Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Stabilizing Influence

Many years ago when I was in Argentina I had the opportunity to hear a story about the settling of Paraguay by the Spanish. The Paraguayans that told me the story said that many years ago when the Spanish were first exploring the area that would later become Paraguay they came up with a method to conquer the local Guarani Indians. They brought over 1000-2000 (depending on who told the story the number varied, but the rest of the story was the same) men from Spain and when the boat carrying them reached the point on the Paraguay River where Asuncion now stands they disembarked and there by the side of the river were met by an equal number of Guarani women and there they were all married by a Catholic Priest.

This story is reminiscent of a similar act performed by Alexander the Great. After conquering the Persian Empire Alexander went on to invade India, but after his failed attempt to conquer India he came back and proceeded to consolidate his empire. To accomplish this he conceived of the idea of having 7,000 of his Greek troops marry an equal number of Persian women in the city of Babylon, and they married using Persian rituals. This act allowed the Greeks that came after Alexander to keep and form a cohesive culture that would affect many different societies around the world. So more than conquering kingdoms and empires by military might Alexander was able to win cultural and social battles long after he was dead by establishing the precedent of transmitting Greek culture through family relations. While the effect of Greek culture extended far beyond the literal descendants of those 7,000 it was that critical fact that those families were formed giving the basis through which the culture, values, knowledge and social practices could be given to future generations and societies.

Returning to my story of the 2,000 some odd Spanish men and Guarani women, they too represented the merging of two cultures, and through these unions the Paraguayan people got their sense of identity and social cohesiveness. Even to this day they are defined by that act. It is still tradition in Paraguay that the mother will raise her children speaking Guarani and the men when they are together will speak Spanish. Because of this Paraguay is officially and practically bilingual. The point is that these marriages, while they are not the romantic marriages of our "modern" world, nor were they the marriages of "equal partners" as defined by our contemporary society, but these marriages formed the basis of their society and gave them an extremely strong sense of national identity. Anyone who is familiar with the history of Paraguay and in particular the history of La Guerra de la Triple Alianza (The War of the Triple Alliance) then they are familiar with the nationalistic fervor that attended the defense of their country. Even though this cohesiveness did not solve all their problems it certainly allowed them to do more than they could have had they not received this defining trait through the family relationships that were established with the marriages formalized between the Spanish men and the Guarani women.

My purpose in mentioning these two examples is to showcase the idea that the fabric of our society is formed out of the family relationships made between men and women. If the Spanish men had not married the Guarani women then they would not have formed the strong national identity of the Paraguayan people. In effect the reason why the society still exists today is because of those strong family relationships that did so much towards creating that identity. It would not have mattered how strong a bond those Spanish men may have formed or held in some way, if they were unable or unwilling to transmit that identity, and the same goes for the Guarani women, then that national identity and society would not exist today. The same goes for the Greeks. Even if Alexander had conquered the whole world then his influence and Greek culture would not have been passed down to our day. They would have been like the Mongols who won many military campaigns but their cultural influence did not leave nor extend past the boundaries of their own lands. Whatever influence they may have had was swallowed up by the cultures they supposedly conquered.

In our day we are not confronted with threats of invading armies but we are threatened by a different destructive force. The concept of the family, which forms the basis of our society, and of all societies, is under attack. If it is destroyed by those who would see its end, if they accomplish their aims then there will be no mechanism to transmit our society, our values and our history. On the Eastern facade of the National Archives there are inscribed these words, "This building holds in trust the records of our national life and symbolizes our faith in the permanency of our national institutions." If we allow the foundation of our nation, our families, to be altered and destroyed in such a way that our identity and our national life cannot be transmitted to a new generation then our faith has been in vain and there will come a day when our national institutions will fail. Without the mechanism, the family, in place to transmit our national identity from one generation to another our society will lose its identity and will suffer the fate of all failed societies in history. But we can prevent this and we can overcome this destructive force. We do not have to give in to the "natural course" of human nature. Because we have God given abilities we can overcome the slippery slope of "modern thought" and not consider the current state of our nation, and our families and the given and common way that families must be. There is a better way and it does not have to be the fractured and weakened state of the modern family. If someone is sick you do not say, "It is human nature and that is the way it is." We do not have to accept the dysfunctional, the alternative, the nonexistent or partial family as the norm. We can rise above this and be strong.

The solution lies in the simple phrase "Husbands, love your wives. Wives, love your husbands. Husbands and wives, love your children." A family can be founded on love and respect and the children can be taught honor and virtue, and we do not have to accept a definition of marriage that only allows for personal gratification. Marriage is not and should not be defined as a means to gratify personal desires. We do not have to think or to agree with the current trends of our culture and our society. We do not have to accept the redefining of marriage to allow for personal freedom. Personal freedom can be had without attacking the foundation of our society. If we allow these trends to continue then the mechanism that worked for so long, the mechanism that brought Greek culture to the world, the mechanism that created Paraguayan national identity and the mechanism that gave us our national identity, will cease to function and our culture, our society and our national life will not be transmitted to a new generation and our history, our identity, will be lost.

1 comment:

James said...

I am a little slow in commenting but I think your analysis is very good. Thanks for your thoughts.