Human life flourishes when bad habits and unnatural ideologies are renounced in favor of good habits and acknowledgement of natural realities. The well-known twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous offer a proactive pattern for dealing with addictions, and can be adapted to deal with many other bad habits, including bad mental and cultural habits. The ideals of responsible parenthood, integral human development, and integral ecology are the best guidance for conscious evolution from old patriarchal androcentrism to a new culture of humanistic ecocentrism, i.e., from artificial patriarchy to natural relationality.
There are physical addictions (such as alcohol, nicotine, opioids) that affect individual persons biophysically and psychologically, and there are cultural addictions (such as racism, sexism, consumerism) that are ideological in nature and affect communities and entire populations. As Carl Jung and Bill Wilson intuited decades ago, programs like the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous can be helpful in the painful process of overcoming both physical and cultural psychopathologies.
Addiction to patriarchy is a well-known cultural addiction, and one that is very common among women as well as men. It is not primarily about gender. It is primarily about the human propensity to presume that we are self-sufficient and omnipotent.
This could be the most fundamental of all cultural addictions, and seems to be a common denominator in all the others.
As the ecological crisis unfolds, it is crucial to consciously evolve away from this addiction to hegemony in human relations; for the symptoms of the ecological crisis are biophysical but the causes are social, and the deepest root cause is the artificial ideology of patriarchal hegemony.
A recent article on how life evolved points to coevolution as a key determinant of biological evolution. A conscious form of coevolution is critical for human development; for humans become fully human via interpersonal relations, between man and woman, and between humans and the entire community of creation. Cooperation is indispensable for sustaining unity in diversity, for integral human development, and for an integral ecology. Since the agricultural revolution 12,000 years or so ago, competition has prevailed in patriarchal societies, but cooperation in solidarity is actually more natural than competition.
The twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous offer a proactive pattern for dealing with addictions that can be adapted as a guide for coevolution from patriarchalism to solidarity and sustainability during the 21st century. A brief introduction to the 12 steps is as follows:
"A twelve-step program is a set of guiding principles outlining a course of action for recovery from addiction, compulsion, or other behavioral problems. Originally proposed by Alcoholics Anonymous as a method of recovery from alcoholism, the Twelve Steps were first published in the 1939 book Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism. The method was adapted and became the foundation of other twelve-step programs.
"As summarized by the American Psychological Association, the process involves the following:
- admitting that one cannot control one's alcoholism, addiction or compulsion;
- recognizing a higher power that can give strength;
- examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member);
- making amends for these errors;
- learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior;
- helping others who suffer from the same alcoholism, addictions or compulsions."
The twelve steps are amenable to adaptation for practically any form of addiction or inordinate attachment. For instance, Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the 12 Steps, by Charlotte Kasl (1992), pertains to correcting patriarchal proclivities in gender relations.
Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, by Richard Rohr (2011), offers meditations liking the 12 steps to the Gospels and Christian spirituality.
The following table proposes an adaptation of the 12 steps, based on the Christian faith, for conscious coevolution from patriarchy to a new culture of ecocentric humanism.
||Transition from Alcoholism to Sobriety (Alcoholics Anonymous)
||Transition from Patriarchalism to Solidarity and Sustainability (Genesis 3:16 to Galatians 3:28)
||We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
||We must admit that the prevalent patriarchal culture of male headship and human dominion over nature is incapable of managing the worldwide social-ecological crisis.
||Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
||We believe that nothing is impossible for God, who cannot possibly fail to help us if we are willing to cooperate. It is insane to presume that we are omnipotent and self-sufficient.
||Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
||We are willing to accept the mission, no matter how seemingly hopeless, that God entrusts to us in the process of caring for ourselves and the entire community of creation.
||Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
||We must acknowledge the historical realities of patriarchy and phallogocentrism in society and religion: brutal empires, wars, the crusades, the inquisition, colonization by brute force, slavery, genocide, exploitation of indigenous peoples and natural resources, human trafficking, all forms of sexism and gender discrimination...
||Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
||We must admit that patriarchy emerged as a consequence of corrupting the original unity of man and woman and is, therefore, unnatural. All forms of violence and oppression derive from this pre-historical corruption of human nature.
||Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
||Only God can liberate us from the patriarchal curse and all derivative consequences. The incarnation is the beginning of the end of the patriarchal curse. We must be ready to accept the liberation brought about by the incarnation and the redemption.
||Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
||The redemption has already liberated us from the patriarchal curse and all the ensuing bad consequences: sexism, racism, etc. Now, we must be willing to freely accept the new order that is a gift but must be freely embraced. We must pray constantly and sincerely for the grace to accept divine grace.
||Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
||To the extent that patriarchy inhibits integral development of the human person, it has harmed all men and women since the inception of human history. To the extent that patriarchy inhibits caring for our common home, it has harmed the entire community of creation since time immemorial. Thus we must be willing to make amends by working for both social and ecological justice.
||Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
||We must always practice nonviolence, and we must pray and work to dismantle the patriarchal gender ideology of male headship that inhibits pursuing integral human development and an integral ecology for the common good.
||Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
||Any form of triumphalism is bad. Patriarchy is the worst form of triumphalism. Fostering triumphalist attitudes is wrong, and we must admit that patriarchy is wrong at a time when feminism is evidently a sign of the times.
||Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
||Old habits die hard. It is crucial to persevere in prayer if we are to overcome inordinate attachments such as patriarchy. Some form of spiritual exercises can be helpful in learning to seek God's will in all things.
||Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
||We keep becoming what we are by sharing our experience and insights with others. We receive as we give. Patriarchy is not golden. We must always strive to practice the Golden Rule.
