Larry, Moe and Curly in the Gates

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In ancient Israel, the gates of the city were not just a point of entrance. They served the same function pointed to by our phrase “the public square.” When a virtuous woman was praised “in the gates,” this meant that she was publicly recognized (Prov. 31:31). When Boaz wanted to conduct an important financial transaction, he did it “in the gates” (Ruth 4:11). When injustice was done to the poor, it was done to them in the gate (Amos 5:12), which in Jerusalem was called the Federal Reserve Gate. You have to know a lot of Hebrew to know that.

A man in Israel who had his quiver full of straight arrows, none bent or broken, is described as blessed. He will not be ashamed, it says, when he contends with his enemies “in the gate” (Ps. 127:5). This is a political controversy — it is not speaking of enemies besieging a city, but rather a clash between adversarial factions within a city. A man stands up, and his sons stand with him. If that happens, such a man is blessed.

Well, that’s what it says in the Bible anyway.

One result of the shock treatments that modernity has been giving us for the last few centuries is the pretense of objectivity and disinterestedness. Society is like a machine, or so the thinking goes, and we are supposed to train people (with so many credit hours in this or that) to be interchangeable parts that will make that machine hum.

As a result, we try to find juries who know absolutely nothing about the case, and if this means, as a corollary, that they have to know absolutely nothing at all, so much the better. The ideal juror, in fact, has been living under a rock. And instead of forming regiments of men who are all from the same place, and who knew each other as boys, we try to create the totalitarian ideal — a fighting conglomeration of machined parts that have been, as much as possible, standardized. Some of this is inescapable (and fine), but a strong element of it is ideological. It is the difference between being modern and being a modernist.

In hiring, if an opening comes up, you are supposed to advertise the position, and act as though you are actually going for “the most qualified candidate.” But the way God made the world cannot be made to vanish so easily, however, and so people still get mysteriously hired who happen to be blood relations of the head of the search committee. In this, I want to lament, not the hire, but the hypocrisy — the pretense of doing something objective and sanitary, free from all taint of “connections.” This is the ideological element that is pernicious. Connections are actually glorious and God-given. Connections are a gift of God. Trying to pretend they are not there is trying to refashion the world according to the pattern of a god who didn’t really make it anyway.

Some of you may be starting to mutter that you sincerely hope that I am not going to come out in favor of nepotism. You have been trained well, and you are reacting right on cue.

But before proceeding further, let me acknowledge that blood relations can let you down. A man might stand up to contend with his enemies in the gate, but then have to sit down again to settle a dispute that broke out between his three sons, Larry, Moe, and Curly. Such things do happen. Proverbs knows about sons who dishonor their fathers and mothers. Fathers hire their sons to head up the Department of Paperwork Reduction, and the consensus around the office is that the son is the world’s primo blockhead. That’s a bad thing, and the son should be sacked (so should the department, but that is another subject). But he should be sacked, not for being that man’s son, but for being a blockhead. Being somebody’s son should not be an invisible force shield to fend off the consequences of a son’s folly.

That said, a man who is not training his sons to stand with him in the work is not thinking biblically. I tweeted about his recently, and one response I got calls forth this caveat. What about daughters? Daughters are a different play in the same game. You bring up daughters to be competent helpers to their husbands, who will stand with you in the gate. Seeking to live this way is seeking to live biblically. This does not mean, incidentally, that everybody in the clan has to work on the family farm, or in the same law office, and so on. My point is that, when this happens, it is a blessing and not a curse, and not a sore temptation to be rejected out of hand.

Some may wonder at the categorization of this post under “Sex and Culture.” But sex is related to offspring, and offspring is our principal contribution to culture-making.



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