests from the outside, and promote justice within the house. And historically, and I believe it is still the case today, the patriarch of the household performs these functions best.
And now you know why patriarchy is a good thing. And why enemies of the household economy hate patriarchy.
Next time I will share how I came to change my mind about those New Testament household codes and see them as I see them today.
I leave you with the trailer for Avalon. A world lost. But we can have it again if we are willing to work for it.