The end of patriarchy, the man-made culture of male hegemony, actually started about 2000 years ago in Bethlehem of Judea; but it is only recently that tangible signs of the process toward ending this culture of domination and control (of women by men, of "uncivilized" nations by "civilized" ones, of nature by humans) have begun to emerge in the conscious awareness of many men and women throughout the world.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THOSE DAYS?
In the Judeo-Christian biblical tradition, the so-called "infancy narratives" (which refer to the birth and early years in the life of Jesus of Nazareth) offer an extraordinarily relevant source of reflection for the much needed transition from patriarchy to solidarity. For believers, these texts contain divine revelation that comes from above, albeit via the imperfect, and oftentimes patriarchally biased, human hands of the gospel writers. But all people of good will can find, buried in them, treasures of wisdom and insight that need to be "excavated" and considered as we begin a new year while still early in the third millennium CE. Digging out one or more of these treasures is contingent on understanding that the Bible is based on historical events but "theologizes" them in order to convey glimpses of God acting in human history. The infancy narratives provide a perfect blend of divine revelation, linguistically expressed in continuity with the Hebrew Bible, and the human realities of a people trying to keep their tightly coupled cultural and religious traditions while living under foreign (Roman) domination.
A "virgin" conceives and gives birth to a baby boy (a baby girl could not have been of religious significance in a patriarchal culture, let alone being the promised Messiah) but not before dealing with rumors of infidelity and going on her own to visit her cousin Elizabeth. For Mary and Joseph, the last minute trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem ends up in a humble barn, but equally humble shepherds are guided by "angels" to the place where they can adore the baby. Local VIPs are not informed, but somehow a brilliant star leads some foreign "kings" to witness the beginning of a new order of things. The word goes around, and soon those with delusions of control and domination feel threatened and react by unleashing the killing of innocent children - a senseless act of violence not unlike the recent shootings of a young girl in Pakistan (because she "should not" be going to school) and 20 school children in the USA. So the "holy family" must flee to exile in Egypt until things cool down. Eventually, they return to Nazareth. Years later, when he was "12" (a sign of patriarchal plenitude, as in the 12 apostles, the 12 tribes of Israel, etc.), a young Jesus is shown listening to, and questioning, the temple authorities.
TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE INFANCY NARRATIVES
There are so many paradoxes in these narratives that any attentive reader would be reasonably perplexed. How can a virgin conceive and give birth? Why is the radically revolutionary hymn known as the Magnificat attributed to Mary? What is the meaning of so many angels flying around before, during, and after Baby Jesus is born? Why tell the uneducated shepherds and not the learned Temple authorities? Why invite some unknown VIPs from some distant place and evade the rich and powerful neighbors who could provide protection and comfort? Why sending the baby and his parents to exile in a foreign country? Surely, a girl would not have been able to get any attention from temple authorities; but just as surely, why would a 12 year old boy engage in any serious discussion with religion teachers?
The only way to make sense of so many paradoxical events is to recognize that they are narrated at the intersection of divine understandings and human misunderstandings, with the former being inevitably distorted and obscured by the latter. These narrations certainly encapsulate rich spiritual insights - about both divine and human realities - that need to be discovered by both secular and religious leaders in our patriarchal, consumerist, materialistic society. A "virgin mother"? Absolutely, but what kind of virginity? Physical? Spiritual? Both? More? Some other kind? Surely, the simplistic interpretation of the text as miraculous physical virginity "before, during, and after" does not exhaust the mystery, does it? Likewise, none of the paradoxical events ("mysteries" in which divine and human realities coalesce) documented in the gospels can be properly understood by a superficial, literalist reading; for authentic Christian faith transcends reason, but cannot be irrational. Thus is the case, for example, about the boy Jesus "lost and found in the temple." Perhaps this text was written to recognize that, at some point during his human development, Jesus realized that the minds of the religious authorities of his time were made of hard and seemingly impenetrable stone; something he had to keep in mind during his earthly mission to the people of Israel.
IT IS HAPPENING HERE AND NOW
Fast forward 2000 years. Each of the questions posed above can be reformulated in terms of currently critical solidarity and sustainability issues. Our earliest ancestors were given a "virgin" planet Earth. What have we done to it? What are we doing to it? What kind of planet shall our descendants inherit? The same patriarchal mentality of command and control that Jesus faced in both the secular and religious dimensions has now blossomed to include not only domination of women by men, and domination of the poor and weak by the rich and powerful, but domination of nature disguised as "economic development" and energized by cheap fossil fuels and irrational assumptions about the feasibility of infinite material growth in a physically finite planet.
