When modern American conservatives use the term “traditional family values” they’re not referring to “the way everyone here has always done things.” They mean “the way we do things right now.” And when they say “we” they mean “white, upper middle-class American Christians.”.
I don’t think it’s fair to everyone else for them to use the word “traditional,” because it only refers to the traditions of one group of people living in one country. It’s ignorant to demand all the people in the most diverse country in the world to follow “traditional” values… especially when you want them to follow your traditions instead of their own. Secondly, this one sliver of one country’s population has 3,000 years of traditions spanning several continents. And the traditions of that one culture has been changing for 3,000 years. So which stage of that cultural development should we stick with? Let’s analyze the history to figure out which time period they’re getting their traditions from.
In early middle eastern culture, when you got a wife you would have to pay the father a “bride price.” In some parts of Turkey, this is still required. I’m sure there are other places too. In modern times the concept of the bride price has been defended by saying it’s a gift to the parents or it proves you can provide for the wife. But you’re giving money to a person and getting a wife in return. That’s called buying. The people who wrote the Torah got their wives through paying a bride price. So the husband owned the wife, and he owned slaves too. He was allowed to beat both of them, and he was obligated to kill his wife if she was unfaithful. And he could kill his child if he/she was disobedient. Here’s an excerpt from Exodus 21:7-11:
“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.”
When Republicans refer to a “traditional” family, this is the earliest stage of that traditions. So technically speaking, values that stray from this model are liberal and heretical.
Fast forward a thousand years past Jesus’s death and observe Europe. Bride prices were largely replaced with dowries, which was a gift to the husband’s family. The dowry served two purposes. One, since women didn’t work they were a financial burden. The dowry offset the cost of keeping a woman. It also bribed men into marrying women since it was shameful to be unmarried. Still, love was rarely a reason to get married. It mainly about money and networking. Husbands were still the head of the household and could beat their wives and children. Wives were housewives. Even if they wanted to get a job they had very limited rights to work since the Bible established them as second-class citizens. The wedding ring came from Egypt a few hundred years after Jesus died, but they were made out of hemp at first, later became iron, later became gold. Rubies were the gem of choice for a while. Oddly, in 1 Timothy chapter 2, it says Christian women shouldn’t wear gold or pears but wedding rings are now gold. The Quakers don’t wear gold rings though because they follow the Bible better than most people. England outlawed slavery within its borders in 1102 A.D. but didn’t make slave trade illegal until 1802. So slaves were still a part of the family well after Jesus died, which isn’t surprising because Jesus gave slavery his blessing by saying to treat your slaves well.
If you’re of Italian descent your pre-Christan era ancestors had another interesting Tradition. In a Roman household when a child was born the husband picked up the child to signify that he would accept it and allow it to live. If he didn’t pick it up the baby was killed or left to die. Romans also had slaves in the house. If your ancestors are from a Nordic country then in your ancestor’s traditional family they stole their wives from villages they pillaged.
Fast forward to the early years of the United States. Nothing much has changed. You could still own slaves, but you could only beat your wife with a rod as thick as your thumb. You could still beat your children, but you wouldn’t want to hurt them too bad, because they were put to work before the age of ten, and that was expected. Your elders lived with you until they died. Women were still second-class citizens and couldn’t vote, which was really the least of their problems as they were expected to be subservient to their husbands, which everyone believed was justified because not only did the book of Genesis say women were flawed but early Americans believed that science proved that since women had smaller brains they were biologically inferior to men. Women were expected to be barefoot in the kitchen and pregnant. Children were not allowed to question their parents no matter how idiotic their parents were.
And here we are today. If you’re a conservative American Christian, your great, great, great grandparents and every generation of your family before them, would view your beliefs about family as insanely liberal and a disgrace to God. Your great, great, great grandchildren and every generation after them, will look back at your generation and view your values as archaic and ridiculous as you view your great, great, great grandparents’ values.
Regardless of how funny and ironic that is, it’s beside the point. The point is that the conservative American concept of a traditional family is a figment of the imagination. It only reflects the traditions of one sliver of the American population, and it doesn’t even accurately reflect the traditions of that culture, at least, not if you go back more than half a lifetime.
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