Units of Resistance

One of the more popular topics on the Christian circuit is the strength of the family. Poor family units are suspected of weakness and brokenness; wealthy ones of coldness and distance, though admittedly the former concern is much more pronounced than the latter. But policies are always a much easier sell in the Christo-sphere when they can be shown to strengthen the family, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. But it has certain outcomes.

Back in the day, in much third-way Christian literature suspicious of both capitalism and socialism, one used to read that the point of strengthening the family was to set it up as a bulwark against the onslaughts of un-Christian cultures/states. So while the state and dominant culture might instruct a bad set of ethics, your dominion in your family would allow you to counteract those narratives with positive ones. Thus families would be, in effect, units of resistance against bad external regimes.

Which has historically been the case, at least in a variety of interesting examples. Sophie and Hans Scholl, members of the Christian anti-Nazi resistance group The White Rose, were siblings. This is a positive example of a familial pocket of resistance.

Yet negative examples keep piling up. The Tsarnaev brothers, of Boston Marathon Bombing infamy, developed their ideology and plot together. Two of the shooters believed to be behind the attack on Charlie Hebdo are brothers. Siblings and cousins grouping into clusters and pairs is not uncommon in cases of insurgency. Islamist terrorism is not an exception here: all sorts of terrorists come in familial sets.

In other words, it’s quite true that the family can serve as an incubator for (pardon the pejorative associations here) anti-social sentiment, which can germinate into outright resistance. It appears to be a shaky compromise of the liberal order to imagine that we can simultaneously form independently powerful units of identity-construction, intentionally built for resistance, and then suppose that they will passively cooperate with a culture that marginalizes them. It rather seems that the opposite happens; the more liberal cultures tolerate the marginalization of particular groups, the more families function more or less as they’re ‘supposed’ to: as bulwarks of resistance. The more inclusive these cultures become, the less need there is for families to form specific identities that contribute to resistance.

My prayers are with the families of those injured or killed in these terrible attacks.