Law in Contemporary Society

The "Family Man" (or "Community Man") Versus "The Christian Man"

-- By RobLaser - 17 Feb 2010

[Disclaimer--I am speaking from my personal experience as a man growing up in the South (which is why I left the gendered language), however, I feel the discussion is equally relevant to all genders and regions.]

Introduction of the Christian Man and Family Man

What I was Taught

Where I come from men are trained to be two types of individuals that are considered the same, the "Christian Man," and the "Family Man." However, these two conceptions are in direct opposition to each other. We are told the Christian Man loves all people as God does, equally. The disciples left families and communities to travel the Middle East to educate the masses about God. This sets the paradigm of the Christian Man. The Christian Man should attempt to act in the interests of each member of humanity equally, whether his mother or a child in a Chinese province they have never seen or know the name of.

The Two are Actually in Conflict

Even though we were told both are the same, the Family Man is distinct from the Christian Man. The Family Man can still care about the interests of each member of humanity, but gives higher value to the interests of his family. I use the term "family" here very broadly. For the purposes of this discussion "family" means the people that a person chooses to deeply care about and build their community around. We are social beings and build communities with others that are much smaller than the community of humanity as a whole.

Embracing the Family Man

The Family Man should be embraced rather than the Christian Man for two reasons. First, the Christian Man is a myth. Second, even if we allow the hypothetical Christian Man, the Family Man is more useful to dynamically make change for the better.

Christian Man is Mythical

Due to the inevitably of assigning higher value to the community you choose to identify with, the Christian Man does not exist. As social beings who create communities smaller than humanity as a whole, we inevitably establish emotional connections with and learn to rely upon those within our communities. These ties naturally cause us to assign higher value to the people within our communities than to those outside of them. This is why Arnold talks about the dichotomies that are used to create animosity against groups in the first part of the Folklore of Capitalism. In order for us to claim that we should care about our interests more than the interests of the Afghanis or Iraqis is because the they belong to another community (the community of "Freedom" versus the community of "oppression"). The same with the "Communist" community versus the "Capitalist" community. Growing up in the South, this was how overt racism was justified, by the claiming a "Black" community that was distinct from the "White" community. This was used to assert that all the white people should not care as much about what happens to non-whites because they are not part of the community. I was told by many racists that the "Blacks" only care about the "Blacks" so why should white people care about them.

Even if He Did Exist, Not More Effective

Nor does the Christian Man (accepting for arguments sake that he exists) create any more change than the Family Man. In fact, he is spread too thin to have significant impact on any specific community. There is too much injustice in the world and the life of a human being is too short to make significant change for all who suffer from it. Instead, in order to make as much significant change as possible in our life, we should focus on the community/communities that we choose, rather than trying to help every single person in the world equally.

What it Means

No Objectively Right or More Moral Community to Choose to Make Change In

So far this all should seem painfully obvious (but few I know, particularly in the South admit as much), but where it becomes most controversial is what it means for many of us. Many of us will choose not to care as much about the impoverished, or the children in Darfur being drafted as child soldiers. Many Family Men will choose to care about (aka build their communities around) their families and close friends above all others, even though the injustices that are suffered by them are likely considered by most less egregious than those suffered by others in the world. Working for human rights China is not a bad thing, if that is the community you choose, then that is where your work should be.

Choosing to Focus on a Community Does Not Preclude Caring About Many Causes

Also, you can still support all sorts of causes against injustice. For any cause you can be a Thoreau, or at the very least, one of the one or two people per town. You can speak out against the atrocities of the world or provide financially to the efforts to end them. However, you can only be a John Brown for one community, because to be a John brown you have to give yourself entirely. For John Brown, his community was the enslaved. The reason Thoreau did not do the same as John Brown was not because he was less of a man, but because he had chosen a different community.

Choosing Your Communities

The John Brown Method

I can identify situations where I would kill or be killed. Those situations mostly involve my family, but my community can expand. When you identify what situations you would be willing to kill or be killed for, you have identified your community. None is objectively more valuable than another.