The Roman distractions of "bread and circus" have become much more sophisticated, with many attractive goods and services serving as bait; but lurking underneath is the same patriarchal mindset of "big fish eats little fish" that has been pervasive throughout the world since long before the Bible was written. In both the secular and religious dimensions, the "stone" in human minds is still the patriarchal attachment to power, supported by money and adorned with honors. Whereas the shepherds were understandably terrified by a divine presence, politicians today are afraid of "political incorrectness." Electronic widgets now help to keep people entertained and oblivious to the things that really matter for integral human development.
THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT PARADOX
Sustainable development is another paradox, but one entirely engendered by human hands. Since the need for sustainable development was first formulated in Our Common Future (UN, 1987), it has been regarded as an oxymoron by those who understand development as synonymous with infinite material growth in a finite planet. Surely, population and consumption of goods and services cannot possibly keep growing without limit if the planet is to remain viable as a human habitat. To think that technology will be capable of fixing the problem is as ludicrous as the proposal to place armed guards in every school to prevent lunatics from shooting children in the USA or Pakistan or anywhere else. Placing armed guards in every corner of every neighborhood in every country of the world would not be effective either, for human issues of social justice and mental health cannot possibly be resolved by technological fixes.
It follows that, at least until such time as humans might be able to migrate out of planet Earth to other planets, the absurdity of infinite material growth in a finite planet must be recognized as such. This mentality of infinite material growth is the real oxymoron that must be faced and rejected by all people of good will. Indeed, it is a patriarchal oxymoron and hopefully the final stage of the macho mentality of command and control that is endemic to most human institutions, both secular and religious. But "old habits die hard," and the resilience of patriarchy is not to be underestimated. Liberating people from this mindset of material growth at any cost will take nothing less than liberating them from the patriarchal mindset. This mental barrier is part of the same stone blocking the understanding of the Temple authorities in the time of Jesus, and entire cultures will have to be turned upside down in order to soften it, let alone remove it; for most secular cultures and religious traditions are entrenchly patriarchal, and they must be reformed in order to pave the way for a sustainable human civilization. Such worldwide reformation will require a more than "skin deep" transition from patriarchy to solidarity.
THE TRANSITION FROM PATRIARCHY TO SOLIDARITY
Mitigation technologies are helpful but will not be sufficient. Individual adaptation actions, no matter how exemplary, will not be sufficient. A radical reformation of human institutions will be required. Obviously, political institutions will have to overcome the competitive, consumerist, zero-sum mentality in local, national, and international relations, as initially proposed in Our Common Future (UN, WCED, 1987), and more recently reaffirmed in many other authoritative statements including
The Future We Want (UN, Rio+20, 2012). Since religious institutions have a significant moral influence over an estimated 80% of the world population, they should not and must not remain oblivious to the transition under the pretext of conserving and transmitting "sacred" traditions. Not everything that is sacred is divine, and it is by now self-evident that patriarchy is a human artifact that should not be considered to be sacred, let alone divine.
Many patriarchal customs have already been exposed as morally unethical, and dismantled at least in principle. We now know that slavery and racism are not part of any divine or "natural" order. But hard as it was to clarify these issues, two sets of even more difficult (and tightly coupled) issues must be resolved for the transition to solidarity and sustainability to become viable: gender issues and ecological issues. Both emerge from bad mental habits deeply rooted in patriarchal traditions and utterly incompatible with the principle of human solidarity, which in turn is a prerequisite for ecological sustainability.
REFORMATION OF PATRIARCHAL INSTITUTIONS
Conservation and lifestyle adaptation decisions by concerned global citizens are necessary, but not sufficient. A radical reformation of all patriarchal institutions will be required, and this applies in both the secular and religious spheres. Institutions must evolve to the point in which patriarchy will be replaced by solidarity (between men and women, between the rich and powerful and the poor and weak, between humans and the human habitat). This will entail fully internalized equality along the entire gender continuum, the norms and practices of solidarity becoming the generally acceptable (and "politically correct") way of doing things in all institutions, and fully taking into account the ecological value of natural resources. It is time to get started on institutional reform.