It is noteworthy that the 12 steps outlined above are encapsulated, in one form or another, in all religious traditions. Specifically, liberation from inordinate attachments is a key point in the Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius Loyola. And yet, religious patriarchy -- the addiction to patriarchy in institutional religion -- still prevails in most religious traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is a case in point. Why is it that 1.2 billion Catholics must continue to attend Sunday liturgies that reinforce the patriarchal norm of male headship? Why is it that so many Catholics, and many other Christians, still fail to recognize that there is an integral complementarity, a relational complementarity in consubstantial unity, between man and woman?
The answer is cultural inertia. It is ludicrous to keep rationalizing the patriarchal priesthood of the Old Law as also being normative under the New Law. There is no dogmatic barrier to ordain women, and many compelling reasons to do so. Old habits die hard, and old mental habits die even harder. Hundreds of thousands of Catholic nuns could be ordained to make the Eucharist ("heaven on earth") and other sacraments more accessible to people, but preserving the image of the ancient patriarchal marriage seems to be more important. This is resistance to change, plain and simple. Too bad, because proposing a cultural revolution while preserving religious patriarchy is not conducive to shaping a new civilization guided by the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, and sustainability.
As John Michael Greer points out in a recent article, "every movement toward a new future begins with a new understanding of the past." The connection between religious patriarchy and the ecological crisis has become patently evident since the industrial revolution made available the surplus energy of fossil fuels. It is a dynamic connection, a recursive process that can be summarized as follows:
1. The ecological crisis is primarily induced by human activity
2. Overpopulation is mostly bred by irresponsible parenthood
3. Irresponsible parenthood is fostered by the patriarchal culture
4. Patriarchy is a consequence of "original sin" (Genesis 3:16)
5. The redemption is the end of patriarchy (Galatians 3:28)
6. But religious patriarchy reinforces patriarchy (Ephesians 5:24)
7. And patriarchy keeps reinforcing irresponsible parenthood
8. And irresponsible parenthood keeps reinforcing overpopulation
9. And overpopulation keeps exacerbating the ecological crisis
Perpetual population growth in a finite planet is a biophysical impossibility, so the principle of solidarity calls for responsible parenthood to balance family size and the common good; but, in the patriarchal culture, responsible parenthood is an unrealistic ideal even when artificial contraceptives are responsibly used. The idolatry of economic growth, measured in dollars without due consideration for human quality of life, is exacerbating social injustice to the point where integral human development becomes an empty slogan rather than an attainable goal. Subsidiarity is required to adjudicate issues at all levels, but negotiation of checks and balances at the global, national, and local levels is practically impossible when money and power dictate human decisions, as is generally the case in patriarchal societies. An integral ecology based on the principle of sustainability is also impossible as long as human relations with the natural habitat are but a mirror of the patriarchal hegemony of man over woman -- and there are few cases of benign patriarchy.
Should the Catholic Church, and other religious institutions, remain patriarchal? The principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, and sustainability, and human behavior pursuant to responsible parenthood, integral human developement, and an integral ecology, are nice words that can be entered in a keyboard, and printed on paper, but have zero probability of becoming reality as long as we are driven by the patriarchal culture of domination rather than cooperation. It follows that patriarchal institutions, such as the Roman Catholic Church, better stop preaching about altruistic abstractions and start giving good example of transitioning from old patriarchal androcentrism to a new humanistic ecocentrism.
The twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous could be adapted for use in large institutions in order to help people and communities heal from bad patriarchal habits. It is estimated that approximately 80% of the global human population of 7.7 billion belong to a religious tradition. This means over 6 billion people, including 2.5 billon Christians and 1.8 billion Muslims. Many millions who are in the other 20% are people of good will who are searching for a better life and want to participate in building a better world if given the opportunity to do so. The twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous might be more effective in fostering responsible global citizenship than any patriarchal pontification that has been invented since Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden.
It is time to let go of patriarchal rationalizations that no longer serve the common good of humanity and the integrity of the biosphere. The patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel are history. The twelve apostles chosen to take the place of the twelve patriarchs are history. Now we need '144,000 global citizens', a critical mass of men and women of good will, to help build a more natural civilization for future generations. It is time to put aside obsolete ideologies that no longer make sense, such as the patriarchal complementarianism of binary gender stereotypes in society and religion, and start building a new heaven and a new earth.
New Heaven and New Earth ~ Art by Mary Southard, CSJ ~ Ministry of the Arts