Arbitrariness is not Effective Counter-Argument

Many would say your family is arbitrary by birth. Yet, it is arbitrariness of birth that causes someone to suffer without human rights in China. The interests of one community should not be higher valued than another by basis of this birth. The lawyer who had chosen the community of Austin could have saved Stack. Should the pain of Joe Stack and others be ignored because they were born in the US with at least some civil rights? Lawyers are needed everywhere, because there is injustice everywhere. Where you choose to make your stand depends on the community you choose.


The takeaway of this discussion is that we should stop thinking the right thing to do is find the cause in the world that is the most objectively unjust and do our best to fix it. Instead, we should identify our communities and do our best to prevent injustice in them.

Hi Mr. Laser. I think this is a good way to spell out a conflict we all live with, especially if we are Christian. To clarify your point that the concepts of the family man and the Christian man are not the same concept, you could stick in Luke 9:60-62, since Jesus' reply to the disciple who wants to say good-bye to his family is so intense. (Also -- and this is a totally dispassionate way to talk about an atrocity -- I think the child soldier problem is more commonly identified with the wars in Congo, Sierra Leone, and Liberia than the present war in Darfur. The previous war in southern Sudan also had child soldiers. I think I may have met one, he's a banquet houseman at a Hyatt I organized. Really quiet guy. I never asked him about it of course....Anyway, I'm not an expert on the current Darfur conflict. Mr. McDougall? would know what the prevalence of child soldiers is there.)

-- AmandaBell - 09 Mar 2010

I find it harder than Amanda does to identify a conflict in my own life between two nonexistent abstract personifications. (Being neither a Christian nor a man with a family may of course also be relevant.)

Regardless of the extent to which we identify with these abstractions, we might take your argument the short way across by saying that Christianity is a universalising faith, which seeks to explain that all people are children of one common Creator, redeemed by the sacrifice of his only begotten Son. But people take their identities most easily (perhaps a sociobiological argument would be helpful here?) from a family, a clan, or some other small community, whose creeds explain not universality, but particularism.

Yours, then, becomes, or wishes to become, a normative argument for particularism: Judaism or Hinduism (the religions that explain not why people are the same, but why they are different) writ small.

In truth, I would expect this to seem to many readers, as it seems to me, very small game not worth hunting. "Whatever floats your boat," is surely the answer, even if one has an opinion of one's own. As for whether John Brown is the universalist he thinks he is, or the particularist you find an ingenious way to claim him for, seems to be of no moment whatever: he has made clear what he means to do and why he means to do it. The rest, as Thoreau is the first to admit, is not even commentary.

So what seems to me most useful in the revision of this essay, besides the elimination of all the various little distractions that could be pruned away, is a clear statement of what's at stake. If this is a fight between straw men, readers will do right to withhold their attention.

Rob, I think the theme of particularism v. universalism is an interesting one, and it's an area I have thought much about myself. If you haven't read it already, you might find The Plague by Albert Camus of interest. It's about a doctor who must decide between helping many victims of a plague trapped in a quarantined city, or escaping the city to attend to his ailing wife. You may also find of interest Martha Nussbaum's essay on patriotism and cosmpolitanism, which I posted earlier in the discussion on nationalism.

I think a consilient approach with biology might shed some interesting light here, though it may be beyond the scope of 1,000 words. Are there things about our biology that push us towards particularist or universalist thinking in certain contexts? Is there a set of biological particularist needs we can find a way to satisfy while simultaneously seeking to serve universalist ethical goals?

I think this line here - The takeaway of this discussion is that we should stop thinking the right thing to do is find the cause in the world that is the most objectively unjust and do our best to fix it.

makes the point well that a left-brained approach to analyzing justice and conducting cost-benefit analysis to determine the "best" way to deal with it is perhaps not something human beings are good at, perhaps for biological reasons. Some things get people more fired up than others. There usually seems to be more motivation to fight for one's own freedom than for the freedom of those far away.

However, I think this line - Instead, we should identify our communities and do our best to prevent injustice in them.

simply begs the questions which begin the essay: what is our community, and what is justice? These two questions I think could bear some further inquiry. I think there's implicit in the line the idea that the community you're talking about is on the scale of the family or the neighborhood in which one lives. If you want to pursue that line, you might make that more explicit. Why do smaller groups inspire more committed attachment and willingness to sacrifice? The question of what is justice would also still remain.

-- DevinMcDougall - 06 Apr 2010



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